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New Vision & Focus Highlight 2016 Taipei Film Festival

By Howard Shih

The eagerly anticipated 18th Taipei Film Festival (TFF) has kicked off with a fresh approach and new outlook. Whereas in recent years film selections centered on a particular city (e.g. Lisbon in 2015 and Warsaw in 2014), the 2016 TFF is switching things up by focusing on individual people and conceptual themes. Four of this year’s festival programmes celebrate the unique talents and influence of Alfred Hitchcock, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Jean-Pierre Leaud, and the late David Bowie, while remastered classics have been org
anized around themes such as Echoes, Visions, Journeys, Sensations, and Wild Tales.

<br/>1. Director Adam Tsuei, center, with the cast of The Tenants Downstairs, the opening film of the 2016 Taipei Film Festival, June 30, 2016. (Photo courtesy of TFF)

"We wanted to plan something that's closer to the modern audience experience of viewing movies, focusing on story and subject matter," said curator Kuo Ming-jung of the revamp in an interview with Taipei Times, adding that viewing habits are changing because of the growing opportunity to see international cinema.

Kuo’s sentiments were echoed by Taipei City Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Pei-ni-Beatrice Hsieh at the advanced ticket sale on June 5, who said that the festival needs to continue to think about how to respond to international trends of the past and the future "so that it can keep outdoing itself."

Another highlight of this year’s festival is the number of works directed by up-and-coming female filmmakers, with nearly half of the films nominated for the TFF International New Talent Competition directed by women. Of course, there is also a focus on Taiwanese cinema, including world premieres of Adam Tsuei’s The Tenants Downstairs and Lee Kang-sheng’s short Single Belief, as well as a diverse selection of Taiwanese and international
documentaries, short films, and children’s movies, as well as Q&As with filmmakers and actors.

<br/>2. The nominees of the 2016 TFF International New Talent Competition, July 5, 2016. (Photo courtesy of TFF)

The 2016 TFF will be running at Taipei Zhongshan Hall, Shin Kong Cinemas, and SPO Huashan until July 16. On the last night, an award ceremony will be held at Zhongshan Hall, with 40 films vying for the Grand Prize of NT$1 million, as well as other important awards. Last year’s Grand Prize winner was Chang Tso-chi’s narrative feature film, Thanatos, Drunk.

Opening & Closing Films

This year’s TFF officially launched on June 30 at Zhongshan Hall with the opening film The Tenants Downstairs, directed by Adam Tsuei, best known as the former president of Sony Music Entertainment in the Greater China Region and the producer of the box office hit Tiny Times. Based on the novel by Giddens Ko and starring Hong Kong star Simon Yam, this black comedy, fantasy, and mystery thriller tells the story of a loafer who spies on the tenants living in an apartment block he received through an inheritance. The film reunites Tsuei and Ko, who previously collaborated as executive producer and writer/director on Ko’s semi-autobiographical romantic comedy You Are the Apple of My Eye, which set new box-office records in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

<br/>3. Laha Mebow, director of Lokah Laqi! (Hang in There, <br/>Kids!), winner of this year's NT$1 million Grand Prize, Best Narrative Feature, and Best Director. (Photo courtesy of TFF)

My thanks to the Taipei Film Festival for giving me the opportunity and honor to screen the premiere of this film at the festival, Tsuei said to the packed audience at the screening on opening night. We won’t let you down."

This year’s closing film will be the innovative police drama Three, directed by Johnnie To, the legendary Hong Kong filmmaker who helmed crime classics such as Election, Exiled, and Drug War. Starring Zhao Wei, Louis Koo and Wallace Chung, Three is a gripping tale focusing on the dynamics between an emotionally unstable surgeon, a morally compromised detective, and a scheming criminal with a bullet lodged in his skull. Taking place entirely
inside a hospital, the film gradually ratchets up the tension until an explosive climax that blends To’s renowned visual mastery with the some of the latest advancements in
filmmaking technology.

International New Talent Competition

The selection at the 2016 TFF International New Talent Competition includes films from Taiwan, Myanmar, Tunisia, Nepal, France, and beyond, with nearly half the films coming from female directors. This year’s Grand Prize went to debut director Uisenma Borchu for Don’t Look at Me That Way, a German-Mongolian production that depicts the relationship between a single mother with a daughter and a mysterious neighbor who enters their lives. Borchu received her award in person on July 5 from the Jury Chair, acclaimed Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung, who said: The jury has great pleasure in giving the Grand Prize to this stunning movie for its vitality, its audacity, and
its mysterious beauty.

The Special Jury Prize went to Guillaume Senez’s Keeper, a Belgian-French-Swiss production about teen pregnancy and parenthood. The jury also gave a Special Mention to Sand Storm, by Israeli director Elite Zexer, while the Audience Choice award went to Taiwanese director Laha Mebow for Lokah Laqi! (Hang in There,
Kids!), a story about indigenous youths in Taiwan.

Another notable nomination went to Z.J. Wang’s Not Burma Anymore, a Taiwan-Myanmar co-production making its world premiere at the festival. Like director Midi Z, who won Best Director at the 2014 TFF for Ice Poison, Wang was born in Myanmar and came to study in Taiwan, where he fell in love with film. Wang previously worked as an assistant director on Thanatos, Drunk, and Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs.

Taiwan Cinema

Apart from the world premiere of the opening film The Tenants Downstairs, a highlight of the 18th TFF is the world premiere special screening of Single Belief, directed by Lee Kang-sheng. This highly anticipated short film takes Lee back to Ximending, the trendy Taipei area where the actor embarked on his career more than 25 years ago when Tsai Ming-liang cast him and changed his life forever. Since then, Lee has appeared in all of Tsai’s feature films. He made his own directorial debut in 2003 with The Missing and won the special jury award at the 2007 World Film Festival of Bangkok with Help Me Eros.

