Remember Me (金門留念, Hung Chun-hsiu, 2022)

Some way into Hung Chun-hsiu’s documentary Remember Me (金門留念) a woman takes part in a military reenactment firing large scale artillery from a now disused military base. What’s ironic is both that what was once a frightening reality of ongoing warfare has now been commercialised as an attraction for tourists, and the fact that the woman firing the gun pointed at China on this technically Taiwanese island is herself Chinese. As the opening graphics point out, the island of Quemoy (also known as Kinmen) is geographically closer to Mainland China though governed by Taiwan and for much of its mid-20th century history at the front line of an ongoing ideological battle between communists and nationalists. 

In the stock footage often employed by Hung, newsreaders can be heard uttering phrases about “vile communists” and eliminating communist “scum” along with impassioned sloganeering about taking back the “motherland” and freeing its people from the yoke of communism. The island was under near constant shelling until as recently as 1979 and consequently largely populated by the military many of whom were ordinary young men conscripted for national service. The island has obviously changed a great deal since then, though one unexpected casualty has been the gradual decline of the island’s photo studios. Less due to technological than demographic change, the first of Huang’s subjects explains that given the precarity of life in Quemoy soldiers would have their pictures taken as often as once a week, often full body portraits they would send home to their families as evidence that they had not been severely injured. Kuo-ming has been operating his photo studio for 46 years now one of only two still operating on the island. Like the gun show, the military portraits have also become a kind of costume play, Kuo-ming handing out army uniforms and prop weapons for people to pose with often against a painted matte backdrop of a local lake or else Japan’s Mount Fuji. 

Meanwhile, the photographs taken at the time hint at the loneliness felt by the men who were dispatched to the island, many of them opting to have pictures of their wives or girlfriends inset alongside them. Those who had no girlfriends sometimes used a picture of a famous model or actress as a personal keepsake though one photo which goes unexplained is inset with the photo of another man in uniform. It has to be said that many of these photos have a homoerotic quality, especially the ones featuring shirtless well-built men striking muscle poses, while others are unexpectedly feminine in nature featuring the soldier in soft focus and surrounded by flowers. The ones from later years are also sometimes playful, featuring soldiers sitting in a model speedboat in or in more relaxed, artistic poses. A man who had his photos taken there while on his military service reads a letter he wrote to a woman he loved promising a photo, one in which he later inset her portrait, little knowing that she did not return his feelings and only kept the correspondence up in fear he might harm himself if she turned him down. Though he discovered on his return she had married someone else, the couple found each other decades later and decided to have a “real” photo taken together at Kuo-ming’s shop dressed in faux army uniforms. 

Having married a local woman and decided to stay on Quemoy, former solder Shan-yung also used to have his picture taken at Kuo-ming’s to send back to his mother. He joined the army voluntarily as his family was poor and was shocked to be sent effectively to the front line. After leaving the service, he and his wife opened a karaoke bar largely catering to military personnel and though his business still seems to be doing well, bears out Kuo-ming’s description of the economic changes brought about by decreasing militarisation. Even so he feels a sense of guilt that his life has taken him so far away from his family that he is no longer able to care for his parents in their old age while taking care of his in-laws on Quemoy.

Chen-mei, the woman staging the live reenactment of firing the artillery gun, expresses something similar while explaining that she came to the island from the Mainland for an arranged marriage and now works as a civil servant. She concedes that it’s a little awkward for some of the Chinese visitors realising that their nation had been firing shells at the island for three decades, but suggests that it’s all in the past while espousing a well-meaning but possibility reductive One China philosophy that they are all one Chinese family who no longer need to care about labels like “communist” or “nationalist” because they live in an era of peace. The gun, and the remaining military garrison, may be a reminder it might be dangerous to take that for granted given the rising rhetoric on the Mainland in response to the desire for a recognition of Taiwanese independence. A father explains to his son that the artillery gun was a loan from the Americans to help resist communism, but when the boy asks him how long is left on the lease the man can only look confused and reply that he doesn’t really know. In any case, Remember Me seems to be keener on remembering the rosier side of life on Quemoy under fire as old soldiers look back on their youth if grateful that goats now roam their barracks and the only shells to be found are the ones commemorating a war that for now at least has ended. 


Remember Me screened as part of this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

A Confucian Confusion (獨立時代, Edward Yang, 1994)

A collection of conflicted urbanites find themselves lost in a rapidly changing society in Edward Yang’s bitterly ironic social drama, A Confucian Confusion (獨立時代, dúlì shídài). Floundering in the post-martial law society, they struggle with the new freedoms of the democratic future torn between the blind obedience of the authoritarian past and the risky business of having to figure out who they are and what they want in a Taipei that seems to have its lost soul to rapidly advancing consumerism. 

