ABOUT LATEST BOOKS AUTHORS RESOURCES AWARDS FELLOWSHIP GRANT

LATEST

  • Feelings that Transcend Species : An Interview with the Author and the Illustrator of FOX HATCHES AN EGG
    Jan 21, 2021 / By Anting Lu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    We’ve all read Aesop’s Fables and closed the book with a knowing smile, moved by the love, courage, and humour in the stories. However, many of the fables feature one animal who is never very likable: a solitary fox with sharp fangs who is always labelled as cunning and treacherous. As a lover of fables, children’s book author Sun Chyng-Feng noticed that the fox had been treated “unfairly” over the years and decided to write Fox Hatches an Egg to gently invert the role.

     

     

    Reversing the Character’s Image and Shaping Its Ideal Values

    In the interview with Sun Chyng-Feng, we started by discussing the fox’s traditional role as a villain. She talked about how she started writing fairy tales in her third year of university and how she wanted to subvert the traditional way of thinking by challenging the various stereotypes surrounding widely-held gender and class distinctions. As topics like these are very important to her, Sun Chyng-Feng’s typical creative process is to start by deciding on the story’s main notion or subject matter, and then running with a story to express it. For example, Fox Hatches an Egg discusses the process of transforming from “selfish” to “selfless”.

     

    Since Sun Chyng-Feng has lived in the US for many years, collaborating with illustrator Nan Jun on Fox Hatches an Egg was more like a relay race than co-creation. First, Sun Chyng-Feng completed the manuscript and then Nan Jun came up with the image concepts and drew the illustrations. This process gave both author and illustrator the most space for creativity. Talking about the content of the illustrations, Sun Chyng-Feng said there was one image which left a particularly deep impression on her: a white duck egg which takes up almost an entire page. This simple, bold composition captures that moment when Fox suddenly sees the duck egg in the undergrowth and he’s so excited that everything else in his mind goes blank, as if the egg takes up the entire universe.

     

          

     

    Love Between Species and the Warm Life of Companionship

    For illustrator Nan Jun, the most moving part of the story was the cross-species friendship between Fox and the duck which was brought about by chance but eventually became inevitable. He recalls his own childhood home where his kind-hearted father would sometimes look after stray animals and even adopted piglets, ducklings, and other unusual “pets” by modern day standards. When reading Fox Hatches an Egg he could completely understand how after Fox and duck kept each other company, Fox can no longer see the duck as food and instead feels a wave of affection towards it.

     

    This is why when we asked Nan Jun which image was his favourite, he immediately said the cover: a picture of Fox curled up around the egg and sleeping soundly, with the two characters framed by the shape of a house. Nan Jun admits that the painting process means that you can’t always capture one hundred percent of the scene you imagined, but once he saw the completed cover he felt it had come out even better than he could have hoped. It really captured the warmth between Fox and the duck.

     

     

    In addition to the subtly revealed affection between the two characters, Nan Jun set the book during autumn and meticulously planned the detailed settings. “The special thing about setting it during autumn was that even though the weather would be cold, the pictures would be filled with the kind of colours which would make readers feel that sense of warmth.” He added that this all tied back in with the feelings between Fox and the duck.

     

          

     

    True Feelings Can Transcend Languages and Borders

    At the end of the interview, we chatted about the potential for Fox Hatches an Egg to reach an international readership and Nan Jun stated he was particularly confident in the book’s portrayal of the closeness between the characters: “Fox Hatches an Egg will resonate easily with people of all ages and races because emotions are a universal language. It’s a book you can fall in love with as soon as you read it.”

     

    Sun Chyng-Feng also believes that the book tells a universal story about love, and that there are no specific cultural or geographical limitations to it. In the end, Fox is so upset by his actions that he becomes a vegetarian and is more than happy to make that sacrifice. These bittersweet sentiments are what makes this the perfect fable, and also bring a touch of real emotion to the story. This may be why the book resonates so much with readers. 

  • A Thirty-Minute Story that Took Five Years to Complete: An Interview with the Author and the Illustrator of SLEEPWALKING
    Jan 21, 2021 / By Bernie Yang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    At first glance, the large full moon on the front cover of Sleepwalking may remind you of the classic film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial which also features a young boy who goes on a big adventure, but the picture book’s plot twists and the pervading ingenuity of its illustrations help make readers feel the warmth of the affection that permeates its pages.

