Taiwanese cinema has following in France, but future murky: Neri

02/16/2022 04:03 PM
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Corrado Neri (left). CNA file photo
Corrado Neri (left). CNA file photo

Paris, Feb. 15 (CNA) Corrado Neri has advocated for Taiwanese movies in France for many years as a professor of film and author, praising their boldness, diversity, and willingness to address potentially sensitive topics.

Yet, that passion is being tempered by concerns about the waning enthusiasm for Taiwanese productions in France, with Neri telling CNA in a recent interview that films from other Asian countries were finding greater appeal among broader audiences and leaving Taiwan behind.

Neri, an Italian who teaches Chinese history and culture and Taiwanese film at Jean Moulin Lyon 3 University and author of a book on contemporary Taiwanese cinema, said he was first drawn to Taiwanese films after seeing "Vive L'Amour" (1994) by Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮).

Trailer for "Vive L'Amour"

Then, as a Ph.D. student, he saw a film by Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) at the Cinémathèque Française, a French non-profit film organization, which only firmed up his resolve to focus his research on Taiwanese films.

"I appreciate the maturity of Taiwanese films," Neri said, pointing to their willingness to discuss homosexuality or sensitive historical or cultural issues.

The ways Hou dealt with the 228 Incident or the innovative methods that Tsai experimented with in his movies, for example, were able to break the barriers imposed by the government's censorship system at the time, he said.

French audiences, and especially intellectuals, have found similar elements of Taiwanese film appealing, according to Neri.

They have always been intrigued, he said, by the historical context and settings found in Taiwan's New Wave films (which were at their peak in the 1980s and 1990s) and the cinematic language used by their directors, even if the stories focused on historical wounds or local themes.

Hou Hsiao-hsien's 2015 film "The Assassin," which won him the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Yet it may be that appeal of Taiwanese films to niche audiences and references to local history or culture that are not understood by most viewers that has made it harder for Taiwanese films or drama series to carve out new followings in France today.

The enthusiasm that once existed is fading away, Neri said, especially as several other major players have emerged in the Asian film industry.

South Korea, for example, has successfully attracted large numbers of French viewers who had not been previously interested in Asian movies, only complicating the issue of how to more effectively promote Taiwanese films in France, Neri said.

Behind having scholars like him promote the films to students, it was now essential, he said, to fight for greater exposure in media and at film festivals, citing recent Taiwanese movies "The Great Buddha+" (2017) and "Classmates Minus" (2020).

Trailer for "Classmates Minus." From Netflix Asia's YouTube channel

Those pictures that showcase Taiwan's multifaceted culture can be found on Netflix, Neri said, but he did not think they were well promoted in France or properly introduced to the French public.

Another issue, according to Neri, could be the films or drama series themselves and their inability to resonate on a wider scale with broader audiences despite the boldness of their topics and rich culture.

Taiwan has yet to come up with a film or drama series that has hit it big with viewers, such as South Korea's "Squid Game" or Japan's "The Naked Director," Neri said, arguing that only Taiwanese films with powerful symbolism that people can identify with will be able to attract audiences beyond those already fond of Asian movies.

One step he is taking, Neri said, is to organize a second edition of Spotlight Taiwan Lyon 3 at his university with the support of Taiwan's Ministry of Culture.

The program is aimed at promoting international cultural exchanges and cultivating greater interest in and appreciation of Taiwan's culture in the international community.

Neri said the second edition of Spotlight Taiwan is expected to highlight the theme of ghost culture in Taiwanese cinema and literature so that more people will get to experience this unique side of Taiwanese culture.

(By Tseng Ting-hsuan and Flor Wang)

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