小野與吳念真，攝於中影公司 Hsiao Yeh and We Nien-jen, taken in CMPC
The Beginning of Taiwan New Wave Cinema
Written by Ko I-cheng, translated by Choi Yi Ling
A movement often starts by chance, so does Taiwan New Wave Cinema.
Around 1980, a ring of ripples is spreading out. In the first four or five years, Golden Harvest Awards offered a platform for Cinema Studies students and movie lovers to screen their works, get noticed and set foot in the film industry. Forty years until now, many directors including Ang Lee, Tsai Ming-liang, Wei Te-sheng, Tseng Chuang-hsiang, Zero Chao, Tom Shu-yu Lin and more are discovered because of this Awards. Hsiao Yeh and Wu Nien-jen joined the Central Motion Pictures Corporation (CMPC), which is the largest film company in Taiwan. They were so rebellious and explorative that they strategically promoted new directors and defended the creativity of screenwriters, even against their superiors' will. Fortunately, they met Ming Ji, a former soldier and the General Manager of CMPC. He insisted on branching out and fully supported Hsiao Yeh and Wu, despite unfamiliar with cinema. Sylvia Chang produced the television film series Eleven Woman with Chen Chun-tien and Sung Chuen-sau, a producer of the Taiwan Television and a director. It is a series of short stories written by eleven female authors and directed by eleven directors, hoping to bring freshness to the standardised television programmes with the aid of movie crew. The pay was little, but they still did their best. Serious production led to over budget, Chang and Chen covered the difference by themselves. It was because of this production, Edward Yang and I were invited later by Hsiao Yeh and Wu to film In Our Times (1982).
After the relations broke between Taiwan and America in 1979, Mainlanders in Taiwan gave up the idea of saving money for going back to the Mainland. The money was then invested in the real estate and stock market in Taiwan, resulting in economic growth and the increase of living standard. Taiwanese slowly turned their back on romance movies, which used to be their spiritual sustenance, and wanted something new. Meanwhile, the box office of some expensive propaganda films produced by CMPC, such as A Man of Mortality (1980) and The Battle for the Republic of China (1981), flopped. Hsiao Yeh and Wu took this chance and convinced CMPC to adopt low-cost and low-risk productions by new directors. In Our Time, a compilation of four short films, was the first production in this situation. Edward Yang, Jim Tao, Chang Yi and I were recruited and based on the CMPC. Two years later, CMPC produced two other three-part movies, The Sandwich Man (1983) and The Gift of A Fu (1984). The former is directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Wan Jen and Tseng Chuang-hsiang; and the latter by Law Waiming, Peter Mak Tai-kit and Li Qihua. CMPC also supported directors He Ping and Lee Daw-ming's The Digger/The Suona Player (1988). From the Golden Harvest Awards, Hsiao Yeh and Wu noticed Ang Lee's potential and contacted him for production issues. However, he had jobs in the States and therefore did not join this new wave in Taiwan. Taiwan, at that time, actively cultivated a new generation of directors. The tight-budget film industry was driven by exceptional screenplays, and the more and more subsidies and grants.
A New Wave is a group of works by a whole generation, sometimes is a co-creation.
Hong Kong film creators, like Tsui Hark and Leong Po-chih, supported each other when they were young. Taiwan New Wave Cinema director group was even closer. For instance, Edward Yang's crew of That Day, on the Beach (1983) or of Hou Hsiao-hsien's A City of Sadness (1989), they were all new directors, screenwriters and literature administrators. Cutting cost would be one of the reasons, also because they communicated well and had the right temperament. The most touching part was that whenever a screenplay was done, a dozen of screenwriters and directors would read and comment on it just by one phone call. For those who were not available, they would write down their thoughts and post them back. All these cost nothing more than a cup of coffee. Everyone meant well and hoped for the best. I remember the time before Wan Jen started filming Ah Fei (1984), Hou, Wu and our group discussed until the restaurant was about to close. Then, we went to two other restaurants that still open and talked until midnight - all we wanted was to improve the play. Our creativity was at the peak. I even moved to Yang's place at Jinan Road for three months for the sake of the screenplay. Yang is the kind of creator who needs a friend to talk to him constantly. He had a board writing 'cinema revolution camp, start up at little cost' on top. He used the right side on the board and I took the left side, we talked about any topics that came across our mind and wrote titles down. In three months, I finished a screenplay and two synopses. That particular screenplay was Kidnapped (1983), and it was later produced as a film; the other two synopses were made into television programmes. On Yang's side, he had eighteen titles on, and everyone was remarkable. At last, it was the That Day, on the Beach he completed. He then wiped the other seventeen titles clean and started all over again. In fact, Top Student was the one he wanted to finish the most, which was about an intelligent crime and a killing incident. During a trip to the States, he saw a suspense movie Body Heat (1982), and then he gave up Top Student: 'their story is way too incredible, I am going to put this topic on hold.' Not until our films made it to the cinema, I found some of his thoughts on my movies and some of my real life events appear in his films.
One can say the Taiwan New Wave Cinema begins with Edward Yang. Yang inspired and excited the younger generations by nominated for the best director based on his one-fourth contribution in In Our Time. He inspired directors in our generation by the structural complexity of flashback within flashback in That Day, on the Beach and the mixing of reality and fiction in Terrorizers (1986) - there are so much more possibilities for cinema. Hou even mortgaged his house to help Yang to film Taipei Story (1985). Taiwan New Wave Cinema was brought by friendship like this.