Much of the confusion is centred on Chi-chi (Chen Shiang-chyi), a demure young woman admired by all for her radiant quality yet herself under-confident and worried that on some level others might resent her assuming that her genial persona is in someway an affectation. Chi-chi’s tragedy is that she is genuinely nice and relatively authentic in comparison to those around her only she’s beginning to realise that she doesn’t really know herself and has no idea what it is she really wants. “I didn’t have views of my own, it doesn’t mean I agreed with you” she eventually fires back at her ultra-conformist boyfriend Ming (Wang Wei-ming) after he takes the step of resigning for her when she expresses reluctance to accept a job offer set up by his father’s girlfriend.

“You weren’t like this before” Ming continues to berate her, telling another woman, Feng (Richie Li), that feels he no longer understands the changes in Chi-chi’s mind. A symbol of old school patriarchal thinking, he attempts to overrule all her decisions while frustrated that she can’t see he’s only acting in the best interests of her future. Ming thinks that everyone being the same is a good thing, determined to follow the conventional path for a “stable” life as a civil servant but carrying a degree of personal baggage that his politician father was once sent to prison for corruption. He tells Feng, the one person most at home with the duplicities of the modern society, that he chased Chi-chi because she most conformed to the image of his ideal woman which does rather imply that he preferred her to appear as an extension of himself not having any particular thoughts or opinions of her own. The realisation that she does indeed have individual agency seems to destabilise him even as his allegiance to the social conformity of the authoritarian era is shaken on witnessing the hypocrisy of contemporary corporate culture in which his straight-talking friend (Chen Yi-wen) is forced to pay for Ming’s own mistake. 

It’s the hypocrisy which seems to weigh heaviest on the mind of a struggling writer (Hung Hung) who finds it impossible to accept the democratic revolution and has given up the cheerful romance novels which made his name to write “serious” books. Now living in a tiny apartment without electricity, he has become estranged from the wealthy woman he married as a student (Chen Li-mei) who defied her family to turn down an arranged marriage just to be with him. She now hosts a fairly conservative TV programme aimed at housewives pushing family values which is one reason it would be a problem if their separation became public knowledge. The man she was supposed to marry, Chin (Wang Bosen) the foppish son of a business associate of her father’s, is now engaged to her sister, Molly (Ni Shu-Chun), and mainly conducts his business in Mainland China looking ahead to a kind of “One Country, Two Systems” future which may in a sense be a return to a more authoritarian society albeit one fuelled by corporatism. 

In any case, more than anyone Chin is caught between old and new desperately trying to make his engagement to Molly work by hoping they will eventually fall in love while she is more or less just going along with it while convincing him to continue investing in her failing business. In this very confusing environment, communication is never direct. Molly, who is also a childhood friend of Chi-chi and Ming, never really discloses her feelings but according to Chin’s sleazy business manager Larry (Danny Deng) is too “unique” for the times in failing to appreciate the necessity of emotion as a corporate tool. Yet she goes along with the arranged marriage unable to fully break with feudal norms as her much more conservative sister had ironically done even if she is no longer happy with her choice. As is so often pointed out, anything can happen anytime. Sudden reversals and accidental revolutions are just a part of life. 

Conformity had perhaps been a way of coping with life’s uncertainty, but in its way only created more misery and resentment. Ironically the radiant smile Larry so admires in Chi-chi is also the symbol of a societal defence mechanism. The angrier you get, the wider your smile, Larry had tried to teach Chin who nevertheless remains the most “emotional” of all the protagonists, eventually breaking with feudal past in ending his engagement to Molly after randomly falling in love with a voice on a telephone. “We’re all so lonely” Ming admits, disillusioned with his life of dull conformity and edging towards seizing the new freedoms open to him to finally be “independent” no longer bound either by lingering Confucianism or the authoritarian past. The writer’s last book had followed Confucius as he found himself in the modern society but discovered that the people no longer believed in his sincerity, seeing him as a kind of motivational speaker and wanting to learn the quick fixes of his philosophy. Yet in meeting his own destiny, the writer hits on an epiphany that the best weapon against hypocrisy is to live honestly and authentically. Finally integrating into the democratic future, each is finally becoming accustomed to making their own decisions but informed by a kind of mutual solidarity in navigating the still confusing landscape of a changing Taipei.


A Confucian Confusion screens at the Museum of Photographic Arts on Nov. 11 as part of this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival.

Restoration trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)

Gaga (哈勇家, Laha Mebow, 2022)

“Children will find their own way” a grandmother reassures while her community fractures all around her in Laha Mebow’s lighthearted drama, Gaga (哈勇家). “Gaga” refers to the traditional rules of the Atayal people which find themselves under increasing pressure from the wider society. While one granddaughter returns after living abroad in New Zealand and is caught between her affection for her family and her desires for her future, her cousin is devotes himself to his culture but may end up marooned amid encroaching modernity. 

