Anthology Film Archives

TAIWAN B-MOVIES

December 2 – December 15

ALL FILMS STREAM FREE OF CHARGE!

This series shines a spotlight on a realm of Taiwanese cinema that has been largely overlooked abroad: the down-and-dirty genre films that proliferated in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and which marked a sharp break from the more staid and respectable Taiwanese cinema that had dominated the country’s screens up to that point. That these films are not better known abroad is due in large part to how potent and gleefully disreputable they are. Reflecting the politically and socially tumultuous events of the era, they are suffused with violence and brutality. They represent an eruption onto the screen of elements of Taiwanese society that had formerly been banished, from organized crime and prostitution to the prison system and governmental corruption. The victimization of women is a key theme throughout many of the films, giving rise to a whole genre of shockingly frank rape-revenge films (including THE LADY AVENGER, by YANG Chia-Yun, a pioneering female filmmaker).

Co-organized by the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI) and Taiwan Cinema Toolkit, “Taiwan B-Movies” showcases five representative films from the period, as well as the 2005 documentary TAIWAN BLACK MOVIES, which went a long way towards re-focusing attention on this realm of Taiwanese cinema, and encompasses glimpses of several lost films.

“It is useful to recall the historical context in which the Taiwanese B-movie emerged. During the late 70s and early 80s, Taiwan was undergoing a transitional crisis as political power shifted away from the aging CHIANG Kai-Shek, who eventually died in 1975. As the world suffered the Second Oil Shock of 1979, and the U.S. ended its official relations with Taiwan, the country saw the rise of political opposition to the ruling Nationalist party that resulted in the Formosa Incident and the subsequent murders of an opposition politician’s family. The news in late 70s Taiwan was teeming with violence and blood, something that was reflected in the movies. It was a time of international volatility and active political movements opposing the ruling nationalist party. As a result, Taiwanese society was swept by anxiety and restlessness. NEVER TOO LATE TO REPENT, released in 1979, was the first Taiwanese film to feature prison and prostitution in the story’s setting. Its dark imagination and interpretation of crime reflected a sense of people’s collective fear. Two years later, ON THE SOCIETY FILE OF SHANGHAI (1981) pushed open the door to a whole new genre: female revenge films. […]

“The Taiwan B-Movie era was followed by the New Taiwan Cinema era. While some may consider the B-movies as a stain on the page of Taiwanese cinema history, it is also because of the development of these 117 films and the changes they brought that later films were able to evolve and transcend their predecessors. The path of Taiwanese films was once dark, but it is only through that darkness that we were able to see the light ahead.” –Kelly Y. L. YANG (film critic, screenwriter, and former programmer of the Golden Horse and Taipei film festivals)

“Taiwan B-Movies” has been organized in collaboration with the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI) and Taiwan Cinema Toolkit, and is presented with generous support from the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York.

Special thanks to Kanglan CHIN (Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York); Zoey WU & RayJay LEE (TFAI); Kenneth CHIANG; CHIANG Mei-Hui; JUAN Mei-Na; and WANG Chih-Chang.

All of the film in the series will be streaming free of charge! And the series will be supplemented by special pre-recorded introductions from several guests: TAIWAN BLACK MOVIES director HOU Chi-jan and producer Kelly Y. L. YANG, and filmmaker and scholar CHO Ting-Wu. Details will be posted here shortly.


OUYANG Chun
NEVER TOO LATE TO REPENT
1979, 96 min, 35mm-to-digital. In Mandarin with English subtitles.
NEVER TOO LATE TO REPENT is the parent of all Taiwan B-movies. The infamous, reformed criminal-turned-writer MA Sha plays himself in this film adaptation of his own memoirs, but director OUYANG Chun merges MA’s story with fictive and sensual elements. The film is an adrenaline-fueled ride of violence and decadence set deep in the red-light district. With his signature tattoos and wild performance, MA became a badass icon of Taiwanese social realist films.

OUYANG Chun was born TSAI Yang-Ming in 1939, a star-turned-blockbuster director. Dubbed the godfather of Taiwanese gangster films, OUYANG’s impressive filmography also extends to Wuxia, Kung fu, and the detective genres.

[Please note: the preservation of NEVER TOO LATE TO REPENT was made from the only two surviving prints of the film – a complete print without sound, and an incomplete print with partial sound and heavily degraded image. Though significant portions of the soundtrack are missing, the story is not affected. At present, this is the only way this landmark of Taiwanese genre cinema can be accessed.]


