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  • Translating Taiwanese Science Fiction: Past and Present (II)
    Nov 09, 2020 / By Bernie Yang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: Translating Taiwanese Science Fiction: Past and Present (I)

    In terms of foreign translations of Taiwanese science fiction, the number of translated works remains relatively low and they only tend to be discussed in an academic context. This means it isn’t a market-driven genre so most of the perspectives on it tend to come from within academia and it’s hard for science fiction translators to emerge. For example, take two of the Taiwanese sci-fi translations currently available in English: The City Trilogy by Chang Hsi-kuo and Zero and Other Fictions by Huang Fan. Both are published by Columbia University Press which has a long history of publishing anthologies of Taiwanese literature and were translated by John Balcom who has a close relationship with Taipei Chinese PEN and is also a long-time translator and advocate of Taiwanese literature. Translating works and introducing them to foreign readers generally tends to be quite sporadic and is often out of touch with the mainstream market. 

     

    However, it is worth mentioning that the recent rapid developments in Chinese science fiction prompted renowned sci-fi research scholar Mingwei Song(宋明煒) to edit The Reincarnated Giant: An Anthology of Twenty-First-Century Chinese Science Fiction for Columbia University Press in 2018. The anthology included excerpts from works by two Taiwanese authors: a chapter of Daughter by Lou Yi-Chun titled “Science Fiction”, and chapters 5-7 of The Dream Devourer by Egoyan Zheng. Their respective styles definitely stood out among the crowd of Chinese writers.

     

    As well as supporters in academia, another important promoter of Taiwanese science fiction in recent years has been the French translator of The Three-Body Problem, Gwennaël Gaffric, who has translated many works including Wu Ming-yi’s The Man with the Compound Eyes, The Illusionist on the Skywalk and Routes in the Dream, as well as War of the Bubbles by Kao Yi-Feng and Membrane by Chi Ta-wei, and in the process he has introduced each work to a French readership.    

    The Illusionist on the Skywalk

    Publishing mediums have also changed dramatically following rapid technological developments in recent years. Taiwanese science fiction has taken advantage of the popularity of e-books and even audiobooks. For example, in 2018 Chang Hsi-kuo’s short story collection Ten Billion Names of the Devil was published first as an e-book and the English edition, also in e-book, will be available online imminently. Isaac Hsu’s long-awaited novel Skin Deep will also be published first in e-book, proving that science fiction writers are staying at the forefront of the times.

     

    While the recent expansion of Taiwanese science fiction overseas might to a certain extent be due to the surging popularity of Chinese sci-fi, what is clear from the examples outlined above is that for Taiwan the genre has developed in a way that encourages considerable diversity, with mainstream writers and sci-fi authors alike consistently publishing works of a high standard. It’s hoped that by including Green Monkey Syndrome by Andrew Yeh and The Puppet’s Tears and Other Stories by Isaac Hsu in the selections here at Books from Taiwan, more readers will get a glimpse of Taiwan’s golden age of science fiction which in turn will promote further translations and development. By reading these classics and considering them in the context of current developments, readers can gain a deep understanding of science fiction’s timeless charm as a genre.

  • Translating Taiwanese Science Fiction: Past and Present (I)
    Nov 09, 2020 / By Bernie Yang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Thanks to the success of The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin(劉慈欣), over the last few years there has been a surge of interest in Chinese-language sci-fi across the international book market. Taiwan had already developed its own extensive culture of sci-fi writing by as early as the 1980s. This year, Books from Taiwan has chosen to highlight two classics of the genre: Green Monkey Syndrome by Andrew Yeh and The Puppet’s Tears and Other Stories by Isaac Hsu, which gives us the chance to review how Taiwanese sci-fi has developed and been translated over the last forty years.  

    Green Monkey Syndrome

    It would be impossible to have a discussion about authors who represent Taiwanese sci-fi without mentioning Chang Hsi-kuo(張系國). He began writing sci-fi novels in the late 1960s with his contemporaries, such as Chang Show-foong(張曉風) and Huang Hai(黃海), and started translating science fiction from overseas during the 1970s. He introduced many famous, award-winning foreign works to Chinese-language readers and even had a science fiction column in the United Daily News. An anthology called Death of the Sea was published in 1978 and among the writers featured was George R. R. Martin who would go on to become world-renowned for his series A Song of Ice and Fire. It can certainly be said that those early days of translating works from overseas played an important role in the development of Taiwanese science fiction.