As the film opens, Enoch is hiking with his grandfather Hayung on the mountain where he tells him that he used to come to catch fish in his youth but not anymore. Back then, he explains, it was considered important not to transgress on another’s turf. If someone had set fish traps already, you’d be expected to move yours somewhere else. But it doesn’t work that way anymore, as the family discover on entering a dispute with a neighbour who’s engaged a surveyor to essentially annex a third of their land. Father Pasang appeals to the mayor, but is given short shrift and reminded that making an offering is no longer sufficient to mark a boundary. This crisis informs Pasang’s fateful decision to stand for mayor himself which places increasing strain on family relations especially in the wake of Hayung’s death. 

With Hayung gone, there is a sense that the traditional practices of the Atayal people are being lost. His grandson, Enoch, has a Christian name but is close to his grandfather and seems to be devoted to preserving their culture, often seen playing his mouth harp, singing traditional songs and dancing. His cousin Ali, meanwhile, has been studying abroad in New Zealand and seems increasingly at odds with the traditional ways of the village not least when it is discovered that she’s become pregnant out of wedlock with her overseas boyfriend who is also of an Asian background but is unable to speak Mandarin let alone the Atayal language. Ali isn’t sure she wants to keep the baby, but abortion is against Gaga while her father is chiefly worried about his electoral prospects amid a scandal concerning his only daughter. 

Pasang’s response hints at the inherent corruption in the electoral system. Resolving to neutralise a scandal before it takes hold, he decides to slaughter 10 pigs as a sacrifice and give the meat to other villagers, holding what is staged as a wedding reception for Ali and her oblivious boyfriend Andy who suddenly arrives for a surprise visit. Local politics is essentially transactional, villagers are accustomed to voting for whoever gives them the most stuff rather than whoever offers them the best prospects for their future perhaps cynically deciding to take what they can get having little faith that those in power are really going to have their best interests at heart. Pasang plays the game, but the game costs money endangering not only his own financial security but that of his family and most particularly his younger brother Silan whose land was at issue in the first place. Pressured by his mother, Silan is emotionally blackmailed into “helping” his brother with the promise that he will pay him back when he wins which he must do or else they are all ruined. But Pasang soon discovers that taking power over one’s life is not so easy, because those who already have power will be forgiven for breaking the rules while those who do not will not. 

On some level, Pasang is still expecting Ali to stay in the village and Andy to move there to be with her, while Andy, a little older than Ali, is seemingly unfazed by the prospect of youthful fatherhood but wants to take his family home to New Zealand. Communication issues are only part of the problem, the indigenous community switching between their own language, Mandarin, and Taiwanese Hokkien while adding English into the mix but eventually discovering that in the end they don’t need really words to communicate with Andy but are satisfied that he loves their daughter while the choice should be hers alone. Ali meanwhile is beginning to feel railroaded, as if everyone is trying to make her choices for her. Grandma has already named the baby after Hayung seemingly assuming that she will raise it to be an Atayal adult in the village. 

In parallel, Enoch’s sister Agnes is forced to enlist in the military in order to support the family following their financial ruin each of them accepting that Enoch is not suited to life outside the village and can do nothing other than continue their traditional way of life. But then again, it’s also clear that as an alternative revenue stream the villagers are forced to parade their culture as entertainment for tourists. Pasang even strikes a funding deal agreeing to host a temple on his land where tourists can stay, while attempts to construct a “traditional” Atayal house in the central square to provide cultural education are co-opted by builders from the city who ignore all of Hayung’s advice about how to build. Part of the roof collapses during the opening ceremony. Enoch asks why some of the children are excited about the “real” New Year which they think of as the Spring Festival pointing out that the Atayal celebration takes place after the harvest, Christmas is for Westerners and Dec. 31 the Japanese. In the end it’s up to him alone to stoke the fires of his culture amid an uncertain modernity. 


Gaga screens at USCD Price Center Theater Nov. 6 and Ultrastar Mission Valley on Nov. 7 as part of this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Shiro – Hero of Heroes (諸葛四郎 – 英雄的英雄, Lin Yu-chun & Chuang Yung-hsin & Liu Yu-shu, 2022)

An earnest young man, grieving son, and feisty princess team up to stop the evil Demon Society from becoming all-powerful rulers of their land in an adaptation of classic Taiwanese comic book Shiro – Hero of Heroes (諸葛四郎 – 英雄的英雄, Zhūgě Sìláng – yīngxióng de yīngxióng). Created by Yeh Hong-Chia in the late 1950s, the series has become a nostalgic touchstone for generations of children and is about to reach new ones with a feature-length 3D CGI animation following Zhuge Shiro (Wang Chen-hua) on another exciting adventure to reunite the magical Dragon and Phoenix swords and stop their awesome power from falling into the wrong hands. 

