Peggy Chiao's Lonely Trip to the Movies
While few Taiwanese show interest in Taiwanese films, internationally recognized filmmaker Peggy Chiao aims to prove that Taiwan can put out major motion pictures that move millions.
Peggy Chiao's Lonely Trip to the MoviesBy Sheree Chuang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 366 )
In the eyes of film festival insiders around the world, Peggy Chiao is regarded as ""the person who most understands Chinese film."" The Taiwanese filmmaker and critic is also the one person among all Chinese people around the world who most frequently receives invitations to sit on jury panels at international film festivals.
Chiao’s accomplishments have received far greater affirmation and attention overseas than here in Taiwan. In 2006, for example, Chiao was presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Chinese Film Award for the Decade and Honorary Columnist of the Decade Award at the Entertainment Decade Ceremony sponsored by the Guangzhou, China newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily. Also in 2006, she was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Indian Film Festival.
Once she started producing movies, the awards began to roll in. Some of the films she has worked on that have received awards include young Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai’s ""Beijing Bicycle,"" which picked up a Silver Bear Jury Prize and a Piper Heidsieck New Talent award at the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival; Taiwanese director Yi Chih-yen’s ""The Blue Gate,"" which took home the Best Director Award from the Bratislava Film Festival and earned a nomination for the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival; and Taiwanese director Lin Cheng-sheng’s ""Betelnut Beauty,"" which won a Silver Bear for best director at the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival.
Actively Promoting Taiwanese Film Abroad
Unfortunately, these movies failed to garner the attention they deserved back in Taiwan.
Peggy Chiao graduated from the Department of Journalism at National Chengchi University before going on to earn her master’s degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin.She later pursued additional master’s-level coursework at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Chiao became the first person in Taiwan to be certified as a professor of film. Now, she is the director of the Graduate School of Filmmaking at TaipeiNationalUniversity of the Arts.
Chiao is more involved in the film industry than purely as a film critic – she takes her role as a cultivator of Taiwanese film seriously.
In the past, this ardent promoter of Taiwanese film escorted the cutting-edge directors Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang to international film festivals, and took care of their translation and interpretation needs as well. However, these days, due to their differing ideas about film, these filmmakers have ended their partnerships and gone their separate ways.
Chiao often accepts offers to speak on behalf of Taiwanese film overseas. For instance, in 2006 she lectured for five days in the Czech Republic, at the CharlesUniversity in Prague and at Eastern Europe’s top film school, the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU).
As for Chiao’s current coordinates in time and space, she is always jetting off to different places around the globe. At one moment, she can be found editing a film in Berlin or presenting lectures in the CzechRepublic. The next moment, she will be off to India to receive an award before continuing on to Shanxi in China to visit shooting locations for ""Silver Empire."" However, her mind is all the while on her classes at the Graduate School of Filmmaking back at Taipei National University of the Arts.
Chiao believes the most critical task at hand for Taiwanese film is to shoot movies that young people will enjoy, so as to draw young audiences back to the theaters. ""This is the reason we established the Graduate School of Filmmaking,"" says Chiao.
Chiao asserts that Taiwan needs to start from scratch in transforming its film production system. That is, it must build up anew the mechanisms of the motion picture industry. Furthermore, she believes that Taiwan’s screenwriters and directors must completely relearn what they do, that both screenwriting and directing are important, but that directors should avoid thinking they are independent heroes.
Following are excerpts from CommonWealth’s interview with Peggy Chiao:
Q: What outlook is there for the future of the ethnic-Chinese film industry?
A: Just now, over the last year, a great deal of funding has suddenly appeared, a considerable amount. Most of it has come from China. A lot of people in China come to me for production and executive production.
Q: Why has this funding appeared?
A: Because the Chinese market has risen. ""Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"" first opened the doors to international markets for Chinese-language movies in 2000. After that, who’s going to take the baton? Hong Kong and China are showing what they’ve got, and they’re being a lot more aggressive than Taiwan. In Taiwan, there is just me over there screaming my head off. But it’s not enough to rely on myself alone.
I don’t know enough people. However, I also feel that most businesspeople are completely uninterested in the movie industry. They fail to see this massive business opportunity. This opportunity does exist. ""Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"" is likely one of the movies with the highest rate of return on investment in all of film history. It grossed US$200 million from an investment of just US$15 million.
Chinese Officials with Foresight
The one who really took the baton was Zhang Yimou. Zhang Yimou’s ""Hero"" took the next step. The film turned out to be a huge success, and the world was taken completely by surprise, because it discovered that China possessed a massive potential market.