    The Puppet’s Tears and Other Stories

    The 1980s officially ushered in the golden age of Taiwanese sci-fi. Besides authors who were constantly writing and publishing new works like Chang Hsi-kuo and Huang Hai, there were also new authors in this genre. For example, Huang Fan(黃凡) wrote the ground-breaking dystopian novel Zero, which explores serious issues in the stories, and thus gained recognition from the mainstream literary award. The China Times Open Book Award soon had its own sci-fi prize (later renamed the Chang Hsi-kuo Prize for Science Fiction) which helped support many authors including Chang Ta-chun(張大春), Andrew Yeh, Isaac Hsu and Ho Ching-Pin(賀景濱).  

     

    By pure coincidence, both Andrew Yeh and Isaac Hsu began to combine martial arts elements with science fiction. While Yeh’s short story “The Ancient Sword” only featured sci-fi themes at the very end, there was a strong sense of science fiction in his writing style. In “The Puppet’s Tears” Hsu combines science fiction with the kind of landscapes and grievances found in wuxia novels, and one can’t help thinking that this was a sign of the long-term developments to come. Elsewhere, Yeh’s other works use grounded sci-fi settings as well as narrative techniques that interlace true and false realities to portray each of his terrifying, eccentric futures. Even though it’s been over thirty years since it  first published, his work still coincides with the global trends we’re currently seeing during the pandemic. On the other hand, The Hamlet Trilogy by Isaac Hsu has come to an end after thirty years. Through its depiction of a superpowered AI version of Hamlet, the trilogy has explored the value of human civilization and continues to inspire debate.

     

    At the beginning of the 2000s, Isaac Asimov’s Chinese translator Lee-Hwa Yeh(葉李華) established the Centre for Science Fiction at National Chiao Tung University and it seemed as though Taiwanese sci-fi was about to reach another peak. However, other than periodically hosting the Ni Kuang Science Fiction Award and a seminar, the research centre’s influence is relatively limited.

     

    Recent developments in Taiwanese sci-fi can be broadly divided into two categories. The first consists of mainstream writers using sci-fi settings as narrative techniques or background stories so they can explore a diverse range of issues. For example, the ocean trash vortex that attacks in Wu Ming-yi’s The Man with the Compound Eyes is a background element in a story that explores environmental issues and Taiwan’s experience as an island. Similarly, Ground Zero by Egoyan Zheng is set in Taiwan during the wake of a nuclear disaster, while Lou Yi-Chun’s(駱以軍) novels Daughter and Ming Dynasty explore themes of identity and separation through his personal complex writing style, taking a meta perspective to subvert readers’ perceptions of science fiction as a genre.

    Ground Zero

    The second category features works which blend sci-fi with local culture and other genres such as fantasy or crime fiction. Ocean Hordes Press, which takes its name from Li Wu-Hsun’s popular Ocean Hordes series, is dedicated to promoting original Taiwanese sci-fi and fantasy works. Elsewhere, the website PanSci launched the PanSci Award in 2018 which has become a crucial new component in Taiwan’s developing sci-fi scene. There are also some excellent translations of foreign sci-fi works on the market including modern classics such as Foundation by Isaac Asimov and the dystopian novels of Ursula K. Le Guin, as well as works from the “New Weird” genre that’s developed in the twenty-first century, and various award-winning books by Chinese-American writers like Ken Liu(劉宇昆) and Ted Chiang(姜峯楠). Readers undoubtedly have a wide range of choices when it comes to science fiction today.

    Read on: Translating Taiwanese Science Fiction: Past and Present (II)

  • A Snowflake’s Fate (II)
    Oct 30, 2020 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=106

    Readers undoubtedly miss Chen Uen’s illustrations, but the story is so brilliant that it deserved to be a standalone novel and has prompted many to reread the comic book.