Unfortunately the Dragon Sword has already been lost, much to the king’s regret. When Demon Society raid the palace during a festival and place a mask over the princess’ face, the king puts the land on lockdown and summons the nation’s locksmiths to try and free her only to realise there’s no way to unpick Demon Society’s diabolical locks without giving in to their demands to surrender the Phoenix Sword. Luckily hero of heroes Zhuge Shiro just happens to be in town on the invitation of his locksmith uncle and pledges to help the king salvage his fracturing relationship with his daughter who resents his hesitation to exchange the sword for her wellbeing and make sure Demon Society doesn’t get its hands on the swords’ unleashed power. 

Though this is in many ways a tale aimed at younger audiences, the incredibly witty script moving to the rhythms of traditional opera includes a series of meta jokes for grownups from a silly reference to a limited edition dart and workplace exploitation to subtle digs at societal authoritarianism along with a small cameo from a wandering cartoonist whose work is censored by the powers that be. Having faced Demon Society several times before, Zhuge Shiro is a pure hearted young man wise beyond his years with a strong sense of justice. His first act of goodness is standing up to an officious guard, General Shan, who won’t let a worried father with a sick child enter the town to find a doctor, while he soon earns the respect of the king through his compassion and emotional intelligence in trying to explain the king’s dilemma to the princess. He does however engage in a little sexism which the princess herself is quick to push back against, pointng out that she’s a skilled fighter herself and does not need protecting but will be joining him on this mission whether he likes it or not. 

Similarly, Zhuge Shiro gains another comrade in Zhen Ping (Chiang Tieh-Cheng) who is originally under the misapprehension that Zhuge Shiro is responsible for his father’s death only to later realise it was all the fault of Demon Society. To reunite the swords and save the kingdom, the trio find themselves battling through the villain’s booby trapped lair and discovering that the swords’ power lies in a different place than they first might have assumed, one Demon Society is largely unable to appreciate and therefore to benefit from even if they had managed to hold both swords in tandem. In other words, it’s brotherhood and justice which eventually enable the trio to prosper while the bumbling masked demons only make fools of themselves in their intense greed and villainy. 

Staying close to the aesthetic of the comic book, the film’s highly stylised designs closely match those of the original characters from back in the late 1950s if perhaps a little cuter and rounder in keeping with contemporary CGI animation while it moves to a comic beat inspired by traditional opera interspersed with a few song and dance numbers and exciting martial arts fight scenes as the trio face off against the minions of Demon Society while standing up for justice. Just as the king learns the real meaning of treasure, the trio discover a brotherly bond and a new mission to rid the land of the evils of Demon Society while accepting that even villains can change their ways and should be allowed a chance to redeem themselves, and those who may seem obviously villainous might be alright on the inside. In any case, Zhuge Shiro embarks on what could be the first of many adventures in charming style taking down the bad guys with good humour and righteousness fuelled by the power of friendship.


Shiro – Hero of Heroes screens in Chicago on Oct. 23 as part of the 15th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

The Cabbie (運転手之戀, Chen Yi-wen & Chang Hwa-kun, 2000)

The crazy freewheeling life of a lovestruck taxi driver eventually takes a turn for the contemplative in Chen Yi-wen & Chang Hwa-kun’s infinitely charming comedy, The Cabbie (運転手之戀, yùn zhuǎn shǒu zhī liàn). Despite the film’s sunny atmosphere, darkness does indeed hang around the edges in the frequent references to car accidents and dismemberment yet it seems to be something that the affable hero can live with as he narrates a series of strange incidents from his ordinary life while meditating on his zany family when faced with mortal anxiety. 

As taxi driver Quan (Chu Chung-heng) points out, life can be pretty strange. His taxi can sometimes act as an unofficial confessional as his fares take the opportunity to unburden themselves to a complete stranger in a confined space, confessing the embarrassing details of their lives and even at one point seemingly confessing to a murder. Quan takes it in his stride, feeling as if he is one with his cab, Ah Di, and duty-bound to deliver his charges to their rightful destinations physical and emotional. Yet in an odd way it’s almost as if we’ve become the driver in this story and Quan is our fare, breaking the the fourth wall to speak to us directly of his strange life and the circumstances which led to this present turn of events. 

