movie: the film that big Taiwanese stars helped produce

It took 12 years for director Wei Te-sheng to finish Seediq Bale, a film that chronicles the struggle of the Seediq tribe during the Japanese rule otherwise known as the Wushe Incident.

Many would know Wei Te-sheng through his 2007 film, Cape No. 7, which is referred to as the one that started a new wave in Taiwan cinema.

It took Wei this long to finish the film due to lack of money. Many Taiwanese stars, knowing about his predicament, came to the rescue. Among them:

  • Jay Chou – who lent NT$20 million (US$685,000) without interest.
  • Jerry Yan – NT$10 million (US$342,000). Jerry was initially considered for a role in the movie.
  • Vivian Hsu and her mother – NT$10 million. She also stars in the movie and it is said that her financial contribution was mostly for the crew.
  • Leon Dai – (Golden Horse winner for best director last year and acclaimed senior actor) NT$4 million (US$137,000).

It is said that the storyboards for Seediq Bale consisted of five volumes measuring over 10cm in thickness when stacked. Wei needed to raise NT$330 million (US$11 million) in order to make the film and Taiwan’s Government Information Office pledged 20% of the amount. Still it was not enough.

It was difficult for Wei to find investors despite the surprise commercial success of Cape No. 7. This was because they found out investing in films is not really lucrative at all. Cape No. 7, for example, earned NT$520 million (US$17.8 million) in ticket sales. Production costs of NT$50 million (US$1.7 million) were deducted from the revenues and what remained were distributed among movie theaters that got 60% and the film distributor which took 10%. What was left, according to Wei in an interview with GIO was roughly about NT$140 million (US$4.5 million) for the investors (and the loans that Wei incurred while making the film).

So finally, Seediq Bale is making its world premiere on September 1 at no less than the Venice Film Festival.

Its screening, just like its filming process, has been wrought with difficulties. This time, it’s the tussle between Taiwan and China on what nationality Seediq Bale should be categorized in. Venice has labelled the film as “China, Taiwan”. China insists it should be under China just like Johnnie To’s Life Without Principle and Ann Hui’s A Simple Life, both from Hong Kong.

Of course, Taiwan has protested. Producer Jimmy Huang noted that the film was produced with Taiwanese money and therefore should be recognized as a film from “Taiwan”. Venice has taken the easy route by adopting how international organizations address this matter and categorized the film as from “Chinese Taipei”.

This matter about categorizing films under nationalities may be a trivial matter to many but to Taiwan and China, it’s serious. At last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, China protested how Taiwanese films were categorized as “Taiwan”. In the argument that followed, Taiwanese stars Ethan Ruan, Mark Chao, Vivian Hsu and Janine Chang failed to make it to the “green carpet” (owing to TIFF’s recurring environment theme). (Incidentally, the head of the delegation then was Frank Chen, who is now the boss of the media office in Bangkok. And he’s one guy who really looks like he won’t back down from a stare-down with a Chinese although he’s very jovial in person.)

But I digress.

Taiwan is still not happy about Venice’s compromise and rightly so. It’s a film that tackles the bitter history of its people with Japan, it is funded by Taiwanese money and written, directed and actred in by Taiwanese. Why can’t it be recognized then as a product from Taiwan?

From Seediq Bale blog

Blog on Seediq Bale here.

Copyright © 2011. TheAsianEdition. All rights reserved.

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