Chinese Films Cross Fingers for Distribution Slot in Taiwan

Chinese Films Cross Fingers for Distribution Slot in Taiwan
Photo Credit : AP/達志影像

What you need to know

Cross-strait relations don’t only come up in politics, but in the movie industry as well. And in this battle, the Chinese are at a disadvantage in the Taiwanese market.

Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s (賈樟柯) latest film, Mountains May Depart (山河故人), failed to secure a spot in the quota lottery for this year's list of 10 Chinese films selected for distribution in Taiwan, disappointing many local movie enthusiasts. But don't lose hope: the film will be screened at a Jia Zhangke movie festival next month.

This situation reflects Taiwan’s unique regulations regarding the distribution and screening of Chinese films.

Each year, 10 Chinese films are selected for distribution in the Taiwanese market though a quota lottery that is open to the public. Forty-five Chinese films applied for the lottery this year; of those, 35 were left out.

In 2014, the Ministry of Culture (MOC) implemented a new policy that directly grants a distributing license to Chinese films that win an award at the Oscars, the Cannes Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, and Berlin Film Festival. Winners in the best drama or best director categories at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival can also be distributed without going through the lottery.

However, the policies for the distribution of Chinese movies are different from screening regulations.

According to MOC rules, film distributors can apply to hold film festivals, but can screen no more than a total of 16 Chinese films in the festivals each year. For example, Joint Entertainment International Inc will show six Jia films during the Jia Zhangke-themed movie festival this summer.

Debate arises as interest in Chinese films grows

Liang Yu-chieh (梁鈺杰), distribution executive for Joint Entertainment, told The News Lens International that despite no obvious increase in commercial interest for Chinese films, there has been “a growing interest in independent Chinese film directors.”

Since 2013, Joint Entertainment has tried to introduce Jia’s films to Taiwan, but for the fourth straight year it has failed to land a place for them, prompting the company to hold film festivals to show his films, Liang said.

The festival in July is the second one the company has held for Jia’s films in order to screen the director’s movies.

Though Joint Entertainment has permission to screen a total of 16 Chinese films each year, a single film cannot be screened more than four times.

“Joint Entertainment won’t avoid trying to distribute Chinese films because of the quota lottery,” said Liang. “We will still try to introduce movies with different perspectives.”

Controversy over quota lottery restriction

The quota lottery restriction was established in 1997 to protect the distribution of Taiwanese movies. In the first 15 years, the number of applications never surpassed 10 films.

However from 2012 onwards, the number of applications crossed that line and has continued to rise since, sparking a debate on whether the restriction should be revised, Yang Hsiu-yu (楊秀玉), director of Motion Pictures Division Management at the MOC, to The News Lens.

The Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement signed between Taiwan and China in 2013 included a provision that would raise the number of Chinese films allowed to be distributed to 15, but the agreement has was stalled by the Sunflower Movement in March/April 2014 and has yet to be passed by the legislature. The quota therefore remains 10 films per year.

Yang says that each year the MOC asks Taiwan’s movie distributors’ for advice on the quota lottery system. All agree that the current system is the best solution for choosing which films are to be distributed under the limit of 10 movies.

However, many Taiwanese directors and personnel in the movie industry oppose the restriction.

Lai Hsiang-wei (賴祥蔚), professor at the department of radio and television at National Taiwan University of Arts, says in a China Times article that the current restrictions on Chinese films are not really helping Taiwan’s movie industry. He says that if the government really wants to protect Taiwan’s films, it should limit the number of Hollywood movies imported instead of Chinese films because Hollywood films take up most of Taiwan’s movie market.

Essay Liu (劉梓潔), director of the Taiwanese film 7 Days in Heaven (父後七日), says in an Apple Daily article that she does not think that adding to the quota would affect the movie market in Taiwan significantly, adding that many Chinese blockbusters in China have not sold well in Taiwan.

Award-winning Taiwanese director Chu Yen-ping (朱延平) agrees, saying that Chinese films do not constitute a major threat and that Taiwanese should be more confident with local productions.

Related links: MOC Chinese production criteria

Lee Bing-sheng contributed to this article.