As Hong Kong cinema suffocates with “red money” and mainland China focuses on nationalistic hits like Wolf Warrior 2, Taiwan stands alone in the Chinese-speaking world with a relatively liberal filmmaking environment. Though some topics still remain off-limits, Taiwan’s repertoire of movies in 2017 feels far more eclectic than China’s.
We’ve picked some of the Best Taiwanese Movies of 2017 and compiled them into this list. As you’ll see, there’s quite a variety — from mass-market horror movies to documentaries about relevant social issues. Furthermore, this list doesn’t include movies co-produced with China, which usually don’t have a very local Taiwanese flavor.
8. Who Killed Cock Robin
Chinese title: 目擊者 | Starring: Kaiser Chuang, Hsu Wei-ning (Tiffany Hsu), Ko Chia-yen, Christopher Lee, Mason Lee
If you combine the Chinese (literally “eyewitness”) and English titles (inspired by a British poem about murder) of Who Killed Cock Robin, you get a pretty good idea of the film’s story.
In the film, a disgraced journalist (Kaiser Chuang) revisits a long-forgotten hit-and-run case and discovers more than he bargained for.
Much of the crime thriller was shot with a handheld camera, a bit like the American monster movie Cloverfield. While the plot gets somewhat convoluted, the cast gives a strong performance and provides the film with constant momentum.
7. Missing Johnny
Chinese title: 強尼．凱克 | Starring: Lawrence Ko, Rima Zeidan, Sean Huang, Jack Kao
Enjoy indie movies? Then you should check out Missing Johnny. Centered around the intersecting lives of three young people in Taipei, the movie offers a low-key, moody meditation on the nature of human relationships. The title comes from how one of the characters, a young woman surnamed Hsu (played by the Taiwanese-Lebanese actress Rima Zeidan), constantly receives phone calls asking for someone named “Johnny”.
Missing Johnny fared quite well at 2017’s Golden Horse Awards (Taiwan’s Oscars). Zeidan won a Best New Performer Award, and first-time female director Huang Xi (a protege of Hou Hsiao-hsien) gained a nomination for Best Director.
6. The Tag-Along 2
Chinese title: 紅衣小女孩2 | Starring: Rainie Yang, Hsu Wei-ning (Tiffany Hsu), Francesca Kao, Lung Shao-hua, River Huang
I personally don’t like horror movies, but I can’t neglect The Tag-Along 2 since it performed quite well at the Taiwanese box office in 2017. As the “2” in the title suggests, the movie is a sequel to The Tag-Along, which came out in 2015.
Both movies take inspiration from a popular Taiwanese urban legend about “the little girl in red”. In that legend, people report seeing an unusual-looking girl dressed in red before morbid events occur. Director Cheng Wei-hao also helmed Who Killed Cock Robin, and is generally known for his work on scary and mysterious films.
5. Mom Thinks I’m Crazy to Marry a Japanese Guy
Chinese title: 雖然媽媽說我不可以嫁去日本 | Starring: Jian Man-shu, Yuta Nakano, Lotus Wang, Lin Mei-hsiu
On a more lighthearted front we have Mom Thinks I’m Crazy to Marry a Japanese Guy, whose title pretty much says it all.
Honestly, a movie with the same title wouldn’t be so lighthearted if it were made in mainland China, where anti-Japanese sentiment is rife. However, Taiwanese have a much more positive view of Japan — as we can see through movies like the highly popular Cape No. 7 and Sashimi.
Thus, Mom Thinks I’m Crazy to Marry a Japanese Guy is actually a playful romantic comedy that offers a bit more uniqueness than your average Taiwanese schoolyard coming-of-age flick. The film offers a truly “modern romance” — the protagonists meet over Facebook, and it’s interesting to see how the movie visually depicts their exchanges.
4. Small Talk
Chinese title: 日常對話 | Narrated by and featuring director Huang Hui-chen
Executive produced by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Small Talk is a highly personal documentary that explores director Huang Hui-chen’s relationship with her lesbian mother. The film won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary Film at 2017’s Berlin Film Festival and garnered nominations for Best Documentary and Best Editing at 2017’s Golden Horse Awards.
It’s hard to imagine a movie like Small Talk coming out of mainland China. The film’s existent is a testament to Taiwan’s relatively liberal views on LGBT rights. In fact, Small Talk had its theatrical release just a month before Taiwan’s Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.
If you want to learn more about the movie, check out this interview with director Huang Hui-chen.
3. Alifu the Prince/ss
Chinese title: 阿莉芙 | Starring: Utjung Tjakivalid, Chao Yi-lan, Bamboo Chen
Alifu the Prince/ss touches upon the “T” in LGBT. The movie has three stories, one of which centers on a 25 year-old aboriginal man named Alifu. As an aboriginal tribal chief’s only son, Alifu is torn between inheriting the chieftanship and becoming a woman.
This is another movie that you wouldn’t see in China. Besides touching on LGBT issues, the movie also depicts Taiwan’s historically marginalized aborigines, joining movies like Seediq Bale and Wawa No Cidal.
If you want to learn more about Alifu, we also published an interview with director Wang Yu-lin a little while back.
2. The Great Buddha +
Chinese title: 大佛普拉斯 | Starring: Cres Chuang, Bamboo Chen, Leon Dai, Na Dou, Lin Mei-hsiu
Director Huang Hsin-yao never expected The Great Buddha+ to cause much fanfare. Instead, the film won three Golden Horse Awards and garnered great critical acclaim for its stark depiction of two drifters on the edge of Taiwanese society.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Huang described how Taiwan’s 2013-14 social movements influenced his work. As Taiwan’s economy stagnates, there are many so downtrodden that they can’t even protest. Huang aimed to tell a compelling story about these individuals in The Great Buddha+. From the looks of it, he succeeded.
1. The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful
Chinese title: 血觀音 | Starring: Kara Hui, Wu Ke-xi, Vicky Chen
Set in the 1980s, The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful focuses on a powerful matriarch’s wheelings and dealings. Madame Tang heads an all-female family. She acts as a mediator between crooked officials and businessmen, but one project goes awry with murder.
This film also won three awards — including Best Feature — at 2017’s Golden Horse Awards. Not only that: it did pretty well at Taiwan’s box office. Besides having a psychologically compelling plot, the film also offers great acting and a highly stylized visual palette. Think of this (very loosely) as a cross between Korea’s The Handmaiden and House of Cards.
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Interested in Taiwan? See why anyone who cares about Taiwan should watch A City of Sadness.
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