In addition, the TFF will feature world premieres of the Taiwanese-Japanese historical documentary, After Spring, the Tamaki Family..., directed by Huang Yin-yu; the Taiwanese-Malaysian family documentary, Absent Without Leave, directed by Lau Kek-haut; and the Taiwanese short film Subsurface Flow by Wu De-chuen. The festival will also see the Asian premiere of the American-Taiwanese fantasy short Genghis Khan Conquers the Moon by Kerry Yang.

Ann Hsu, the 2016 TFF ambassador, noted at the advanced ticket package sale that there are several documentaries this year linked to topics that the people of Taiwan can relate to. Some of these include Lin Tay-jou’s environmentally-focused A Ghost Island Lies Beneath; Huang Ya-li’s Le Moulin and Su Hung-en’s The Mountain, both of which are related to the impact of the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan; Li Nien-hsiu’s Hebei Taipei, about a Hebei-born soldier who hasn’t returned home since fleeing to Taiwan with the Kuomintang; and Kevin H.J. Lee’s The Taste of Apple, a controversial look into the abnormal development of media and self-censorship in Taiwan.

Filmmakers and Icons

In line with the shift in focus from places to people, the 18 TFF has four programmes dedicated to individuals.

Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi was selected as this year’s Filmmaker in Focus after the 37 year old rose to stardom last year with the 317-minute drama Happy Hour, a tender and insightful look into the lives of four women in their thirties. The film won the Audience Award and Silver Montgolfiere at the 2015 Nantes Three Continents Festival, and Hamaguchi also won the Best Director Silver Screen Award at the Singapore International Film Festival and a Special Mention for the film’s script at the Locarno International Film Festival. The selections for this programme demonstrate Hamaguchi’s versatility as a filmmaker, with long dramas in the vein of Happy Hour such as the 255-minute Intimacies, but also shorter projects such as I Love Thee for Good and Touching the Skin of Eeriness, both under an hour long, as well as the documentary Storytellers.

Three silent films from the 1920s made by legendary director Alf red Hitchcock and restored by the British Film Institute National Archive headline this year’s Revisions
programme. Select screenings of Hitchcock’s Downhill and Blackmail will be presented for the first time with live performances of the musical score by British pianist and silent film expert John Sweeney, while both screenings of
The Lodgers will be accompanied by a newly commissioned orchestral score by acclaimed musical artist Nitin Sawhney. One screening of Downhill will even feature the 2012 vocal score of world beatbox champion Shlomo.

4. River Huang and Ann Hsu, the winners of this year's Best Actor and Best Actress, for The Tag-Along. (Photo courtesy of TFF)

The late music icon David Bowie also has a special section dedicated to him at the 2016 TFF. Titled Performing the Strange, the programme features two films starring Bowie: 1976’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which Bowie plays a humanoid-reptilian extraterrestrial, and 1983’s The Hunger, where he portrays an immortal vampire. There is also the 1979 documentary Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which focuses on Bowie’s concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in 1973, as well as several other movies that either influenced Bowie (Performance) or were influenced by him (Velvet Goldmine and Only Lovers Left Alive).

The other icon of this year's TFF is Jean-Pierre Leaud, in particular as his alter ego Antoine Doinel, the fictional character created in 1959 by French film director Francois Truffaut. In all, Leaud played Doinel five times over a span of 20 years. The festival programme "Jean-Pierre Leaud outside Antoine Doinel" features a restored version of Doinel's first appearance in The 400 Blows, as well as an assortment of Leaud's other performances over the years, including 1966's Masculin Feminin, 1990's I Hired a Contract Killer, and the 2016 fim The Death of Louis XIV. Notably, this section of the festival also includes the two 35mm films by Tsai Ming-liang in which Leaud starred-2001's What Time is it There and 2009's Face-which TFF curator Kuo Ming-jung has said were extremely difficult to acquire. "If you can only see one or two films and want something that can only be seen at this festival, you can consider looking in that direction," Kuo said.

Lokah Laqi! (Hang in There, Kids!) was the biggest winner of the Taipei Film Festival Award Ceremony held at Zhongshan Hall on July 16, taking home the NT$1 million Grand Prize as well as the awards for Best Narrative Feature, Best Director, Best New Talent, and Best
Editing. Director Laha Mebow, who flew back from France to attend the ceremony, said she wanted to apply a relaxed and unserious approach to a story about Taiwan’s indigenous

In the acting categories, Best Actor went to River Huang for the horror film The Tag-Along, while 2016 TFF ambassador Ann Hsu won Best Actress for the performances in her three films at this year’s festival (The Tag-Along, White Lies, Black Lies, and End of A Century:
Miea's Story). Kaiser Chuang and Jian Man-shu received the awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, for Maverick, last year’s TFF opening film.

The award for Best Documentary went to
Hebei Taipei, while another documentary, Le Moulin
, took home the awards for Best Screenplay and Best Sound Design. A third documentary, City of Jade, directed by former TFF Best Director winner Midi Z, won the award for Best Music. The Taipei Documentary Filmmakers’Union also received the Outstanding Contribution Award in recognition of the Union’s decade-long devotion to the reform and development of Taiwanese documentaries.

The breathtaking cinematography in The Left Ear won the Award for an Outstanding Artistic Contribution, while
The Taste of Apple received the Press Award. The Audience Choice Award went to this year’s opening film,
The Tenants Downstairs.