    Abi-Sword inevitably reminds people of King Arthur and The Sword in the Stone, or the sword of destiny from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or the legendary Japanese sword Kusanagi no Tsurugi. It’s also reminiscent of The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber by the master of wuxia, Jin Yong, where the weapons are crucial in driving the development of the entire story and follow the pattern of rule by righteousness seen in martial arts novels. Abi-Sword, with its hammered blade and Ksitigarbha engraved on the hilt, is the key to the whole story, where a slight turn can bring a reign of terror upon the entire martial arts world.

    The story is told from the perspective of the ninth envoy of the Abi-Sword, Ping Chuan, a waiter at an inn who encounters a guest that happens to be a martial arts scholar. Ping Chuan learns some basic sword-fighting skills before setting out to travel across the country. The story’s rousing words unfurl like an ink painting.   

    There’s something magical about the phrase “to travel across the country” that stirs something within every young reader with lofty ambitions, and Ping Chuan has the kind of opportunity that all teenagers long for. He studies martial arts and startles himself when he tries them out on a fight in a small tavern, but he also suffers setbacks including unjust criminal charges and being left by his lover. He is a devoted companion to Wu-Sheng and the two are close friends despite their age difference. By travelling with Wu-Sheng, Ping Chuan has had the chance to gain 30-40 years’ worth of inner strength. Ping Chuan has all the opportunities that a martial arts protagonist should have, so why in that moment when Wu-Sheng pulls out the Abi-Sword, is he destined to play a supporting role?

    Many questions are answered as the story progresses: the origin of the ninth envoy, the legend of the Abi-Sword, and even Wu-Sheng’s past life are revealed. However, it also raises more questions, like what is the relationship between Wu-Sheng and the character Yu-Jing who appears in comic book’s first and final chapters? What happens to Ping Chuan’s lover? And what happens next in the story? I believe this time author Ma Li won’t keep us waiting too long to find out.

    Ultimately, Abi-Sword shows the reader that hell can take many forms in this life. The old man in the comic book who kills his grandson to appease his hunger, and the evil county magistrate in the novel who’s happy to kill innocent people, are both living in hell. The world is in chaos and misery is everywhere, the only way a hero can bring redemption is by breaking the ban on martial arts. As readers, it’s always easy to project our own experiences onto the protagonist but overlook the suffering.

    As Wu-Sheng states: “Oh, the Abi-Sword! They say it can be used for good or evil, for Buddha or the devil, but I have used it and know that the devil can be as big as a mountain – and that Buddha can be even smaller than a snowflake!”   

    Isn’t that just the nature of human life?  

  • A Snowflake’s Fate (I)
    Oct 30, 2020 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    In 2018, Chen Uen (鄭問, 1958-2017) became the first graphic novelist to have his work exhibited at the National Palace Museum, but “The Legacy of Chen Uen: Art, Life & Philosophy” sparked controversy over whether it was too low-brow. Novelist Wu Ming-yi wrote an article on Facebook in its defence entitled “The King of Festering Millstones and Mirrors: Chen Uen and His Works” where he stated: “For my generation, I’m afraid that comic books became the main source of our idols and dreams, as well as our understanding of science, our artistic enlightenment and our very nature. I pretend that I was educated by textbooks, but in reality that was not the case.”

    At a time when information products weren’t popular yet and streets were full of bookstores that rented books rather than sold them, most children’s literary awakenings came from wuxia (martial arts) novels, such as those by Jin Yong, Gu Long, Wong Yee and Qiao Jingfu. Readers would memorize each protagonist’s personality and which martial arts sect they belonged to, what moves they used, the times luck was on their side and the weapons the characters had. All this alongside the stories’ strong sense of gratitude and retribution left a deep mark on readers’ hearts.   

    After Chen Uen passed away, his comic book Abi-Sword wasn’t continued until the original scriptwriter Ma Li published the Abi-Sword Prequel: A Seal Reopens in novel form. When reading the prequel it might be good to also read the original comic book as it’ll give you a deeper understanding of the book’s worldview. In the comic book, Chen Uen made the most of ink painting as a format and used dry brushes to draw texture in muscles, limbs and clothing. He also used fine brushes to capture facial features and emotions. The most shocking of these appears right at the end when Wu-Sheng passes the large cauldron and stone tablet engraved with the misery of all beings, which together look like an imposing pair of eyes with an unfathomably deep expression.