YANG Chia-Yun
THE LADY AVENGER
1981, 90 min, 35mm-to-digital. In Mandarin with English subtitles.
A commercial actress is raped by a driver when she tries to hitchhike from a remote shooting location. As she insists on pressing charges, she is met with humiliation and blame from the public. Later, she is found dead on a beach of unknown causes. Eager to solve the mystery, reporter Wan-Qing begins an investigation, but is then herself assaulted by four drunken men. Now, bent on revenge and with nothing to lose, Wan-Qing’s sole purpose is to wreak vengeance on those men who have wronged her. The specter of the wrathful woman (here and in other films of the period) can be seen as a reflection of men’s unease as more and more women entered the workplace during Taiwan’s economic boom.

Born in 1979, YANG Chia-Yun started as a script supervisor and worked her way up through numerous positions in the industry. She collaborated with many acclaimed directors including LI Hsing, PAI Ching-Jui, and CHEN Yao-Chi. YANG won Best Documentary at the Golden Horse Awards for her powerful documentary, A SECRET BURIED FOR 50 YEARS – A STORY OF TAIWANESE ‘COMFORT WOMEN’ (1998).

[Please note: the visual quality of this copy of THE LADY AVENGER is not ideal. The popular Taiwanese cinema of the era was not well-preserved until recently, and this is the best version that survives. The burned-in subtitles on the source copy were largely illegible, so new subtitles have been superimposed.]


WANG Chu-Chin
ON THE SOCIETY FILE OF SHANGHAI
1981, 91 min, 35mm-to-digital. In Mandarin with English subtitles.
In Shanghai, Hai-Nan, son of a Chinese official, is found stabbed on the street. But when the culprit, Li-Fang, is apprehended, she refuses to reveal her motives. Meanwhile, a police officer grows suspicious of the officials’ rush to close the case. As he searches for leads in the case files, a shocking truth about Li-Fang is revealed. Adapted from the “scar literature” of Mainland China, this anti-communist film uses a woman’s rape at the hands of Chinese officials as an allusion to the Mainland’s political corruption. Taiwan was still under martial law at the time the film was made, so setting a story in Shanghai allowed the makers to circumvent Taiwan’s strict censorship laws on sex and violence.

Born in 1944, WANG Chu-Chin was an avant-garde cinema lover whose work anticipates Taiwan New Cinema.

[Please note: the visual quality of this copy of ON THE SOCIETY FILE OF SHANGHAI is not ideal. The popular Taiwanese cinema of the era was not well-preserved until recently, and this is the best version that survives. The burned-in subtitles on the source copy were largely illegible, so new subtitles have been superimposed.]


OUYANG Chun
WOMAN REVENGER
1982, 85 min, 35mm-to-digital. In Mandarin with English subtitles.
Dance teacher Ling-Ling receives a letter from her childhood friend Mei-Hua, who, after being forced into prostitution by local gangsters, was murdered in Japan. Ling-Ling travels to Tokyo only to be hunted down by the gangsters herself. After losing her right eye in an attack, she becomes hell-bent on revenge. One of the top Taiwanese female revenge films, WOMAN REVENGER showcases the deep-rooted problems of gambling, violence, drugs, and sexual exploitation. The scenario of a powerless woman battling patriarchy epitomizes the Taiwanese people’s collective unconsciousness under coercion.


LEE Tso-Nam
THE CHALLENGE OF THE LADY NINJA
1983, 91 min, 35mm-to-digital. In Mandarin with English subtitles.
During the Japanese occupation of China, Xiao-Hui receives training in the martial art of ninjutsu in Japan, and becomes the first Chinese lady ninja. When she learns of her father’s death, she returns to Shanghai and discovers that her fiancé, LI Tong, has betrayed her and the country. To take revenge, Xiao-Hui gathers a group of female warriors to kill Tong. However, Tong’s real role in the whole scheme is yet to be revealed.

Born in 1943, LEE Tso-Nam graduated from National Taiwan University of Arts. He became versatile director TING Shan-Hsi’s assistant director for four years and contributed to a wide range of films. The experience helped lay a solid foundation for his command of diverse genres.


HOU Chi-Jan
TAIWAN BLACK MOVIES
2005, 61 min, 16mm-to-digital. In Mandarin & Taiwanese with English subtitles.
This incisive documentary resuscitates a Taiwanese film genre that was given up for dead. In the early 1980s, a time of strict censorship and political repression in Taiwan, an unexpected trend in “social realist” crime films suddenly flourished in the realm of exploitation cinema. However, the “social realism” here is a euphemistic description for what is really a B-film genre, which exploited both sex and violence. Given momentum by sensational dramas featuring female avengers, these films marked an interesting counterpoint to the rise of Taiwan New Cinema, the definitive new wave movement in Taiwan's film history. This documentary comprises fragments from many of these now untraceable films, alongside interviews with the filmmakers who were involved.

Born in 1973, HOU Chi-Jan is a promising filmmaker from the new generation, whose films are often poetic and encapsulate the zeitgeist of contemporary Taiwan.

 

  

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