When they were filming, Zhang Yimou and the others didn’t even consider that the Chinese market alone could bring in US$30 million, because ""Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"" didn’t do it.
Why didn’t ""Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"" do it? Because everybody had already seen it on video. It went on screen a half year late. So just think about it. Once it has gone on screen in places like Taiwan and Hong Kong, all the pirates move in, so people don’t need to watch it at the movies, and ticket sales turn out bad.
The reason ""Hero"" could carry the baton was that I feel government officials in China, especially those at film agencies, when compared to those in Taiwan, demonstrate far greater foresight and vision and possess better methods, strategies and diligence. I’ve had a lot of contact with them. From the Film Bureau director to the department deputy directors and bureau chiefs at the State Administration of Radio, Television and Film, each official has a head filled with commerce policy. They are amazing. What’s more, they also set targets. They require that the production value of the movie industry grows by RMB500 million each year.
The target was RMB1.5 billion the year before last and RMB2 billion last year. The industry’s target this year is RMB2.5 billion. So, for them, the movie ""Curse of the Golden Flower"" is especially important.
The second very important thing is the CEPA [Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement], because after the CEPA is signed, all of the major international companies, the eight big Hollywood studios, all of them want to go to Hong Kong to set up subsidiaries. When Jackie Chan’s movie ""The Myth"" went to screen, Hong Kong had HK$10 million in ticket sales, while China had HK$90 million. Who would you say they will make movies for in the future?
Everyone asks, ""Why has the rhythm of Hong Kong movies slowed down now?"" It’s because now they are filming movies for the market in the mainland.Also, have you noticed that all the big movies have started to use stars from mainland China? It’s because they have begun to work on grabbing this market. So people from across the entire industry are going to China to make contacts. With everyone working together under the CEPA, Hong Kong and China will be joined together.
With Hong Kong and China joined together, ethnic-Chinese movies will take off. Big movies and small films will both take off. Then there will be business opportunities, and there will be funding. So, I personally have around more than ten movies going at the moment. Some are being shot, some are in planning.
[The Korean TV drama] ""Jewel in the Palace"" got aired in Egypt. How do the South Koreans promote TV series and movies all the way in Egypt? Why is South Korea that formidable? It’s because their businesspeople possess foresight. What they sold at first were all low-priced films. They were half selling them, half giving them away. And you had to keep promoting them in order to make money. Then eventually the Korean Wave hit. When the Korean Wave hit, the films became more expensive.
In becoming a producer, I also agonized for a long time. And I started learning from zero. I have a little more knowledge of the movies than other people, more of a perspective on movie culture and more of a historical perspective on movies, but in producing movies there are still a lot of things I am not familiar with. Dealing with businesses, dealing with people, dealing with distribution channels, it’s all really difficult. You have to develop it a little bit at a time. Among it all, the most tragic thing is that I am very lonely as one person.
Film without Focus
Q: So all of Taiwan lacks focus?
A: It’s all messed up. And, you have to rely on your own power for so many things. I’ll tell you something even worse. We were talking about how we wanted the Graduate School of Filmmaking to cultivate screenwriters and directors, as well as production units, which are still quite inferior. We really wanted to establish a production unit in connection with the graduate school, but the project we applied for was rejected by the Ministry of Education.
We intend to begin offering a course in film production in 2007. But, how are we going to teach this film production class? The difficult thing about shooting these films I’m working on is that it’s really not easy cultivating screenwriters and directors. You want to bring them up, but, still, you have no industry. There is no industry, so all of the peripheral things, from executive producers and assistant directors to script supervisors, no one knows how to do it. However, when I go to China, the forms come out clearly and explicitly, and the formatting is nice and neat.
So I’m very tired. I very much want businesspeople to get involved. I really need people from the business world.
Q: When you say you need the business world, you mean investment?
A: No. It’s management. We need professional managers, people with MBAs, as well as negotiators. When I go to negotiate, I also need people who can deal with legal matters, people that understand entertainment law, but there are few lawyers that understand entertainment law.
Q: What benefits will the corporate world gain?
A: In the Chinese market in the future, as long as you do it right, you won’t lose money. The potential of the markets in Asia and China is extremely big. Moreover, all of these markets are on the rise. As long as the theaters are filled, there is no problem with marketing. Taiwan has already proven that it is one of the countries in all of the world that most likes to watch movies, that it is a major market for Hollywood.
Think about it. How much potential does Taiwan have? And how much do Chinese people like to watch movies?
(Compiled by Hsiao-Wen Wang)
Translated from the Chinese by Stan Blewett