    Abi-Sword

     

    Abi-Sword is set during war-torn chaos of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, starting with Wu-Sheng’s birth and his tragic childhood experiences, wracked with hatred towards the enemy who killed his father. In the fires of the underworld, he encounters the ninth Abi envoy and experiences the three layers of hell: greed, hatred, and ignorance, before finding the Abi-Sword and fighting the eighteen evils. Just as he’s recalling the ceaseless pain of previous generations, the memories suddenly grind to a halt and the origin of hell, the ninth envoy and the Abi-Sword are all left unresolved due to Chen Uen’s death. 30 years after the comic book first started, Ma Li has now shared the answers with readers in novel form.

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=107

  • A Messenger from the Deep (II)
    Oct 23, 2020 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=104

    In 2018, a news story featuring a video of a sperm whale surrounded by three whale-watching boats dominated the Taiwanese media. The boats were very close and it looked like the whale was playing a practical joke on them, spraying them with water through its blowhole and even rubbing up against them and getting quite close to the humans.

    Little Flower

     

    As an audience in the era of media giants, we are easily convinced by one-sided information and often too quick to criticize, making it easy to hurt others. The footage was from a publicity film produced by the whale-watching industry but faced a strong backlash after it was reported by the media. People argued “Whales are wild animals, is it good for them to be approaching humans like this?”, “Does the water sprayed by whales contain drug-resistant bacteria?” and “Should the whale-watching industry improve its regulations?” and so on. Thus, Liao Hung-Chi focused on this incident and wrote an article about it called “The Wedding” in its defence, and his book Meeting Little Flower. Together with commentators, people from the whale-watching industry and other front-line workers, Liao Hung-Chi described his encounter with the phenomenon that is Little Flower, a young sperm whale who loves boats and tourists. 

    Hualien sits beside the vast, seemingly-boundless Pacific Ocean with its millions of species, and in his book Liao Hung-Chi states: “As I think about this vast friend who lives out in the Pacific and can travel to its wide breadths and great depths, it reaches far beyond my imagination. When I think that in spite of everything I had the chance to meet such a mammoth friend in this lifetime, I know for sure that mine is no ordinary fate.”

    Compared to other detailed descriptions, these distinct feelings he establishes when encountering animals are enlightening, it makes people want to believe in the broadmindedness of life which binds us together. The crew and tourists are the island’s envoy meeting a benevolent messenger from the deep: Little Flower. Whales amass numerous wounds and scars over their lifetimes, as Little Flower reaches maturity will his many encounters with human emotions leave a similarly lasting impression?

    Through Liao Hung-Chi’s tireless promotional efforts, there are now more and more staff working in marine conservation, among them researchers, commentators and volunteers. We believe that one day, when Taiwanese people think of the ocean they won’t see danger and the unknown but instead will see the rich aquatic ecology and the importance of marine conservation, as they feel a deep love for the sea. 

  • A Messenger from the Deep (I)
    Oct 23, 2020 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    It is largely believed that to be a good nature writer, you must integrate your knowledge and observations of the ecological environment and natural resources into your creative work. Well known examples include Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1945) the author of Wild Animals I Have Known and the master of structuralism Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) who wrote Tristes Tropiques. When it comes to Taiwanese authors, the works of oceanographer Liao Hung-Chi are not to be missed.

    After graduating high school, Liao Hung-Chi worked as a buyer for a cement company, an assistant to a parliamentarian, and even went to Indonesia to manage a shrimp farm. It wasn’t until he was 35 that he became a “man of the sea” and began to write. Over the years, he’s written over twenty works on the subject and established the Kuroshio Ocean Education Foundation to promote marine-related cultural heritage, ecological protection, as well as environmental publicity and education efforts. He was recently involved in a documentary called Whale Island  (男人與他的海), and has become one of Taiwan’s most indispensable environmental writers.

     

    Liao Hung-Chi

     

    In Taiwan, most students begin to read Liao Hung-Chi’s writing in junior high with texts featuring Fraser’s dolphins and mahi-mahi, which open their eyes to the scope of the ocean and expand their imaginations when it comes to literary works. However, the way Liao Hung-Chi’s fate intertwines with that of the ocean runs even deeper than how it is portrayed in textbooks. He was born by the ocean, in the city of Hualien, and now makes a living as a “man of the sea”. Spurred on by the ocean’s vastness, it is his life’s pursuit and the source of his creativity.