Quan is however unusual in that he tells his mother and father quite directly that he has no intention of marrying, giving a fairly logical reasoning based on the fact he believes women do not like him and he is not apparently much interested in them. This is of course a source of anxiety for his parents, his taxi driver father also turning fare in ranting at an old lady at the convenience store about his wayward son before trying to awaken something within him by gifting him porn. His mother meanwhile, the local coroner, decides to give up on him while ordering Quan to freeze his sperm so she can have a grandchild with or without his direct involvement at some point down the line. 

In any case, Quan changes his mind on falling in love at first sight with grumpy policewoman Jingwen (Japanese actress Rie Miyazawa, dubbed into Mandarin). Taking his mother’s advice about making an impression (not necessarily a good one) to heart, Quan decides the best way to woo his crush is to get fined by her as many times as possible. Even so there’s an undeniable Romeo and Juliet vibe to their relationship given the natural animosity between taxi drivers and traffic cops, along with a sense of cosmic irony that feeds directly back into the film’s darker themes. So much of life for Quan is coincidence, an act of cosmic collision not unlike the car crashes that occur so frequently outside the taxi depot. Quan encounters Jingwen by chance and then continues to push his luck by meeting her again in similar circumstances until she gives in to his unusual ardour. Yet not all of these accidents end well. One of Quan’s neighbours earns extra cash turning up at crash sites and making sure that the family gets all of the deceased’s body parts, reaching under twisted metal to retrieve pieces of severed flesh while his mother is indeed a coroner with a severed head in a jar sitting proudly in her office. 

In the end it might be that Quan is a mere passenger of fate, relating his life to us as it flashes before his eyes while threatened by a weird fare. What begins as absurd nonsense comedy as Quan tells us about his crazy family and the strangers who climb into his cab eventually takes an unexpected, poignant turn for the existential even as Quan continues to closely identify himself with Ah Di which might beg the question of who is driving who. Madcap and anarchic, there is something genuinely cheerful in Quan’s often simple existence governed both by chance and the rules of the road lending a fatalistic pall to all of his otherwise freewheeling adventures. Things don’t always always go right for him, but even when they go wrong it’s generally in the right way. Fast-forwarding though the “boring bits”, Quan races us through his life in the cab before taking us where we need to go keeping it cheerful while preparing for the inevitable collision with cosmic irony. 


The Cabbie screens 20th October as part of this year’s Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh.

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)

The Man from Island West (西部來的人, Huang Ming-chuan, 1991)

Two indigenous men find themselves searching for a place to belong in a changing Taiwan in Huang Ming-chuan’s poetic drama The Man From Island West (西部來的人, xībù lái de rén). A folktale told at intervals throughout the film sees a curious young man leave his community and find another only to be cast out, return, and be cast out again. While one young man dreams of escaping the village he sees as backwards and restrictive, another who had left longs to return but finds that one place is much like another and neither have much place for him. 

Beginning and ending in a fiery crash, the film opens with a limping Ah-Ming (Wu Hong-ming) having survived a car accident assumed to be a suicide attempt. Keeping himself to himself, Ah-Ming finds refuge with a local man and his hotheaded son, Ah-Chuan (Chen Yi-wen), who has a job at the local quarry as do most of the men of the indigenous community who have not already left for the city. Though the pair generate something like an awkward friendship, it is soon disrupted by the return of Hsiu Mei (Shaw Tswe-fen), Ah-Chuan’s former girlfriend, who has returned after five years in Taipei now apparently a rich woman. 

“There’s only one thing that mountain girls can do in Taipei” Ah-Chuan explains, “They never come home to stay. It affects them all in the same way”. Ah-Chuan may long to go to Taipei himself, but cannot accept the returned Hsiu Mei, reminding her that she is not the same girl she was five years ago rejecting her both because of her involvement with sex work and because of her urbanisation. As we discover, Hsiu Mei is on the run from trouble in the city and had perhaps thought to find refuge back in the village free from the corruptions of urban life only she gradually realises that she doesn’t fit in there anymore either. As Ah-Chuan had said, she’s not the girl she was before and the men of the Atayal community are not so different from those in Taipei who refused to recognise her humanity seeing her only as a commodity to be used and discarded. 

“There’s no difference between here and Taipei” Ah-Ming agrees, “all cold, loneliness, dreams of faraway places, one always awakes to harsh realities”. Telling his own story through that of the folktale, Ah-Ming reflects on his mountain childhood, sent away to the city by a father who wanted a better life for his son but is said to have wasted away with his eyes open waiting his return. For whatever reason, it seems that city life did not suit Ah-Ming and he longs to return to the simplicity of the village but is still seen as somehow other unable to reintegrate into its society living first in a chicken coup and then symbolically in a disused tunnel trapped between one place and another. 

