Now in its 49th year, the Golden Horse Film Festival is an annual fixture on Taipei’s cultural calendar, and in a televised show that is often called the Oscars of Asia, Mainland China’s “Beijing Blues” won the gong for best Chinese-language film. Hong Kong, China's partly free but mostly a sub-autonomous region of the communist dictatorship across the border, saw director Johnnie To get the nod for best director.
A humble director Gao Qunshu said onstage in Chinese, in accepting the award for “Blues,” that he wanted to thank the "entire world" for giving such a relatively inexperienced director such recognition.
To's "Life Without Any Principles" tackled the plight of Hong Kongers caught up with gangster thugs in the fallout from the global financial meltdown. His film saw Hong Kong actor Lau Ching Wan get the best actor award for playing a tough, thick-skinned gangster."
While the Golden Horse festival is sponsored by and run by Taiwan, a sovereign and independent island nation off the coast of China, the televised show seemed like it was taking place in Beijing or Hong Kong, since many of the awards went to Hong Kong and Beijing film people. Even even one of the evening's hosts was a popular actor from Beijing.
Taiwan seem liked it hardly existed during the show, with Hong Kong superstars like Lau and Jackie Chan getting most of the attention.
One small nod to Taiwan saw 20-something Gwei Lun-mei get the best actress award for he role in the Taiwanese ''Girlfriend/Boyfriend." Actresses Hao Lei and Bai Bai He, both from China, were left sitting in the aisle and had to endure watching a Taiwanese woman getting the gong that they were hoping for.
More awards for China and Hong Kong included Liang Jing as best supporting actress in "Design of Death," and Hong Kong’s Ronald Cheng as best supporting actor for ''Vulgaria," a moving Chinese-language film about Hong Kong's once-glorious film industry now falling on hard times.
In yet another nod to the film industry in Mainland China, director Lou Ye, who did not pick up a Golden Horse for his box-office hit "Mystery," nevertheless got a shout-out on stage for his edgy and often-censored work.
For directors, producers, actors and fans of Chinese-language cinema, Taiwan's festival gets better every year. You might wonder why it's called the Golden Horse Film Festival and why the "Oscar" handed out to winners is in the shape and color of a golden horse. There's a good story here.
Turns out that when the film festival first got its start, long ago when Taiwan and China were mortal enemies, the tiny "frontline islands" of Jinmen and Matsu along China's coast were part of Taiwan's territory and served as military islands to defend the island nation halfway between Japan and communist China.
The first character of the word ''Jinmen'' in Mandarin characters means "gold," and the first character of the word "Matsu" means "horse." So the Taiwan government, which funds the annual awards, decided to call the event the Jin-Ma Awards Show, or Golden Horse, to send a message to China that those two islands were defending Taiwan's sovereignty.
It's ironic that now China picked up most of the awards at the show this year, even with over 1,800 missiles aimed at Taiwan, said one Taiwanese observer in Taipei.
The stage banner for the show spelled out "Golden Horse Drama Awards" in English in a strange artistic collage that made it look to viewers in Taiwan that the words read "Golden Hore Drama Awards" since the "s" in "horse" was almost invisible.
The four-hour show basically went over like a lead balloon, and left most of Taiwan yearning for a better deal next year.