A quick scan of the local theater showtimes reveals a startling reality. Of the twenty or thirty movies currently showing in Taiwan, only a handful of them are in languages other than English, the majority of them being from the United States. The average theatrical run of those films not from the United States tends to be about one or two weeks. Furthermore, the top five movies in Taiwan are almost always American films. It is clear then that Taiwanese audiences prefer films from North America. This has had a disastrous effect on Taiwan’s film industry, as audiences continue to ignore many films made locally. This appears to happen for three reasons.
Films from North America appear to give people in Taiwan what they most want: a temporary escape from reality. A popular Taiwanese expression is “Bu yao xiang tai duo” or, in English, “Don’t think about it too much.” American films allow someone to adhere to this way of thinking. Moviegoers can escape the trials and tribulations of their daily lives by focusing on the adventures of superheroes, the worlds of talking animals and cars, and the exploits of brave, hard-working patriots such as Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible III. In these films, they see that life always has a positive ending, that people consistently find a way to live “happily ever after”. Even serious movies such as Brokeback Mountain, which proved to be extremely popular in Taiwan, offered moviegoers the opportunity to take a break from the pressures of reality. After all, it was a look at homosexuality in North America, not Asia.
Films from Taiwan do not offer the same level of escapism. Because Taiwanese films have lower budgets than their American counterparts, they are not able to contain the special effects found in typical Hollywood summer blockbusters. Movies from Taiwan are, therefore, about people in more everyday situations such as a woman trying to fill a vacant apartment or a young watch seller so lonely that he changes all of the clocks he can find to make him feel like he is in France. Taiwanese audiences appear to shun these movies because they are like mirrors reflecting the lives of their customers. Even critically acclaimed Taiwanese movies such as Yi Yi, which was awarded Best Picture of the Year by the National Society of Film Critics, and Goodbye Dragon Inn, which received tremendous word-of-mouth in the United States as well as Europe, could not find an audience in their home country.
For many, going to the movies is a way of forgetting, a way of putting the troubles of the day aside. As they sit in front of the big screen, their minds drift from their problems to the magical world in front of them. They laugh; they scream; they cry. After the credits roll, they return to the real world, to its problems and complexities. For two hours, their stress had been lifted. For two hours, their minds had been trouble-free. It’s just too bad that that relief comes at the expense of some truly exceptional Taiwanese films.