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"Lucy" sets milestone for Taipei Film Commission

By Carol Hsieh
Staff writer

Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-bin speaks at the The filming of "Lucy," the latest movie from French Director Luc Besson starring Scarlett Johansson, wrapped up on Oct. 31 after 11 days of shooting in Taipei. The film marks a successful cooperation between Besson's foreign film production crew and the Taipei Film Commission (TFC), which was in charge of behind-the-scenes coordination.

Besson, director of box-office hits such as "Léon," "The Fifth Element" and screenwriter for the popular "Taxi" series, appeared in a press conference with his wife Virginie Besson-Silla, who is also the producer of "Lucy." The couple shared thoughts on their "Taipei experience" during the Nov. 1 press event held at Taipei 101, Taipei's landmark skyscraper and the world's fifth tallest building.

In comparison with the other seven to eight cities that the crew of "Lucy" considered before the shooting took place, "Taipei is very photogenic," with relatively shorter distance of travel from place to place and lively, warm-hearted people, said Besson. Most importantly, the original script of "Lucy," written by Besson himself, has its background set in the city of Taipei.

Over 100 correspondents join the The TFC, directed under the Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs (DOCA), had been providing administrative assistance such as security measures, traffic control, and other accommodations to make filming for the crew as smooth as possible. In this regard, Besson expressed his gratitude to Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-bin, DOCA Commissioner Liou Wei-gong, and TFC Director Jennifer Jao, who were all present at the press conference.

As to the media attention about the clashes between his crew and the paparazzi, Besson said, overall, the press and the people had had been gentle, but admitted that "shooting at night time was a nightmare" because of interference by the paparazzi. As a director, Besson said he had the right to keep the characters' appearances from being shared with the public, but instead the paparazzi had released "bad pictures of Johansson."

He mentioned two Hong Kong-based agencies for condemnation, but denied the rumor that he was to leave as a result of the turmoil. "We have a schedule and many people, so even if we were disturbed, it was never in my mind to leave."

Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-bin (right) presents gifts to French Director Luc Besson (center) and the film producer Virginie Besson-Silla in the Besson also took the opportunity to address and rectify Internet spoilers regarding the plot of "Lucy." Instead of centering on drug dealers as "leaked" leads claim, the core concept of "Lucy" is "pure intelligence." "We're basically using 10% of the brain. What happens if we use more?" Besson hinted but he declined to divulge further details.

No foreign visitors can truly understand the essence of Taiwan without savoring its cuisine and Besson was no exception. A gourmand and big chef of his own house, Besson praised the exquisite dishes he had enjoyed during his stay. "I'm a fan of dumplings," he said.

In addition, his experience in Taipei was made all the more pleasant because the local filming crew had exhibited an excellent level of profession. Besson said, "It's always a fear when you come from Europe and you never know the level of [the local film crew's] knowledge." However, the film team in Taiwan drove away their anxiety and proved to be competent to work with, said the director.

The landscape of Taipei City is a blend of old and new, tradition and innovation, making it an ideal setting for shooting footage. According to Hau, it all began five years ago when Taipei was given the opportunity to host the filming of the blockbuster sequel "Mission: Impossible III," starring American actor Tom Cruise. However, due to the lack of supporting resources, the city lost that opportunity. Since then, the city government has taken painstaking efforts to establish the TFC with the purpose of providing assistance and resources to all movie production crews shooting in Taipei City. Hau believed this would be one of the most effective means to promoting both Taipei City and Taiwan.

DOCA Commissioner Liou Wei-gong greets Besson during the At the 2012 Cannes Festival, after learning from Virginie Besson-Silla that Director Besson intended to shoot a film in an Asian city, TFC Director Jennifer Jao immediately recommended Taipei City. After over one year of toilsome endeavoring, Taipei finally emerged above all other cities as the crew's top choice.

In the press event, the mayor also shared that he in fact previously had a link to Director Besson. "I was the voiceover for Besson's documentary 'Home' that was released in 2009," said Mayor Hau. He then presented a DVD of the film with his dubbing to the director, who gladly accepted the gift.

Johansson was unable to attend the press conference since she had already left the city, but she surprised the press by preparing an audio message to be played during the press conference. In the message, Johansson expressed how much she enjoyed the zoo and the night market and wished she could spend more time in this welcoming city.

Besson said "Lucy" does not have an official release date yet since it would take about one more year for the crew to complete shooting. When asked if he would endorse Taipei to American filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who has expressed interest in filming in the city, Besson said, "Yes, of course, but please let him work and create."

In regards to future film projects, Hau pointed out that aids of any kinds including administrative and financial incentives from the TFC are available to international filming crews if the proposed product could help promote the city as a whole. Take "Lucy" for example, the movie will be screened in over 80 cities around the world and present positive images of Taipei City, which will help elevate the city's visibility in the global community.

While the crew of "Lucy" has ended its shooting in Taipei, the TFC celebrated its fifth birthday. The staff received a spirit-lifting gift – a new office with larger rooms.

Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-bin (fourth from right) and DOCA Commissioner Liou Wei-gong (left) pose for photo with winners of the Fifth Annual According to the TFC, the number of tasks for assisting and promoting both international and local filmmaking projects has more than doubled over the past five years. This is a direct result of the effort and accomplishment of TFC's dedicated staff members.

"Since its founding, the TFC has assisted the production of over 1,668 movies, among which 207 were collaborations with international filmmakers," said Mayor Hau. The recent joint shooting with Luc Besson is a great approval of the efforts put forth by both the TFC and DOCA, the mayor expressed during a Oct. 31 reception that celebrated the relocation of the TFC office.

In addition to providing services to filming crews, the TFC promotes the local filming industry by holding competitions or other related events. During the TFC relocation reception, awards were presented to the three winners of the best original scripts for the Fifth Annual "Filming Taipei" Screenplay Competition. The Golden Script Award along with NT$200,000 was granted to Chu Kuo-chen for her work on "Central Community," which illustrates a rediscovery of emotional connections from people of different but coexisting cultures. Winning scripts of previous competitions were eventually made into films such as "When A Wolf Falls In Love With A Sheep," showcased last Nov. 2012. "Central Community" was also commented as having the potential to be developed into an urban romance movie.

With the successful hosting of the filming of "Lucy" in Taipei, the TFC is aiming higher than ever before. Now that the department has relocated to a nicer, bigger office, it is expected to undertake greater projects and benefit both Taiwan's movie industry and Taipei City's outlook for many years to come.