    Stories Born from Childhood Memories

    Sleepwalking is based on author Yen Chih Hao’s own experience as he often sleepwalked when he was a child and it was something his father worried about constantly. Looking back on it as an adult, Yen Chih Hao wanted to thank his father and cherish the memory of his grandparents who had passed away, so he picked up a pen and composed this story which only took him thirty minutes to write. The publisher introduced him to illustrator Hsueh Hui-Yin and the way they collaborated was quite interesting: once Yen Chih Hao finished writing, he gave Hsueh Hui-Yin full responsibility and the two of them had zero contact until the draft was completed.

     

    Hsueh Hui-Yin thought that it wouldn’t take much time since the plot was simple and Yen Chih Hao had provided preliminary concepts for the images. She certainly hadn’t expected her progress to be hampered by multiple factors, and the author didn’t push her too much for the sake of quality. Thus, a story which was written in thirty minutes ended up taking five years to illustrate. In fact, it took so long that the editor who’d originally been responsible for the project had gotten married and had children in that time. 

     

    The turning point came when the two of them met after the rough drawings were completed. Yen Chih Hao thought the middle of the story was lacking an important turning point: a scene where the father hugs his son. The editor thought it could be omitted, but Yen Chih Hao persisted and decided to discuss it with Hsueh Hui-Yin in person. To his surprise, he found that Hsueh Hui-Yin also felt that they should add this scene and they both regretted not having met sooner.  

     

     

    Conveying Profound Issues in Picture Books 

    Sleepwalking describes a young boy who sleepwalks out of his house in the middle of the night and embarks on a great adventure. He travels far and wide, his anxious father by his side and protecting him along the way before it transpires that the boy had been going to lay flowers at his grandparents’ graves all along. The father and son embrace and the sleepwalking spell is broken, then their journey home is filled with warm father-son interactions. In the end, the boy returns to his bed and falls back into a peaceful sleep.

     

    At the beginning it seems like an adventure story, but in the middle there’s such an unexpected plot twist and the book ends with an affectionate note between father and son. When asked whether he deliberately planned it this way, Yen Chih Hao quickly replied that a common motive in life is to supplement our inner selves and as we slowly accumulate this material over time it naturally reveals itself so there’s no need to purposely construct something new.

     

    Surprisingly for someone who had already written many works over the course of his career, Yen Chih Hao’s appreciation for children’s literature occurred relatively late. It wasn’t until he pursued a graduate degree in children’s literature that he really came into contact with it and began to slowly figure out his own creative path. It could be said that children’s literature is his safe haven and that he wants to give children hope and spark their imaginations through his works, and that this is where he finds his own creative joy.

     

    While the book explores profound issues such as death and parent-child interactions which might seem a bit serious or difficult for young children to understand, Yen Chih Hao tries to tell the story in the style of a fairy tale. He takes a warm approach to reflecting on life and makes the child’s thoughts the main highlight, which he particularly emphasises by having the father stay silent on the journey. It’s not just about hoping that parents can let their children fly, it’s about wanting children to always have that strong backing and support.

     

     

    The Shared Dance Between Author and Illustrator

    In terms of collaboration between an author and an illustrator, Yen Chih Hao believes that an illustrator should respond to the text and the pictures should bring an additional layer of creativity. With Sleepwalking, Yen Chih Hao left Hsueh Hui-Yin a lot of space for expression: “It’s like two people dancing together, it’s just that I danced the first half then stepped aside so my partner could dance the second half.” He hoped that by having their two life stories intertwine, they could create an even more beautiful third story. A good picture book should be like a film, where the text gets the ball rolling and the images immerse the reader in the story.

     

    The book contains relatively few words and the latter half of the return journey is told entirely through images which gives the narrative a unique style of its own, although this lack of text also puts the illustrator’s storytelling ability to the test. Hsueh Hui-Yin initially painted the images by hand but discovered the pictures looked too crowded so she did the illustrations digitally to reach the perfect balance. If you look carefully, you’ll see that the pictures contain a lot of hidden details which Hsueh Hui-Yin deftly uses to bring the images to life, including the boy’s stuffed animals, the way the moon moves across the night sky to signify the passage of time, and the illustrations in the second half which are in the opposite direction to show that they’re on the return journey.

     

     

    Hsueh Hui-Yin believes that relative to creating a single illustration or a book cover, illustrating a picture book is more like making an album. A picture book is a complete story, so it is important to pay close attention to the narrative structure and cohesion between plots. The composition and arrangement of images need to be carefully considered and the pictures must convey what cannot be expressed by words.

     

    Sleepwalking’s landscapes are often filled with features that are distinctly Taiwanese, such as its wind turbines, trains, and convex traffic mirrors, all of which remind readers of the island’s beauty. Combining this with the universal feelings conveyed by the story itself and the straightforward illustrations will surely help the book transcend language barriers and impress readers from all over the world.    

  • 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.