As one of the few countries to never need a COVID-19 lockdown, Taiwan saw its cinematic sector flourish in 2020. With international competition absent, local Taiwanese films did better at the box office and in public discourse than during previous years.
Amidst these unprecedented circumstances, what were the Best Taiwanese Movies of 2020?
Cinema Escapist’s staff have curated this list of the top 11 Taiwanese films from 2020 to help answer that question. We chose these 11 Taiwanese movies based on their entertainment value, artistic craft, and sociopolitical significance. We’ve selected both indie and blockbuster films, across genres including drama, romance, action, comedy and more. When available, we’ve also included links to stream these Taiwanese films on services like Netflix.
Without further ado, let’s look at 2020’s best Taiwanese movies!
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11. Do You Love Me As I Love You
Chinese Title: 可不可以，你也刚好喜欢我 | Director: Chieh Shueh-bin | Starring: Chen Yuu, Patricia Lin, Tsao Yu-ning | Genre: Romance, Drama
School romances regularly rear their heads in Taiwanese cinema, and 2020 proves no exception. Based on a popular novel, Do You Love Me As I Love You is a stalwart member of the subgenre that became one of 2020’s top-grossing Taiwanese films—which lands it on this list despite the Cinema Escapist editorial team’s general aversion towards sappiness.
In the film, Chen Yuu (Island Nation, The World Between Us) stars as a bright-eyed student named Tian Xiao-xiang who’s in love with her male best friend Li Zhu-hao (played by Tsao Yu-ning). Unfortunately for her, Li happens to like Tian’s roommate Song Yi-jing—and asks Tian to help him chase Song. As you might expect, the classic hijinks of a love triangle ensue.
Those looking for something less saccharine and stereotypical might want to consider other romances on this list. However, anyone who enjoys school romances will find Do You Love Me As I Love You pleasing and reliable.
Chinese Title: 日子 | Director: Tsai Ming-liang | Starring: Lee Kang-sheng, Anong Houngheuangsy | Genre: Drama, Art House, Slow Cinema
Tsai Ming-liang is one of Taiwan’s most renowned directors. He’s a pioneer of Taiwan’s Second New Wave cinematic movement, known for his slow-paced, artistic explorations of urban alienation.
Days is Tsai’s first feature film in seven years, since 2013’s Stray Dogs. The movie stars Tsai’s regular collaborator Lee Kang-sheng in its lead role as a wealthy but aging old man who embarks on a sensual relationship with a younger man (played by Anong Houngheuansy).
With little dialog, the film delicately explores the vagaries of aging and confronting one’s mortality. Fans of art cinema—especially Tsai aficionados—will find Days a familiar respite from the modern world’s fast pace.
9. My Missing Valentine
Chinese Title: 消失的情人節 | Director: Chen Yu-hsun | Starring: Liu Kuan-Ting, Patty Pei-Yu Lee, Bamboo Chen | Genre: Romance, Comedy
Audiences who want romance without the stereotypical schmaltz of schoolyard stories should look to My Missing Valentine. In this quirky romcom, a young woman named Yang Hsiao-chi seems to experience life faster than others—blinking too early for photographs, singing off-rhythm, and so forth. One day, she wakes up to find that her Valentine’s Day has mysteriously passed, with signs that she might’ve found an exciting new lover. The film traces how Hsiao-chi attempts to rediscover what happened on that day, and explores the limitations of each individuals’ perspectives on life.
While our staff reviewer found My Missing Valentine’s plot somewhat jumbled, we’re still including it on this list for its innovative spirit. The film uses a novel two-act structure to convey its points around perspective limitations, and offers a degree of artistic whimsy and philosophical meditation that most Taiwanese romances don’t bother with. This might be why My Missing Valentine was the biggest winner at 2020’s Golden Horse Awards (a.k.a. Taiwan’s Oscars), earning five honors including best feature film.
8. Get the Hell Out
Chinese Title: 逃出立法院 | Director: Wang I-fan | Starring: Bruce Hung, Megan Lai | Genre: Zombie, Political, Action, Comedy
As coronavirus raged throughout 2020, zombie-themed films found new vigor all around the world. Taiwan was no exception to this rule, with the flesh-eating action of Get the Hell Out hitting Taiwanese theaters and prominent international festivals (especially the Toronto International Film Festivals) in fall 2020.