When she makes the decision to leave, Hsiu Mei gives her red scooter to Ah-Ming in some sense giving him the possibility of movement which it seems he does not really take up but is in any case prevented from doing so when Ah-Chuan steals the bike from him. Yet as his father points out, Ah-Chuan does not think things through. All he knows is quarrying, he is not the sort of boy who could survive in the city but nor is he an Atayal man. As his father laments, they used to hunt in the forests all day long but now all they do is cut stone, caught between tradition and modernity but discovering only ruin and exploitation. Ah-Chuan snatches a basket weaved by his father which is also like that in which Ah-Ming used to ride on his father’s back and takes off in anger but on re-encountering Hsiu Mei is forced into the realisation that he will not leave the village and this life is all that he will have. A poetic, lo-fi epic, Huang’s indie drama is also perhaps in its way about Taiwan after martial law, seeking a home and an identity in searching for its roots though it seems for Ah-Chuan and Ah-Ming all there may be is a kind of restless wandering in the yearning for an elusive sense of belonging. 


The Man from Island West screens 17th October as part of this year’s Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh.

Original trailer English subtitles

When the Dawn Comes (黎明到來的那一天, Zhang Hong-Jie, 2021)

When Chi Chia-Wei appealed to the Legislative Yuan for marriage equality in 1986, he was told that “homosexuals are perverted minorities that seek to disrupt social morals for their own sexual desires”. 33 years later in 2019, Taiwan became the first Asian nation to legalise same-sex marriage. Zhang Hong-Jie’s documentary When the Dawn Comes (黎明到來的那一天, límíng dàolái de nà yī tiān) follows Chi during the final days of the campaign amid a counter offensive from conservative groups who hoped to prevent the legislative change going ahead. 

Chi has been a literal flag bearer for the LGBTQ+ community, a familiar sight at protests and pride parades well known for climbing to the highest point available and waving a rainbow flag where no one can miss it. Indeed the documentary captures him doing just this despite his advancing age and the efforts of the authorities to prevent him. His campaign has been a long one, beginning when he was just a young man as the opening sequence points out with dark hair who held a press conference and came out publicly as a gay man becoming the first in Taiwan to do so. Now his hair is grey, and he is still fighting the same the battle though when this battle is done he knows there will be others still to fight. 

When he first began his campaign for marriage equality Chi was battling the stigmatisation of the gay community during the AIDS crisis, continuing to argue that advocacy for gay rights and AIDS prevention should be carried out at the same time. In some ways subverting the prejudice shown against him, Chi became a well known figure handing condoms out in the streets wearing a series of striking outfits as a kind of performance art. As another advocate points out, what made his approach different was that it refused to submit to internalised shame in normalising the idea of gay sex while encouraging safe practice and educating both the gay and straight communities about the importance of sexual health. 

Nevertheless, Chi was not uncontroversial. Though he took a hands on approach in AIDS activism, setting up a hospice for those with nowhere else to go, he was criticised for inviting the press to cover it leading some of the patients to leave resenting Chi for breaching their privacy. He then went on to sue three men whom he accused of hiding their diagnosis and going on to knowingly infect others, something that was also widely criticised in the community for essentially outing these men and their partners publicly and potentially setting a dangerous precedent when it comes to medical privacy. One fellow activist speculates that Chi may have justified his actions on the grounds of discouraging others from doing the same but points out that it in part had the reverse effect with some unwilling to be tested at all fearful that they might end up getting sued too if the test came back positive. On the other hand, he also regularly submitted blood samples on behalf of men who were too afraid to go in person lest their private lives be exposed. At one point Chi became such a thorn in the authorities’ side that they tried to frame him for a random crime and eventually sent him to prison for five months for “misappropriating waste”. 

As for himself, Chi is also in a somewhat difficult position in that his longterm partner (who is never seen in the documentary) is still in effect closeted and facing pressure from his family to marry. Asked if they personally plan to marry once the law goes into effect, Chi can’t really answer suggesting only that they may do once his partner’s father passes away explaining that he is an only child. In one of the hearings, a lawmaker brings up an anxiety about what to do with ancestral tablets while the question of the family line still seems to lie behind prejudice towards same sex relationships. Meanwhile, his partner has long been taking anti-depressants to cope with the pressure of his family’s lack of acceptance, while Chi too is also on numerous kinds of medication for conditions caused by the stress of his work. Even so, once marriage equality is fulfilled, Chi immediately files for a paper marriage with a Malaysian man to challenge the new legislation’s failure to account for international marriages, determined to continue fighting for fully equal rights. Zhang’s documentary never shies away from some of the more controversial aspects of his activism, but nevertheless celebrates the determination of a man who dedicated his life to a cause for which he was never afraid to stand out and proud.