    While Taiwan is surrounded by the ocean and seaside towns have appeared along the coasts which have become a flourishing industry, older generations are still uncomfortable with their children going to the seaside due to the regularity of typhoons and frequent accidents. For years, people have misunderstood the sea, and Liao Hung-Chi hopes that through his foundation he can help the public gain a more accurate understanding of the ocean.

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=105

  • Science, Faith, and Light Novel: Hassengo and the MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR Series (II)
    Oct 14, 2020 / By Lee Jiheng ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=102

     

    Introducing a Historical Twist: Humanity

    “One branch my family came to Taiwan with the Nationalists. No matter how you approach it, it’s a sensitive topic.[1] My grandfather served in a Nationalist military intelligence unit. I started thinking, wouldn’t it be interesting if you had a spy in that era who was actually working for the benefit of the local people?” So, Hassengo wrote just such a character into his series.

    While discussing the February 28 Incident,[2] it becomes clear how much thought Hassengo has put into the matter: “I’m half descended from Taiwanese stock, half from the mainlanders who came across with the Nationalists. When I was young, everyone around me tiptoed around the subject of ethnicity. What I want to do is find a way for these two ethnicities to drop their mutual distrust.” Hassengo recalls that when the Nationalists arrived in Taiwan, many that worked in intelligence units were living under assumed identities. They had to bury their names, and even deny the families they once had. In the end, many of them were buried with only their assumed names to mark their graves. Even Hassengo’s grandfather, because of the intense political conflicts of the times, had to make a living from his humble clinic. Today, it is difficult for to appreciate the hardships suffered in those times.

    Nonetheless, Hassengo maintains a sense of humor concerning his grandfather’s legacy. When he was visited his grandfather’s disciples to collect material for the novel, he was bemused by the conflicting interpretations he received. “In the end I found that most of them didn’t even completely believe themselves. They had to admit that more had been lost than had been preserved.” The idea expressed in NEVER SAY DIE, that “belief is the spell at the core of faith”, came directly from these experiences, Hassengo adds.

     

    On Writing a Human Story

    Regarding his long-term vision, Hassengo says that he originally had not intended MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR to be a tight-knit series; he hoped that readers could start from any book in the series without feeling they were missing out on important details. However, by the time he began work on the second book, GODS NEVER FORGET, Hassengo had already received feedback from readers and his editors that they would like stronger continuity between the books. In response, he introduced some foreshadowing and mysterious events that he hoped would give readers the cohesion they desired. Now that he has several books under his belt, Hassengo hopes to draw more heavily from his personal experiences in his writing, so his books can function as a kind of conversation between himself and his readers, between himself and the world.

     

    MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR (VOL.2): GODS NEVER FORGET

     

    Hassengo recalls that his original intention was to write crime fiction that revolved around characters, as opposed to a crime or incident, and the light novel seemed like the most suitable medium in which to pursue this. At the same time, he hopes to explore the rich, multidimensional possibilities that arise from setting these characters against a background of traditional Taiwanese culture.

    Now that his books have the opportunity to step out onto the world stage, Hassengo feels grateful to be in a position to help promote Taiwanese culture, and give his readers a deeper understanding of this unique island nation.

     

     


    [1] There is significant political conflict between the Taiwanese who are descended from settlers who came to the island 3-400 years ago, and those who are descended from the Nationalists who arrived in the late 1940’s, owing to the harsh rule initially imposed by the Nationalist government.

    [2] Tensions between the local Taiwanese and the newly arrived Nationalists reached a head on February 28, 1947, when Nationalist soldiers opened fire on protestors, killing thousands of civilians.