Besides being an entertaining zombie film, Get the Hell Out is also a political comedy. The movie’s Mandarin title translates directly as “flee the Legislative Yuan,” directly referring to Taiwan’s legislature and directly describing its plot. During the film, a zombie virus infects Taiwanese legislators as they’re voting on a controversial power plant—and the film’s protagonists must break out of a locked-down Legislative Yuan building to avoid getting eaten alive.
What’s especially notable about Get the Hell Out is how it satirizes Taiwanese politics—with its infamous legislative violence and sensational media environment. Audiences familiar with Taiwan will find many relevant political references in the movie. Though Taiwan was historically reluctant to make politically-themed films, Get the Hell Out is a member of an increasing trend of films bucking that reticence.
7. Classmates Minus
Chinese Title: 同學麥娜絲 | Director: Huang Hsin-Yao | Starring: Chen Yi-wen, Cheng Yu-tong, Cheng Jen-shuo, Na Dou | Genre: Drama, Dark Comedy
Director Huang Hsin-yao first made a splash on the Taiwanese film scene with 2017’s The Great Buddha+, which won big at the Golden Horse Awards. In 2020, he returned with Classmates Minus, which touches on similar themes of downtrodden alienation in Taiwan’s south.
Classmates Minus features a cohort of middle-aged male characters based on Huang’s old high school classmates. Down on their luck, they aspire to find meaning and accomplishment in their lives before it’s too late—for example by trying to run for legislative office. Those who enjoy male-centric dark humor will probably find Classmates Minus resonant.
Beyond the humor: like The Great Buddha+, Classmates Minus is also a valuable window into Taiwanese life outside of Taipei, which usually dominates Taiwan’s socio-cultural landscape at the expense of other regions. Note: if you’re looking for a more female-centric alternative to Classmates Minus that offers a similar non-Taipei perspective, keep reading our list.
6. Dear Tenant
Chinese Title: 親愛的房客 | Director: Cheng Yu-chieh | Starring: Mo Tzu-yi, Chen Shu-fang, Pai Run-yin | Genre: Drama, Family, LGBTQ
The LGBTQ cinema scene in Taiwan has been booming on the heels of same-sex marriage legalization. As a result, Dear Tenant is one of multiple queer films on our list for this year.
This family drama centers upon a gay man who selflessly takes care of his deceased lover’s son and elderly mother, but must struggle against ingrained societal prejudices against this arrangement. The film trumpets how, even if Taiwan has legalized same-sex marriage, the battle for full equality is not yet complete.
Dear Tenant received six Golden Horse Award nominations; strong performances by Mo Tzu-yi and Chen Shu-fang won them the Best Lead Actor and Best Supporting Actress awards respectively.
Chinese Title: 怪胎 | Director: Liao Ming-yi | Starring: Nikki Hsieh, Lin Po-hung | Genre: Romance, Comedy, Indie
Stylish and quirky romcom IWeirDo picked a fitting year to premiere. This film focuses on the relationship between a young man and young woman who both have OCD—and consequently traipse around Taipei wearing facemasks, gloves, and protective gear (even when there’s no pandemic).
Besides a unique premise, IWeirDo also deploys a highly distinctive cinematic style that utilizes bright pops of color and an unconventional aspect ratio. The film doesn’t shy away from nor overly sensationalize mental illness. Instead, its cinematic techniques vibrantly realize its characters’ complex emotional states in a way that helps audiences empathize. IWeirDo feels like a Taiwanese cousin to South Korean indie romances like I’m a Cyborg but That’s Okay and Castaway on the Moon, and should thus have wide appeal to audiences anywhere looking for a nuanced, artistic, and non-sappy romance movie.
Read more about IWeirDo in our full review.
4. A Leg
Chinese Title: 腿 | Director: Chang Yao-sheng | Starring: Gwei Lun-mei, Yang You-ning | Genre: Drama, Dark Comedy, Romance
Gwei Lun-mei is one of Taiwanese cinema’s leading actresses, and she returns in 2020 with a strong performance in A Leg. This dark comedy offers a layered and wry exploration of the breakdown of an imperfect marriage.
