Wanted: Movie Stars

Taiwan’s entertainment industry may be crowded with ‘idols’ but none of them are bonafide film stars 

A scene from 'Night Market Hero', which is currently leading Taiwan's boxoffice this year. (Photo courtesy of Green Film Production)

By Yasminka Lee in Bangkok

Taiwan has no real movie stars.

This observation was made by no less than an industry insider, Yeh Tan-ching, the scriptwriter behind Night Market Hero, the year’s biggest box-office hit in Taiwan thus far.

This observation may be surprising considering that many of the stars that crowd the Chinese entertainment scene are from Taiwan. Jay Chou, Jolin Tsai, Wang Lee Hom, A-mei. But all of them are music superstars and none are bonafide movie stars. Even Chou and Wang who have crossed over from music to movies are more known for the latter, though Chou has declared that he wants to focus on movies bouyed by the success of his Hollywood debut The Green Hornet.

But come to think of it, Yeh is right.

Even Mark Chao and Ethan Ruan, who are considered Taiwan’s biggest movie stars at the moment, came from idol dramas.

Ruan apeared to be languishing in second leads on TV dramas until he got his lucky break with Fated To Love You, which finally brought him fame and recognition and eventually led him to the lead role in the movie Monga. Ruan won best actor at the 2010 Golden Horse, the so-called Chinese Oscars, and is reportedly set to do a film with no less than Tsui Hark as director.

Chao, on the other had, broke into the scene through Black & White, a police TV drama that won him best actor at the Golden Bell in 2009. He is now doing the movie version of the hit TV series.

Interestingly, Chao and Ruan co-starred in Monga, which transformed them into bankable movie stars.

Yeh said the main reason why Taiwan does not have a line-up of movie stars is because its movie industry has not been that active and it was only in recent years that it has started to resurrect itself.

For a time, Taiwan was recognised for its New Cinema era with Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Tsai Ming-liang and Ang Lee, among others, but not even the recognition of these directors overseas was enough to attract local audiences to the theatres.

Until a small film called Cape No 7 came along in 2008 that re-ignited the interest of the Taiwanese to start watching local films again.

“Before Cape No 7, nobody really watched Taiwanese films,” Yeh told popasia. “So the whole industry is not really mature yet… and that’s why there are no movie stars in Taiwan because we don’t make that many movies.”

Yeh noted that what usually happens is filmmakers invite TV idols to act in movies. One of these idols was former F4 member Vic Chou who recently starred in Love You 10,000 Years.

However, having an idol in a movie does not necessarily guarantee success. Peggy Chiao, one of Taiwan’s leading movie producers behind such gems as Hear Me, Love of May and Blue Gate Crossing admitted that she was disappointed with the results of Love You 10,000 Years.

“I thought it was going to be better than Hear Me. But I found an interesting discovery too: if you want to make a film successful, you have to have some elements appealing to the middle class.

“The middle class mentality is that they expect something more than young love, romantic love. They want family or the kind of sympathy for the under-privilege. For instance, Hear Me, you have people with disability. Those kind appeal to the middle class… so having stars does not really guarantee (a hit movie).”

Yeh agrees with Chiao, saying that “we need to tell our own story. Cape No 7 was our story. Before that it was more like ‘I tell you my story. I tell somebody’s love story to you.’ But most of the audience couldn’t relate.”

With a new wave sweeping over Taiwan’s film industry following recent hits that also include Au Revoir Taipei, many of Taiwan’s TV idols have turned their eyes on movies. This may be because idol dramas have peaked and are now losing steam or they simply see the potential of the movie industry.

One of them is Ariel Lin, best known for her work in It Started With A Kiss for which she won best actress at the 2008 Golden Bell. Lin has started filming a new movie, Love Sick; she has done three other movies in the past but this one is getting a lot of buzz because it will mark her return to acting after winning the gong three years ago.

Gavin Lin, who directed the small-budget In Case of Love has also been discussing another film project with the actress.

“Actors (like Lin) are really supportive of local films, they are very willing to be cast in films,” the young director said. But he said it can be expensive, especially for small productions, to cast established stars.

“They may like the script and take the part, but when it comes to the money part, they won’t give discount. They will give you a special price for Taiwanese productions but their price is quite fixed,” he said.

It may not be long, however, that the life and vibrancy will return to Taiwan’s film industry with the interest that the local audience is giving it.

Yeh noted the advice by 21st Century Fox, which co-produced Night Market Hero, that for their film to be successful overseas, it has to be successful in Taiwan first. “So we have to tell Taiwanese stories… but we are finding the balance so they are not too localised and foreign audience can still understand.”

She said there has to be a synergy between telling local stories and making the films attractive to the local audience, including casting stars that appeal to the masses.

“In Taiwan, we need to create a movie, then create a star,” she concluded.


(First published in AsiaNews magazine on April 22, 2011. Copyright: Asia News Network)

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