  • Science, Faith, and Light Novel: Hassengo and the MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR Series (I)
    Oct 14, 2020 / By Lee Jiheng ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    He was a twenty-year-old university student when his first novel, Testimony, won a special recognition prize at the third annual Sharp Point Media Awards. Shortly afterwards Hassengo was shortlisted for the Mystery Writers of Taiwan annual submission prize. Not six months after that, the first novel of his MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR series was published, describing the adventures of a young girl who is a specialist in the grisly work of traditional Taiwanese funerary rites. While MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR (VOL.1): NEVER SAY DIE incorporates elements of Taiwanese folk religion and burial practices, its tone is light, easing readers into comfortable contact with its sometimes macabre subject matter. By focusing on traditional Taiwanese culture, Hassengo liberates himself from the perennial subjects of popular fiction – fantastic heroes, teenage angst, and campus romance – delving instead into philosophical questions concerning life and death, tradition and modernity, and reason and faith. The result is tale of deduction built on a foundation of mysticism and superstition, but whose ultimate allegiance lies with that most enjoyable of literary genres: the light novel.

     

    MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR (VOL.1): NEVER SAY DIE

     

    When Forensics and Locality Collide

    When asked about the impetus for the novel, Hassengo smiles and replies, “I wanted to use this imported literary form, the light novel, to write a story that only a Taiwanese author could write.”

    Once the form was set, the inspiration for the subject matter struck during his undergraduate studies. Hassengo was pursuing a degree in forensic medicine at the University of Leicester at the time, and was particularly fascinated by his lab courses in forensic autopsy. He was dissecting cadavers when it hit him. “That’s it! I could use ritual bone collecting[1] as a starting point, and write a story against a backdrop of traditional Taiwanese culture.”

    After graduating and returning to Taiwan, Hassengo discovered there were practical limitations to applying the forensic science he had learned: his coursework was based on data collected in Western countries. Hassengo explains: “As a practical matter, forensic science places a lot of emphasis on the geographical environment. Everything I had seen and researched in school was based on case studies from outside Taiwan. If I directly applied that knowledge in Taiwan, it could lead to a lot of problems.” This realization led him to ponder how the land and culture of Taiwan had shaped him growing up. That’s when he decided he had to reevaluate Taiwanese folk beliefs from a scientific perspective.

     

    A Family Legend and the Nature of Belief

    “Some of the material for MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR came from my paternal grandfather who ran a traditional massage and therapy clinic. He was more than just a traditional healer; he also performed Daoist rituals. He had a number of disciples at the time, and left behind written records of his work. Unfortunately, no one understands his writings very well, so I don’t know how the rituals were carried out.” Hassengo’s excitement is obvious as he shares the connection between the precious heirlooms left by his grandfather and the subject matter of his novel.

    “Much of my grandfather’s writing had been passed on to his disciples. As I was gathering materials for my novel, I had to run all over Taiwan visiting these disciples and piecing together my grandfather’s work. But in the end, there were a lot of discrepancies. Various handwritten notes and journals came to have different interpretations in the eyes of different disciples. It was hard to know which version was authoritative.” Hassengo recalls, “My research forced me to conclude that every student has their own interpretation of what they learned from the master.”

    For this reason, as Hassengo began to grapple with issues of belief in his novel, he gradually broke with the exacting demands of science, and adopted an attitude of broad-minded acceptance. “I had to follow a certain principle to avoid coming across as an absolutist. Basically, if someone believes something is true, then it’s true. If someone else has a different point of view, you can’t saw it’s wrong. As long as each person can go on believing what they believe, then everything’s ok.”

    There is a depth in Hassengo’s thinking that belies his youth, and nowhere is that more apparent than in his handling of sensitive topics. In the second and third novels of the series, he touches on the political events at the heart of the deepest divisions in Taiwanese society: the period known as the White Terror. How does Hassengo view this period of history, and why did he choose to write about it?

     

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=103

     

     


    [1] Bone collecting is a religious rite that involves retrieving bones from graves, usually three to five years after burial, to be stored in a special funerary urn. The process is carried out by a ritual specialist known as a bone collector.

  • Unfinished Stories: in Conversation with Su Chih Heng, Author of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN (II)
    Oct 14, 2020 / By Lee Yijhen ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=100


    The Past Reborn: Restoring Taiwan to its Place in Global Film Studies

    “Raw material” is one of the themes that ties together Su Chih Heng’s portrait of Hokkien language film. “I believe that the sourcing of film stock is one of the keys to re-assessing movie history, one which ties movie history to world history.” He points out that as the so-called “Camphor Kingdom,” Taiwan exported the raw materials needed to manufacture celluloid film, thereby forming a pillar of the emerging Hollywood film industry.

