Feature

2019 Golden Horse Awards

China's Absence From Golden Horse Underscores Taiwan's Cultural Diversity

2019/11/15 , Opinion
Toh Jin Xuan
Toh Jin Xuan
Toh Jin Xuan is a Malaysian-born Chinese based in Taipei and an editor for The News Lens ASEAN Edition. 

Malaysian-born filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮) had angrily withdrawn from the 2006 Golden Horse Awards because the panelists criticized his film I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone as “overindulging in his personal style.”

But in 2014, Tsai won Best Director at the Golden Horse Awards for his film Stray Dogs. In his acceptance speech, Tsai said, “This might only happen in Taiwan — where they would allow a Malaysian to quarrel with the Golden Horse Awards but still give him an award afterward.”

Perhaps Tsai was right about Taiwan’s tolerant attitude. Despite China’s aggressive boycott campaign to withdraw Chinese and Hong Kong films from the Golden Horse this year, the nominations included more Sinophone films from Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and more. In other words, China's boycott has only further credited the Golden Horse as an international and prestigious film award in the Sinophone world.

Southeast Asian directors on the rise

Among the shortlisted Southeast Asian directors, Anthony Chen (陳哲藝) from Singapore has attracted the most attention. His film Ilo Ilo (2013) had earned him the Best New Director recognition at the 50th Golden Horse Awards. This year, his latest work Wet Season has received six nominations, including Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, among others.

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Photo Credit: TGHFF

Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann (楊雁雁) is nominated for Best Lead Actress for her role in Wet Season. She played a challenging protagonist role as a mid-aged teacher who faces marriage and career crises while developing a taboo relationship with her student.

Malaysian-born director Lau Kek-huat (廖克發), who graduated from National Taiwan University of Arts, received nominations for two of his works. The Tree Remembers, a film about racial conflicts in Malaysia, is nominated for Best Documentary; and Lau himself is nominated for Best New Director along with Vera Chen for their co-directed feature film, Buolomi.

Lau has also been drawing attention in Taiwan. His 2016 documentary Absent Without Leave was featured in multiple film festivals. Lau explores his country’s history through the eyes of his grandfather who used to be a member of the Malaysian Communist Party. His new film Buolumi has also adapted its screenplay from his family story.

Another notable film, A Land Imagined, investigates the story of a disappeared Chinese migrant worker in Singapore. It’s written and directed by Yeo Siew-hua (楊修華) and it’s a Singapore-France-Netherlands co-production. The Singaporean film has received four Golden Horse nominations including Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Film Score, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Effects. It’s also selected as the Singaporean entry for the Best International Feature Film at the upcoming Academy Awards.

More creative collaboration between Taiwan and ASEAN countries

What’s also unique about this year’s Golden Horse is the increased collaboration between Taiwanese and Southeast Asian producers and actors.

The Paradise, filmed by Taiwanese director Liao Shih-han (廖士涵), adapted its screenplay from the story of a heroin addict’s journey to recovery and rebirth. While The Paradise seems like a locally produced Taiwanese film, it incorporates a lot of Southeast Asian elements. It’s produced by mm2 Entertainment, a Singapore-based company; and written by Siew Hong Leong (梁秀紅), a Malaysian-born writer-director who came to study film in Taiwan. A few rising Malaysian actors, like Yuan Teng (原騰) and Jack Tan (陳澤耀), were also featured in the film.

Another film worth noting is The Garden of Evening Mists, which is adapted from the award-winning historical novel of the same title by Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng. It has quite an international team of producers, featuring HBO Asia and Astro Shaw from Malaysia, supported by National Film Development Corporation Malaysia and CJ Entertainment from South Korea. The historical drama was filmed by Taiwanese director Tom Lin Shi-yu and the script was written by award-winning Scottish screenwriter Richard Smith. The two protagonists are played by Japanese actor Hiroshi Abe (阿部寬) and Malaysian actress Lee Sinje (李心潔), who both deliver soul-stirring performances.

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Photo Credit: THGFF

If you haven’t read The Garden of Evening Mists yet, it’s a historical fiction that follows the story of Yun Ling (Lee Sinje), who wants to build a Japanese garden for her sister who had died during the Japanese occupation in World War II. She seeks the help of a Japanese gardener, Nakamura Aritomo (Hiroshi Abe), and ends up falling in love with him while struggling with her own painful memories and hatred against the Japanese.

Southeast Asian directors are not restricted to only making films about Southeast Asia

Many of the abovementioned Malaysian directors and screenwriters have pursued their film studies in Taiwan. Their works also serve as a window for the Taiwanese audience to catch a glimpse of Southeast Asia. However, there are also foreign directors who have lived in Taiwan for years and have expanded their perspectives to truly capture Taiwanese culture in their films. Tsai Ming-liang, of course, is the representation of that phenomenon.

Aside from I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, Tsai’s films are closely tied to Taiwan. His latest work, Your Face, is a documentary of 12 Taiwanese “faces” and it’s also nominated for Best Documentary at the Golden Horse Awards this year.

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Photo Credit: TGHFF
Tsai Ming-liang

Lastly, Myanmar-born Taiwanese director Midi Z, with his recent psychological thriller Nina Wu, sparked some of the first serious discussions in Taiwan about the #MeToo movement. The film dives into the dark side of the entertainment industry by plunging the viewer into a disorienting cinematic experience. It has received eight Golden Horse nominations this year, Midi Z will be competing against other talented directors as well.

With the burgeoning Sinophone cinema, the absence of China’s participation has ironically highlighted and added to the diversity of the Golden Horse Awards.


The 56th Golden Horse Awards Ceremony will be held on November 23, 2019.

READ NEXT: Long Live Love: Approaching the Films of Tsai Ming-liang

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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Tom Lin Searches for History and Humanity at 'The Garden of Evening Mists'

2019 Golden Horse Awards:

Established in 1962, the Golden Horse Awards are among the most prestigious and time-honored film awards in the world of Sinophone cinema. This year, China banned the Golden Horse Awards and withdrew all the Chinese and Hong Kong films from the competition. Despite Chinese censorship and suppression, the Golden Horse will still honor the talents from Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and other countries. The final results will be revealed at the Golden Horse Awards Ceremony on November 23, 2019.

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