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A Priceless ‘Freedom’ – a Look at the 56th Golden Horse Awards

7 January 2020


A Priceless ‘Freedom’ – a Look at the 56th Golden Horse Awards

The 56th Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards ended on 23rd November. (Image/ United Daily News Group) 

The 56th Golden Horse Awards took place on 23 November 2019, and the award ceremony has been heavily affected by political tensions between Taiwan and China. Following Taiwanese film critic Pony Ma’s previous piece about her insights on how the festival has been affected, she has written a new article after the 56th Golden Horse Awards, recounting the different problems faced by the award ceremony in the past year.

We’ve summarised and translated the post, so read on to find out more about her thoughts on the 56th Golden Horse Awards Ceremony:

The 56th Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards ended on the evening of 23rd November 2019. Looking back on the Golden Horse Awards this year, it can be said that the journey has not been smooth.

Using politics as a reason to interfere with artistic exchange, China not only forbade mainland filmmakers to participate in the Golden Horse Awards or act as judges, but also pressured sponsors to withdraw their sponsorship. Besides that, mainland authorities announced that the 32nd Golden Rooster Awards, a film festival held in Xiamen, would be rescheduled to coincide with the 56th Golden Horse Awards. The Golden Rooster Awards, which was held once every two years, was also changed to an annual event. This intentional clash warns of more imminent conflicts and tension in the future.

In the face of such difficulties, has the Golden Horse Awards lost its quality due to the reduced number of films participating, as foreign media has said? Or has it, as the most prestigious Chinese film festival, once again honoured the hard work of the filmmakers?

Nurturing Southeast Asian films

Although Chinese films from China and Hong Kong co-productions failed to participate in the competition for the Golden Horse Awards this year, from the shortlist, the Golden Horse Awards has made a more inclusive list, expanding from the original three regions of mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to the exploration and affirmation of films from all over Asia.

The addition of Southeast Asian films is not an intentional “Southbound” direction from the Golden Horse Awards, but to highlight a change in the combination of films signed up for this year, which makes the awards more diverse. Although Taiwanese films are still the predominant force, the Chinese films in Southeast Asia have proved, with their potential and production quality, to be on par with others in the Golden Horse Awards.

In recent years, Ilo Ilo from Singapore, Ola Bola and Shuttle Life from Malaysia have all won at the Golden Horse Awards. There are only a handful of Southeast Asian films, but this year saw the nominations of films such as Anthony Chen’s second feature Wet Season and Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined which won the Golden Leopard Award at the Locarno International Film Festival last year. Malaysia’s representatives also include the country’s locally produced and funded The Garden of Evening Mists, as well as Malaysian director Lau Kek Huat who shifted his focus to Taiwan, shooting the Malaysian Communist Party themed documentary The Tree Remembers and his debut feature film Boluomi, and he uses the film knowledge learned in Taiwan to reflect on Malaysia’s ethnic issues.

This year’s nominations list not only highlights the significance of the regional restrictions, but actually gives us a peek at the changes that international co-productions are undergoing. For example, Wet Season was funded by the Taipei Film Commission’s Taipei Film Fund and became a Singapore and Taiwan co-production. Also, Taiwanese director Lin Shu-yu was invited by Malaysian investors to direct The Garden of Evening Mists. Among the crew, Malaysian-based personnels like Sound Designer Onn San, Editor Soo Mun Thye, Art Director Lin Ching-shun, and Zhou Li-ming, who won the award for Best Makeup and Costume Design, are examples of the technical exchange between Taiwanese and Malaysian film crews.

Yeo Yann Yann (second from the left) wins Best Leading Actress for her role in Wet Season. (Image/ United Daily News Group)

Moving towards global Chinese cinema

When the Golden Horse Awards extended its definition of Chinese to become an open interpretation of Pan Chinese and Chinese films, not only limited to the geographical scope of Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Southeast Asia, it broke through the boundaries of Asia and expanded the imagination of Chinese films.

An example this year is the American film Lucky Grandma directed by Chinese American director Sasie Sealy. The role of grandma in the film is played by Tsai Chin, a veteran actor famous for The Joy Luck Club. Her outstanding acting skills make her one of the biggest regrets for not being nominated for the Best Leading Actress.

As can be seen from the example above, the definition of Chinese given by the Golden Horse Awards goes far beyond the geographical territory of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan as the main body recognized in the past. Even going beyond language, as long as the proportion of “Chinese” film crew fulfills the criteria, the film can still participate in the competition.

In the past, for example, Wei Te-sheng’s Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, Umin Boya’s KANO, this year’s winner for the Best Makeup and Costume Design, The Garden of the Mists, uses English and Cantonese as the main language and the Malaysian short film Langit Budak Biru uses Malay as the film’s language. The definition of Chinese film is once again expanded through language.