When the Dawn Comes screens 16th October as part of this year’s Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh Announces 2022 Programme

The Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh returns to cinemas for its third edition bringing a selection of shorts and features to the city from 15th to 20th October. This year’s edition will feature a strand dedicated to actor Chen Yi-wen including his co-directorial feature The Cabbie.

Shorts: Being Alone Together

Doc Replay: Portraits

  • When The Dawn Comes | Zhang Hong-jie | 2021 | 60 mins – documentary focussing on the life of LGBTQ+ rights activist Chi Chia-wei in the run-up to the vote on marriage equality.
  • The Catch | Hsu Che-chia | 2021 | 54 mins – documentary focussing on indigenous fishermen who travel to Taiwan’s Lanyang River every November to catch the season’s first eel.

Chen Yi–Wen Retrospective

  • The Man From Island West | Huang Ming-chuan | 1991 | 90 mins – drama focussing on an indigenous man who journeys back to his origins while the son of the man who saved his life struggles to fit into mainstream society.
  • Growing Pains | Lin Po-yu | 2020 | 25 mins – short in which a father’s decision to buy his son new shoes leads to a series of tragic events.
  • Increasing Echo | Chienn Hsiang | 2021 | 85 mins – marriage is a curse from which there is no cure in Chienn Hsiang’s horror-inflected pandemic-era social drama. Review.
  • Treat or Trick | Hsu Fu-hsiang | 2021 | 106 mins – a corrupt policeman finds himself in weird mountain village in search of his missing friend and a bag of stolen diamonds in Hsu Fu-hsiang’s farcical crime caper. Review.
  • The Cabbie | Chen Yi-wen, Chang Hwa-kun | 2000 | 94 mins – romantic comedy in which a lovestruck taxi driver attempts to woo a grumpy policewoman (Rie Miyazawa) by getting as many parking tickets as possible.

Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh takes place in-person 15th to 20th October, 2022 at Summerhall and Everyman Edinburgh. Full details are available via the official website and you can also keep up with all the latest details by following the festival on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube.

Reclaim (一家之主, CJ Wang, 2022)

An ordinary middle-aged woman begins to wonder what it’s all been for when dealing with her insensitive, authoritarian husband, distant children, and the sacrifices she continually made to make others happy in CJ Wang’s touching family drama, Reclaim (一家之主, yījiāzhīzhǔ). The Chinese title, master of the house, is in its way ironic in the various ways in which Lan-xin (Nina Paw Hee-ching) is expected to shoulder all of the domestic responsibility with none of the control, though she is indeed attempting to reclaim something of herself as a woman and an individual as distinct from being someone’s, wife, mother, friend, or teacher. 

Lan-xin wanted to study art in Paris, but she got married young and started family and ever since then has led a conventional life doing what she thought to be right thing. Now, however, with her husband David (Kou Hsi-Shun) recently retired and both her children grown up she’s wondering a little what it’s all been for especially as David is a chauvinistic throwback who belittles her work as an art teacher while harping on about ways to make money patiently waiting for his collection of antique teapots to rise in value. Now that her mother’s dementia has intensified and she keeps escaping from her nursing home, Lan-xin wants to bring her to live with them but David is both dismissive and disinterested talking about it in the same way one would to a child who wants to get a dog asking if they really have the space and making it clear that looking after her will be Lan-xin’s responsibility. 

While David holds on to a substantial cheque with the intention of investing it in a series of harebrained schemes from luxury tombs to VR cafes, Lan-xin’s desire is essentially to try and repair her fracturing family by buying a larger apartment where they could all live together. David complains that no one tells him anything, but that’s largely because he’s continually dismissive of their dreams and aspirations blowing a hole in his daughter’s new project designing eco-friendly homes that prioritise individual comfort by telling her that she should just extend the living area into the balcony to trick people into thinking they’re getting more for their money. Jia-ning (Ko Chia-yen) in particular is feeling lost in her life unsure of what role it is she’s supposed to be playing while clearly disillusioned with the nature of the relationship between her parents in which her mother is expected to sacrifice her desires in service of her father’s. It’s clear that neither of the children want the kind of futures their parents envisaged for them, their professor son also preparing to return from the US to live a simple life in the Taiwanese countryside. 

Both of the children, however, take their mother for granted and often treat her poorly. The son orders her to book his plane tickets for him and abruptly hangs up after asking her to clean his room and make his favourite food, while Jia-ning also snaps at her expecting her to handle domestic tasks and locate missing items. Lan-xin forms a quasi-maternal relationship with a former student who has returned from America (Mason Lee) and now works in finance but is faced with the implosion of all her hopes firstly in her daughter’s more immediate needs to claim independence in her working life while avoiding the same compromises she was forced to make, and then by the illusionary nature of her home owning dream buying one home for fragmenting family rather than enduring her dissatisfying living arrangements while investing in separate homes for each of her children. 