    Su shares another historical example of Taiwan’s role in the global film production, this time involving Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry. As a major supplier of blank video cassettes, Taiwan played a supporting role in Nollywood’s rise in the 1990’s as an industry focused on direct-to-video movies. Yet, the reason Taiwan could manufacture low-cost video cassettes had to do with its own film industry. As the costs of black and white film rose, Taiwanese filmmakers increasingly turned to shooting on video to save on capital costs and stay competitive. This stimulated the formation of a blank video cassette industry in Taiwan that was later able to supply the Nollywood boom.

    Shifting his focus to Asia, Su Chih Heng discovered that the Hokkien language film industry was engaged in a three-way cultural and literary exchange with Japan and Korea. “When I was in the Korean film archives, just by scanning through the entries I could identify numerous films whose titles were identical to Taiwanese films, like Love Intersection (愛情十字路). Often these films were based on a single screenplay that was passed between Taiwan and Korea.” Or take Japan’s immensely popular Meiji period novel, The Usurer (sometimes titled The Golden Demon), which was adapted to film in both Taiwan and Korea.

     

    Movie Poster of Korean Film A Woman's War

    (Resource: open data)

     

    ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN suggests new possibilities for global film history with its unique concern with industrial and technological factors in film production. This is nowhere better demonstrated than in Su Chih Heng’s analysis of the role of the “color ceiling” and black and white film supply issues in the demise of the Hokkien language film industry. “Previous research has put less emphasis on the production bottleneck created by the transition to color film. Exactly what kinds of culture were favored, and exactly what was eliminated in this transition is a question worth re-examining. We can only make precise (international) comparisons if other countries take the initiative to fill in this missing information and data.”

     

    Industrial History: The Next Big Thing in Publishing!

    ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN has its origins in Su Chih Heng’s Master’s thesis. While adapting his thesis to book form, he and the editors at SpringHill Publishing discovered that both in Taiwan and overseas, books on the industrial history of filmmaking were rare, and works of industrial history in general were not very reader-friendly, being dominated by charts, data, and dry discussions of government policy. The final form of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN is an attempt fill these gaps: a complete history of Taiwan’s vanished local-language film industry presented in a readable, hard-hitting, narrative style.

    Su Chih Heng had to completely re-organize his thesis, incorporating in-depth interviews with filmmakers, crew-members, and actors, to create a more story-centered approach to history. “It was like writing a work of creative non-fiction,” he says. He hoped the book would provide readers a window on the dynamism of Taiwanese filmmakers within a global, industrial framework, restoring the voices of those who created Taiwan’s golden age of film. Su Chih Heng spent many painstakingly hours developing and filling out the predominantly chronological structure of the book. “The first chapter looks at three particularly well-crafted films as a starting point for discussion. Next we look back at the history of the Japanese colonial period. Then we look at the entire process of developing an industry (of filmmaking), and later, film promotion and distribution to theaters. After two waves (of development) comes the pinnacle of Hokkien language film, with its reliance on tent pole color productions, leading to the ‘color ceiling’ effect, and the inevitable decline of the industry. Finally, we look at the modest revival that came after the relaxing of martial law and analyze the continuing influence of early Hokkien language film.”

     

    Movie Poster of The Best Secret Agent: Fake Couple

    (Resource: Taiwan Film Institute)

     

    Tân Saⁿ and Gō-niû (陳三五娘), released on New Year’s Eve 1981, is often considered the last major Hokkien language film release, but Su Chih Heng believes the story of Hokkien language film hasn’t yet reached its conclusion. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN is only one chapter in the story. By re-engaging with these classic films, Su Chih Heng’s book challenges previous historical perspectives on Hokkien cinema, reviving and extending the pedigree of Hokkien language film into the present era. As such, the book is a model for overturning the historical assumptions of the past by establishing a true cultural history of post-war Taiwanese society. By reconnecting readers to the pulse of this golden age of Taiwan cinema, Su Chih Heng unearths the forgotten stories of Taiwan cinema, liberating them to resonate in our present times, and on into the future.