In A Leg, Gwei plays a woman named Qian Yu-ying who’s married to a man named Zheng Zi-han (Yang You-ning). The movie begins with Zheng about to undergo a leg amputation; shortly after the procedure, he unexpectedly slips into a coma and dies. Qian resolves to reattach Zheng’s amputated leg before he’s cremated—which sends her on a wild goose chase across hospital bureaucracy. Along the way, we learn through flashbacks why exactly Qian is so motivated to find Zheng’s leg.
If you’re into emotionally complex dark comedies, or a fan of Gwei Lun-mei’s acting, check out A Leg.
Learn more about A Leg in our comprehensive review!
3. The Silent Forest
Chinese Title: 無聲 | Director: Ko Chen-nien | Starring: Liu Tzu-chuan, Buffy Chen, Liu Kuan-ting | Genre: Drama, Crime, Horror, Thriller
In 2012, news broke in Taiwan regarding a pattern of sexual assault at a school for the hearing-impaired in Tainan. 2020 Taiwanese movie The Silent Forest is based on this case, and it powerfully melds genres in an attempt to force Taiwanese society to re-examine its treatment of deaf individuals and collective silence around sexual assaults.
The Silent Forest follows a student named Chang Cheng who transfers to a special needs school, where he begins to witness frightening instances of sexual assault. However, school administrators try to cover up the incidents, and Chang must weigh the costs of taking matters into his own hands.
Inviting comparisons to Ukrainian film The Tribe and South Korea’s Silenced, The Silent Forest chilled critics and audiences upon its release. After watching the film, Taiwan’s Deputy Minister of Education promised to improve the process for reporting sexual harassment at schools. Whether this brings about real change remains to be seen, but The Silent Forest at least made a powerful push in the right direction.
Learn more about The Silent Forest and its sociopolitical context in a review from our friends at New Bloom.
2. Little Big Women
Chinese Title: 孤味 | Director: Joseph Chen-Chieh Hsu | Starring: Chen Shu-fang, Hiseh Ying-hsuan, Vivan Hsu | Genre: Family, Drama
If you’re itching for a more female-centered film about everyday life in Southern Taiwan, look no further than Little Big Women. This movie presents an emotionally nuanced and occasionally comic take on family that resonated heavily with Taiwanese audiences; it was one of 2020’s most commercially successful local films.
The film features four women as protagonists—prosperous restaurant owner Lin Sho-ying and her three daughters. On Lin’s 70th birthday, her estranged husband dies. This throws a wrench into the women’s lives, forcing them to confront family secrets and personal struggles.
Those familiar with Taiwanese cinema might feel Little Big Women sounds a bit similar to The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful (our selection for 2017’s best Taiwanese movie), which also features a domineering matriarch and her three daughters. However, while The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful features an elite waishengren family in Taipei, Little Big Women highlights a benshengren family in Tainan.
Learn more about Little Big Women and its sociocultural context in a review from our friends at New Bloom.
1. Your Name Engraved Herein
Chinese Title: 刻在你心底的名字 | Director: Patrick Liu Kuang-hui | Starring: Edward Chen, Tseng Ching-hua, Leon Dai, Jason Wang | Genre: Romance, Drama, LGBTQ
Our selection for the very best Taiwanese movie of 2020 is Your Name Engraved Herein. This romance absolutely dominated Taiwan’s box office during 2020, and became the highest-grossing Taiwanese LGBTQ film of all time.
Set in 1987 shortly after the end of Taiwan’s martial law period, Your Name Engraved Herein features a love story between two students at a Catholic high school for boys. Director Patrick Liu Kuang-hui based the story on personal experiences, and weaves a complex story rich with both emotion and political history. The film lends itself to repeat viewings, and enjoyed a robust reception at numerous promotional events throughout Taiwan (which were possible given the lack of need for COVID lockdowns).
Learn more about Your Name Engraved Herein in our full-length review!
Your Name Engraved Herein is available for streaming on Netflix.
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