There may be a degree of personal myth making in her meditating on the lost opportunity of a Parisian education as implied in an imaginary conversation with her mother, though as her miniature-making hobby implies perhaps she played the role she wanted to play but lost sight of herself somewhere along the way. A voyage into her own memory reunites her with her essential self and allows her to reclaim her name no longer willing to be subservient to her husband’s desires but prioritising her own. As in her dream, all her sacrifices will eventually be repaid while Jia-ning too comes to a better understanding of her mother and grandmother along with her own place in a changing society. Lan-xin is finally a master of herself no longer afraid to take up space in her own home and in full control of her own aspirations and desires. 


Reclaim screened as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival. It is also available to stream in many territories via Netflix.

Netflix trailer (English subtitles)

Images: ©2022 Rong Gwan Productions ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

My Best Friend’s Breakfast (我吃了那男孩一整年的早餐, Du Zheng Zhe, 2022)

Teenage romance is always complicated, but it seems wilfully so for the couple at the centre of Du Zheng Zhe’s high school rom-com, My Best Friend’s Breakfast (我吃了那男孩一整年的早餐, wǒ chī le nà nánhái yī zhěng nián de zǎocān). Du’s adaptation of the popular novel by Misa lacks the quirky post-modernism with which Taiwanese romantic comedies have come to be associated save a few fantasy sequences and the heroine’s dialogues with possible versions of her future self, opting instead for a more much more conventional tale of miscommunication and the potential costs of failing to speak one’s true feelings at the right time. 

High schooler Wei-xin (Moon Lee) is in any case sceptical of romance as her parents have recently divorced after years of arguing about money and their conflicting views on success and happiness. Her classmate Yuan-shou (Edison Song Bai-wai), who has an obvious crush on her, convinces Wei-xin to take part in the school concert in exchange for receiving a milk tea every day, while she also makes a habit of eating the breakfasts sent to her best friend, popular girl Qi-ran (Jean Ho), by her various suitors. She then runs into top swimmer You-quan (Eric Chou) who chips in when she’s sort on her pineapple bread snack and starts hanging out with him after witnessing his awkward breakup with an unfaithful girlfriend. 

A brief note of social commentary is introduced as the pair bond over their stigmatised familial circumstances, Wei-xin fearing You-quan will look down on her when she explains her parents are divorced while he reveals he feared the same because his father has passed away and his mother is working in the US while he lives in one of the school dorms. The problem is, however, the central miscommunication in their by-proxy courtship in which You-quan starts sending breakfasts to Qi-ran which are obviously intended for Wei-xin though she remains oblivious both of You-quan’s feelings and those of Yuan-shuo. Assuming that You-quan is interested in Qi-ran she keeps quiet, as does he and everyone else giving rise to a lot of totally unnnecessary emotional suffering for all involved. 

Then again Wei-xin’s romantic predicament pushes her into an intense contemplation of her future, engaging in conversation with possible versions of herself in 15 years’ time firstly as a lonely, overweight woman who lives only to eat, and then as a cool and super-confident musician, each of them helping her figure out her feelings and what to do about them. Meanwhile, her youthful romance is contrasted with her parents’ failed relationship which apparently began when they were both carefree teens with no responsibilities and eventually broke down when faced with the realities of supporting each other as a family. While Wei-xin’s musician father has continued to follow his dreams even if they never payoff, her mother has become an unhappy workaholic desperate to work herself out of debt but also perhaps resentful in having given up on love for the illusion of financial security. 

What Wei-xin learns is that it’s better to be bold and have no regrets than risk becoming the version of her future self who is embittered and resentful that she never told her teenage crush how she felt. These teens do at least seem to have a fairly mature attitude to romantic disappointment, taking rejection with good grace and resolving not to let the awkwardness of a failed romantic confession ruin a friendship. One unexpectedly compassionate teen receives a declaration of love from a same sex crush in the midst of wailing about their own romantic heartbreak and though they do not return their feelings immediately embraces them in empathising with their emotional pain while another reflects on a bad breakup and traumatic incident to work on themselves and gain inner confidence before winning back their former love. 

Given all that the idealism of the film’s conclusion may sit a little oddly if perfectly positioned to appeal to a teen audience with an archetypal romantic moment, but is to a degree earned in teen’s path towards emotional honesty and the necessity of being brave enough to accept the risk of heartbreak in chasing their romantic destiny. Perhaps free breakfast delivered to your best friend by proxy is as a good a way to say I love you as any other. 


My Best Friend’s Breakfast screened as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)

Images: © 2022, SKY FILMS Entertainment Co., Ltd., all rights reserved.