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Department 1

Cinema & Media Studies


Like the island itself, the cinema of Taiwan has always been in a perpetual state of liminality. Taiwan was a Japanese colony for fifty years (1895–1945) and during that time no cinema that could be labeled as distinctively “Taiwanese” emerged. After World War II, Taiwanese cinema was still caught between a political rock and an economic hard place. Despite allowing some low-budget films to be made in the Taiwanese dialect, the Kuomintang (KMT, aka “Nationalist”) government made sure its cinema did not violate its core ideological tenets of a “Greater China.” This came largely at the expense of anything specifically “Taiwanese,” something the KMT saw as a threat to the legitimacy of its one-party rule over the island. Even when a commercial industry did slowly emerge in Taiwan in the 1960s, it still operated under the twin shadows of the government’s strict policies and the exporting prowess of Hong Kong, which dominated Taiwan’s Mandarin-language market. Moreover, Taiwan’s own private industry was in many ways an offshoot of that in Hong Kong, so much so that even in the late 1970s the annual International Film Guide continued to couple Hong Kong and Taiwan under a single entry. Only with the emergence of the Taiwanese New Cinema in the 1980s, with directors winning prizes at international film festivals, did a distinctively “Taiwanese” cinema begin to appear. Nevertheless, numerous ambiguities have persisted. Since the 1980s much of the literature outside of Taiwan tends to focus on this unexpected newcomer now making waves at film festivals across the globe. Within Taiwan, however, much of the literature often downplays such success when not denigrating it. Instead, much of the focus has been on why Taiwan—despite its economic prowess in other areas—could not match the commercial success enjoyed by Hong Kong and, more recently, South Korea. As a result, the literature on this subject is often Janus-faced, reflecting both the continued triumphs and the ongoing failures of Taiwanese cinema. [excerpt]




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