Corrado Neri has advocated for Taiwanese movies in France for many years as a film professor and author, praising their boldness, diversity and willingness to address sensitive topics.
Yet, his passion has been tempered by concerns about waning enthusiasm for Taiwanese productions in France, telling the Central News Agency in a recent interview that films from other Asian countries have greater appeal to a broader audience, leaving Taiwan behind.
Neri, an Italian who teaches Chinese history and culture at Jean Moulin Lyon 3 University and is the author of a book on contemporary Taiwanese cinema, said that he was first drawn to Taiwanese films after seeing director Tsai Ming-liang’s (蔡明亮) 1994 film Vive L’Amour.
Photo: CNA
Then a doctoral student, Neri also saw a film by director Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) at the Cinematheque Francaise, a non-profit film organization, which increased his resolve to focus his research on Taiwanese productions.
“I appreciate the maturity of Taiwanese films,” Neri said, pointing to their willingness to discuss homosexuality, and other sensitive historical and cultural issues.
The ways Hou dealt with the 228 Incident and Tsai’s experimental methods helped them break the barriers imposed by government censors at the time, he said.
French audiences, especially intellectuals, have found such elements of Taiwanese films appealing, especially the historical context and settings of Taiwan’s New Wave films, which were at their peak in the 1980s and 1990s, Neri said.
The directors’ cinematic language, and focus on historical wounds and local themes, were especially alluring to a certain niche of French film lovers, he said, but added that those topics are difficult to understand for most French cinemagoers, making it hard for Taiwanese films and TV productions to consistently find new followers.
The enthusiasm that once existed is fading away, especially as other major players have emerged in the Asian film industry, Neri said.
South Korean films have attracted large numbers of French viewers who had previously not been interested in Asian movies, Neri said.
Such competiton makes marketing Taiwanese productions in France difficult, he said.
Having dedicated academics and film students promote Taiwanese films has become essential, he said, citing productions such as 2017’s The Great Buddha+ and 2020’s Classmates Minus, which are available in France on Netflix.
However, those have not been widely promoted by the streaming service or other industry players in France, he said.
It is also possible that films showcasing Taiwan’s multifaceted culture do not resonate with a broader audience, despite their boldness in approaching rich topics, Neri said.
Taiwan has yet to come up with a film or drama series with mass appeal, such as South Korea’s Squid Game or Japan’s The Naked Director, Neri said.
The key for the nation’s directors to appeal to mainstream cinemagoers in France is powerful symbolism that they can identify with, he said.
Supported by the Taiwanese Ministry of Culture, Neri is to organize the second edition of the Spotlight Taiwan Lyon 3 event at his university, he said.
The aim is to promote international cultural exchanges, and cultivate greater interest in and appreciation of Taiwanese culture in the international community, he said.
The event would highlight the representation of ghosts in Taiwanese movies and literature, Neri said, calling the topic a unique side of Taiwanese culture.
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