2019 is bound to be a turning point for the Golden Horse Awards. The turning point is not only to face the political pressure, but also to give audiences who have been following the Golden Horse Awards an insight to the secret behind the rules, and to show how international production can build a connection for films, making the Golden Horse Awards’ status in celebrating Chinese cinema more stable.

The film crew of the Best Film of the year, A Sun. (Image/ United Daily News Group)

At the same time, the clash of schedule between the Golden Rooster Awards and Golden Horse Awards started a war to see who attends which ceremony. There was no spoken warning, but it indirectly affected the filmmakers’ choice. Although this factor had an impact on the final ceremony, this priceless “freedom” may be the core value that the Golden Rooster can’t understand, no matter how grand it is.

Golden Horse and Golden Rooster – A priceless freedom

The freedom of creativity, the jury’s discussion process, and even the possible combinations of the winners – the definition of “freedom” should be extended. 

Comparing both sides, Golden Rooster Awards follows the majority votes, but Golden Horse Awards uses a diverse group of judges and the face-to-face communication allows it to bring new ideas and perspectives to the awards each time.

For example, in the competition for the Best New Performer this year, judges saw the potential of Fandy Fan in We Are Champions, and it’s not limited to the movie’s quality, but actually giving recognition to potential performers. The winner for the Best Original Screenplay, A Land Imagined, did not win only because of its story’s structure, but also how it blurs the line between reality and imagination, using film noir elements thematically as an examination of the current national issues of Singapore. 

Art will always be influenced and changed by politics, but politics should not be using its name and authority to limit artistic freedom. 

With the background of the Cold War between China and Taiwan and the political roots since its creation, the Golden Horse Film Festival has since progressed step by step, changing its rules to include Chinese films from all over the world.

The opening performance《有一陣人,追求一个夢》(A while, pursuing a dream). (Image/ United Daily News Group)

A sense of ‘Respect’ continues the film industry

“Sorry, we have some technical issues. The film can’t be shown for now.” The familiar term “technical issues” reflects the Golden Horse Film Festival’s situation this year. Directed by Li Hsing, Good Neighbors (1962) is the movie Gingle Wang’s and Fu Meng-po’s watched in the theater in a scene in Detention. Good Neighbors is also actress Wang Man-chiao’s screen debut. 57 years later, she sat in the middle of the Golden Horse Awards stage and talked about the history of Taiwan cinema as the ceremony’s introduction.

Studio M, together with Lee Chien-na, Sun Ke-fang, Miao Ke-li and others, brings the opening performance《有一陣人,追求一个夢》(A while, pursuing a dream), based on the musical Hollywood Taiwan. Owen Wang adapted the melody of Galloping Golden Horse, using Taiwanese language as the language and hand-painted posters of master Chen Zi-fu on the screen. He presented the style of Taiwanese films in the 1960s to the audience. Later, Lin Yong-yi presented a montage of shortlisted films, officially opening the ceremony.

It is worth mentioning that the visual coordination of this ceremony was carried out by the highly praised JL DESIGN, who had been the visual designer for Golden Melody Awards for many years. For the first time, the team led by Luo Shen-jun invited 23 new directors to create exciting designs for the nominated film categories.

These new directors include Singapore directors Wei Liang Chiang, Boo Jun Feng, Hong Kong directors Jun Li, Chan Siu Kuen, and Chan Chi Fat, while Taiwan has many representatives of the new generation, such as Hsie Pei-ru, Lu Po-shun, Tsao Shi-han, Chen He-yu, Hsu Han-qiang, and Huang Bang-quan. With their creativity, they managed to ease the tension before the announcement of results with the imaginative opening videos. They used their knowledge of filmmaking, coupled with voiceovers by senior filmmakers to announce the nominees of the category.

For this year, The Golden Horse Awards did not have a host to guide the ceremony, and removed other smaller performances or appearances, focusing instead on the films themselves and the filmmakers, to honour the award winners and whoever attended the ceremony.

Even though there weren’t a lot of famous stars present, the support of the filmmakers created a  friendly atmosphere at the Golden Horse Awards, especially the attendance of senior filmmakers in Taiwan, who were invited to be award presenters, and ended up creating some comedic effects for the ceremony. For example, the “Fu Lu Shou” team, consisting of Lee Ping-bin, Liao Ching-song, and Du Du-zhi, unexpectedly became the most humorous moment of the ceremony. As for awarding the jury chairman Wang Toon’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the two actors Yang Kuei-mei and Peng Chia-chia who played Hill of No Return were specially invited to be the award presenters.

The Golden Horse Awards reflects the respect Taiwan gives to filmmakers, honouring them with a humble attitude, and always welcoming filmmakers with open arms.

If you are interested to read the original post by Pony Ma, here are the links to the original article, which is split into two parts:

Part 1

Part 2