OFF INTO THE WILD WET YONDER How does this...
Move aside, Bangkok. And shuffle off, Tokyo. Taiwan has successfully established itself as popular choice for international filmmakers in need of an “Asian” locale.
Thanks to recent feature films that have been shot there, Taiwan (and especially its capital city, Taipei) has now become the location of choice for an increasing numbers of filmmakers. Much of this attention has been credited to the work of Taiwanese-born Ang Lee, director of the critically acclaimed 2012 film Life of Pi—most of which was filmed in various locations throughout Taiwan.
When shooting sci-fi thriller Lucy starring Scarlett Johansson, French filmmaker Luc Besson decided on Taipei as a shooting location as well after looking at over half a dozen other cities around Asia. And while the city served as backdrop, Besson was quick to include the iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper, along with the Taiwanese flag and even steamed dumplings—an extremely popular local snack (also ubiquitous throughout China).
Most recently, Martin Scorsese’s historic drama Silence wrapped up filming there and is scheduled for release in 2016.
In addition to big-name directors choosing Taiwan, film subsidies combined with a marked effort to accommodate filmmakers has attracted many more to shoot there in the past few years.
“For an international collaboration, whether the local partner is reliable is crucial,” says producer Aileen Li, who coordinated the shooting of both Lucy and The Crossing, a 2014 film by Hong Kong director John Woo.
“After Life of Pi and Lucy were shot in Taiwan, international teams were assured and started to see Taiwan as an option alongside Tokyo, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Seoul when choosing a location in Asia,” commented Li.
Taiwan’s lack of heavy-handed censorship, which mainland China has been practicing with fervor, gives even more points in favor of this island.
“To film some scenes [on the mainland] the local authorities will review the script and that can put some pressure on filmmakers. So in such situations Taiwan will be an option as it is also a Chinese-speaking society,” said Li.
For some Japanese directors, Taiwan has proved a fitting alternate to Japan as a shooting location. Takashi Miike, director of Shield of Straw, ended up shooting scenes featuring Taiwan’s high-speed rail line because he was not given permission to film Japan’s rail system.
Actually, for numerous films which feature Japan as the setting, both past and present, Taiwan is especially suitable as an alternative. This is mainly due to its similarities as an island which features similar topography to that of Japan.
What’s more, because of Japan’s long (and often brutal) colonization of the island, there are structures remaining from that era, adding an authentic touch to Japanese period films shot in these locations.
Overall, as more people come to know Taiwan (through feature films or otherwise), it seems the country will break out from its role as “generic Asian backdrop” for filmmakers to a prominent destination for Asia-bound tourists. After all, Taiwan is home to the tallest peak in Northeast Asia, has some fantastic beaches, and has even made a name for itself as a bicycle-friendly island.