Taiwanese film has been one of my favorite resources for trying to understand the society and culture of this island people. I’ve read, lived, and researched so many aspects of life in Taiwan, but it was the cinema that honestly gave me a long-lasting impression and desire to come here.
So, it is my pleasure to introduce ten films that I feel are worth your time. Maybe don’t watch them all in one go, but do try to make some time for these gems of cinematic history. Well, not all of them are gems, but I’d like to think they are for me.
1. Yi Yi (一 一) by Edward Yang(楊德昌) 2000
Yi Yi for me is an essential must-see for anyone living in Taiwan. It is a story about three generations of Taiwanese people trying to figure out life. That might sound cliché and somewhat bland, but Yi Yi is anything but. This is a terrifically profound movie that unfortunately isn’t well known among a lot of international and Taiwanese people.
What made the movie stand out to me was just how patient it was. It took its time to build up the characters and allows us to get to know these people. We see their struggles, conflicts, and the ultimate resolution that comes at the end of the movie which is more of a comfort than an ending.
Needless to say, you should go out of your way to watch Yi Yi, and you can do so on Catchplay for $60NTD.
2. A City of Sadness(悲情城市) By Hou Hsiao-hsien(侯孝賢) 1989
If Yi Yi explains a lot about modern Taiwanese life and the struggles, then “A City of Sadnress” explains the struggles of identity and the Taiwanese place in the world in the past. A City of Sadness is a masterpiece that is so beautifully crafted that you’d be forgiven for missing out on the small details that make this movie stand out.
Set during the late 1940s, the film shows how a family was affected by the white terror; a time in Taiwanese history when the KMT brutally suppressed the island people through martial law.
If you’re interested in learn about Taiwanese society today, then it is imperative that you learn about the history that happened before, and “A City of Sadness” is a good place to start.
Apologies, I couldn’t find an English or Mandarin trailer with decent video quality or narration. Hope you like Japanese!
3. Eat Drink Man Woman(飲食男女) by Ang Li(李安) 1994
My first love of Taiwan was film, but the second love was food, and Ang Li’s “Eat Drink Man Woman” would make a hunger striker feel like eating something.
The movie is set in 1990s Taipei and tells the story of three daughters that are all in their own unique way, challenging traditional conventions at the time. Hell, even the father in the movie challenges a few of his own.
The movie has so much heart, and much like Yi Yi and A City of Sadness, it shows how times are changing and how people try to deal with it.
I’m not going to show a trailer for this film, instead, enjoy the opening scene that is an absolute feast for the eyes.
This movie is also available on Catchplay for $60NTD if you’re interested in streaming it.
4. Cape No. 7(海角七號) by Wei Te-sheng(魏德聖) 2008
This film is so much fun to watch. It incorporates so many aspects of Taiwanese culture. From Hoklo, aborigine, and Japanese, this movie shows a more rounded and interesting view of Taiwan that you don’t usually get to see.
5. The Wedding Banquet(喜宴) by Ang Li (李安)1993
The Wedding Banquet is one of those movies that really was far ahead of its time. The film focuses around a gay couple in the US, Wai Tung and Simon. Wai-Tung’s Taiwanese parents are expecting him to marry, but considering he is gay, he has to try and find some way to keep his parents off his back, while also concealing his sexuality. He opts for a sham marriage with a Chinese woman to satisfy his parent’s desire for him to be married, and to carry on the family line.
What follows is an interesting piece of film that showcases a lot about being gay in Taiwanese society. From the overbearing parents with the need for fielty to the pressure to have grandchildren and settle down, and having to hide sexuality, this movie is a great watch.
This also happens to be the most 90s trailer I’ve seen in a long time. Don’t let it throw you off the movie though!
6. Rebels of the Neon God(青少年哪吒) by Tsai Ming-liang(蔡明亮)1992
7. Blue Gate Crossing (藍色大門) by Yee Chih-yen (易智言) 2002
This is another movie ahead of its time and deals with teenage sexuality in Taiwan.
8. Growing Up (小畢的故事) by Chen Kunhou(陳坤厚) 1993
9. Small Talk(日常對話) by Huang Hui-chen (2016)
Have you ever watched a documentary where you didn’t say anything or check your mobile notifications for two hours? Small Talk for me was one of those documentaries.
The movie about a daughter called Huang, and her mother. Her mother was so many things, but mostly an absentee mother. The documentary revolves around her mother’s past friends, lovers, and current friends and lovers. It’s a really interesting documentary that goes into a younger generation trying to understand their parents.