Taiwanese Cinema Review Sample
Works of art are normally influenced by what its creator sees, hears and even feels. When creators of art see and hear about certain happenings and also other arts, they could be influenced by it while coming up with their own brand of works. When they are particularly influenced by other art works, they would tend to strongly cross reference those arts in their works. In that direction, if filmmakers are influenced by other art forms like literature, music, dance, television, photography, puppetry, etc., they could use it or cross reference it in some way in their films, as films provide a wide canvas to incorporate various influences. That is, the filmmakers could use the above mentioned other art forms as plot of the story, as a key part of characters’ characterization, in the backdrop, etc. This being the case, cinemas all over the world including the Taiwanese cinema had and is still cross-referencing other arts forms to give a unique and also native feel to their works. On those lines, Taiwanese cinema and in particular certain Taiwanese filmmakers have cross-referenced other art forms, which have sizable local Taiwanese characteristics. One of the art forms, which have strong Taiwanese influence and are being cross-referenced in Taiwanese cinemas, is puppetry. Taiwanese puppetry are prominently used in mainstream Taiwanese films, with certain films being full-length puppetry films while others used it as part of plot movement, backdrops, etc. Thus the focus will be on how Taiwanese cinema particularly the film Legends of the Sacred Stone cross referenced the other art of puppetry, and how that cross referencing made impacts in the Taiwanese filmmaking styles, business strategies and even spectatorship in Taiwan.
As mentioned above Taiwanese filmmakers to give a distinct and native feel to their works, and thereby withstand and compete with big-budgeted Hollywood films, are cross-referencing indigenous art forms, and one of them is puppetry. This perspective was validated by Davis and Chen (153), who stated that Taiwanese films can achieve real popularity, “they must have local Taiwan characteristics, but also, offer something beyond cinematic features, linking direct to tribes of comics, games, Japanese dorama, and other intertextual, extra-cinematic forms.” They further state by doing this the filmmakers are trying to come up with works, which “look and sound like foreign films, but still be Taiwanese.” (Davis and Chen 153). One of the key and successful films that aptly followed the above formula and thereby cross-referenced the Taiwanese puppetry of Budiaxi is the Legends of Sacred Stone. Written and directed by Chris Huang, this film was released in 2000 garnering optimum box office collections and also receiving positive reviews from the critics. “Another big success – breaking the $ 1 million mark – was Legend of the Sacred Stone (Sheng shi chuanshuo, 1999), a furious, flamboyant, costume epic, played to violent perfection by hand puppetry.” (Davis and Chen 146). The film cross-referenced the puppetry completely because it is entirely made with puppets portraying the all the characters. In addition, even the backgrounds, set properties and other moving characters were made of puppetry. Although the film had a fair share of Computer Graphics (CG) and use of other tools like wires for action sequences, it is primarily a full-length puppetry film incorporating not only the techniques of local puppetry but importantly the native culture of Taiwan as well. “Legend is also an extension of outdoor puppet plays, a community ritual with regional and linguistic specificity.” (Davis and Chen 147).
When the filmmaking style of these films, which cross-referenced puppetry, is focused it gives interesting perspectives. That is, due to authentic or even effective cross-referencing, the films with puppetry aptly capture the nuances of puppetry and at the same time positively elevate it. As all the techniques starting from the materials used to make puppets, holding positions, backgrounds, etc., are correctly followed in the films especially in the Legends of Sacred Stone, it is clear that filmmakers have authentically cross-referenced it. Even while authentically cross-referencing it, the filmmakers have incorporated cinematic techniques to further optimize the impact of the film. By aptly merging CG, music, strong dubbing, fluid camerawork and production values, puppetry featured films including the Legends of Sacred Stone are further elevated. This type of filmmaking style of the Taiwanese filmmakers is further influenced by the Taiwanese Television series which were made entirely in puppetry. That is, TV series produced by Pili Multimedia International, which is also behind the making of Legends of Sacred Stone, have featured the characters in puppetry and are quite successful in Taiwan. When viewed from another perspective, it can be assumed that the Taiwanese filmmakers could have also cross-referenced from these TV series as well. Thus, when the filmmaking style is focused, it is clear that these films which featured puppetry have incorporated the authentic and best elements of puppetry, even while improving it further through cinematic techniques. “Somehow this televisual – and now cinematic – rendition of budaixi manages to amplify the energy and “fun” of puppetry, without giving up its traditional, local feel.” (Davies and Chen 148).
The effective cross-referencing of puppetry in Taiwanese films particularly Legends of Sacred Stone and its resultant success, has made strong impacts in the business strategies relating to films. The cultural structures and intentionalities enable the creators to represent and interpret them in many ways in other art forms. (Rubinstein 28). Quite before the success of this film, indigenous Taiwanese films started losing the local audiences. Majority of the Taiwanese film going population started to abandon commercial Taiwanese films, which were devoid of native feel and indigenous elements, and started favoring the Hollywood films, thus causing huge losses to the filmmakers. However, the success of the Legends of Sacred Stone, with the incorporation of traditional elements particularly cross-referencing of local puppetry being the main reason, many Taiwanese filmmakers understood this formula of giving quality films with optimum sprinkling of native aspects. “The analogy is that Legend is ultimately based on extra-cinematic art forms and audiences, and filmmakers since then have also capitalized on extra-cinematic communities that might be courted, and then reconstituted into ticket buying audiences for popular movies.” (Davies and Chen 149). The other example of how cross-referencing and importantly incorporation of Taiwanese history could entice people is the film, Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale directed by Wei Tei-Sheng. The film deals with the historical story of how an indigenous Taiwanese clan Seediq was threatened by the invading Japanese troops, and how they fought them. In the film, Seediq were coerced to lose their own culture and Taiwanese identity, and how they fought back to regain as well as protect their culture. As the filmmaker Sheng showed how the Taiwanese people of early times were ready to give their lives to protect their culture and identity, it struck a chord with the current people. Thus, it is clear that when the filmmakers are able to strongly cross-reference local art forms and even historical happenings, it could entice the local people into the cinemas. These art forms are produced and read within specific cultural codes, and thus symbolic, and that symbolism could be cross-referenced by the filmmakers. (Allen 183). When Hollywood films tried to overrun the locally made Taiwanese films, this dawning of a new formula provided a strong impetus to the Taiwanese filmmakers and helped them to build a strong local spectatorship. The spectators or audience for their part are maximally appreciating and encouraging these types of films, which cross-reference local art forms.