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Did You Know The First Golden Horse Award Was Given Out During A Hokkien Language Film Festival?

The KMT established the Golden Horse Awards in the 1960s as a propaganda tool to promote patriotic Mandarin-language films, but did you know the first Golden Horse Award was but a sideshow for Taiwan’s massive Taiwanese Hokkien film industry awards?

Over the past 56 years, the Golden Horse Film Festival has slowly shed its ideological shackles, becoming the premier award show for the Sinophone film world. But did you know that the earliest Golden Horse Award was given out during a Taiwanese Hokkien language(Translator's note)
Taiwanese Hokkien, often simply called Taiwanese, is a Sinitic language of the Southern Min language family. It was the lingua franca of Han settlers who first came to Taiwan in the 17th century. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) actively discouraged the use of Taiwanese (as well as other minority languages) during the authoritarian period, while Mandarin was promoted to foster a singular “Chinese” identity amongst the original Han settlers and the newly arrived KMT soldiers and refugees.
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HOW DID THE FIRST GOLDEN HORSE AWARDS COME ABOUT?

Before the Golden Horse Award was established, Taiwan was in the middle of its golden age for Taiwanese language films. As noted in the book Taiwan Film Directors: Treasure Island (台灣電影百年漂流), there were 176 Taiwanese Hokkien films produced from 1956 to 1959.

In 1957, the first Taiwanese Language Film Festival (台語片影展) was held at the National Taiwan Arts Education Center (國立台灣藝術館), and it was there that the first “Golden Horse Award” was given out. This was the first time the three words “Golden Horse Festival” were ever uttered in Taiwan. This festival wasn’t organized by the government, but by the Examiner News (徵信新聞), a local paper that would later become the China Times (中國時報).

The awards show program for the first (and last) Taiwanese Language Film Festival in 1957. Image courtesy of Taiwan Film Institute.
The awards show program for the first (and last) Taiwanese Language Film Festival in 1957. Image courtesy of Taiwan Film Institute.

On November 30 of that year, the newspaper’s director Yu Chi-chung (余紀忠) presented the awards — selected by a panel of judges — to eleven winners, including Kang Ming (康明) for his role in Monga Bones Incident (萬華白骨事件), and Ko Yu-hsia (柯玉霞) for her role in Three Beautiful Striving Youths (三美爭郎). Unfortunately, this was the only year the Taiwanese Language Film Festival was held before it fizzled out.

TAIWAN HAD ITS OWN HOLLYWOOD

The Taiwanese language film market was still flourishing up to the 1970s. Between 1962 and 1969, there were over 800 Taiwanese language films produced, roughly one every 10 days. Though the vigorous and productive Taiwanese language film industry was not seen as important to the government, it flourished like wild grass, with those in the industry describing it as “Taiwan’s own Hollywood.”

Taiwanese language films were made in many genres and freely borrowed from Hollywood, Japanese, and Hong Kong films. For example, Brothers Wang and Liu 007 (王哥柳哥007) was a spy film, The Big Drunk Knight and the Blind Fencer (大醉俠與盲劍客) was an homage to Hong Kong folk wuxia, and Bride in Hell (地獄新娘) — based on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca — is a 1965 film known for its beautifully idiosyncratic low-angled shots.

A GOVERNMENT ESTABLISHED MANDARIN FILM AWARDS

In 1962, the Government Information Office formally established the Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards. The new awards show would only accept Mandarin language films, despite only seven films in Mandarin produced that year, and over 120 films in Taiwanese. The KMT wanted to promote Han Chinese thought and anti-Communist culture, so they fostered Mandarin language films through the Golden Horse Awards and the Central Motion Picture Corporation (中影製片).

As the government pushed a film style called “healthy realism” (健康寫實主義) and expensive and technically complex colour films became the mainstream, low-cost “guerilla-style” Taiwanese language films became less popular. Mandarin films took over the industry, and Taiwanese films withered away. Golden Horse award-winning directors like Lee Hsing (李行) and Ko Chun-hsing (柯俊雄) started their careers making films in Taiwanese, but later changed to making them exclusively in Mandarin.

ACCEPTING FILMS FROM CHINA

Starting in 1990, the Golden Horse Awards was conducted and organized by an independent executive committee, and slowly shed its government ties and political directives. Simultaneously, qualifications to enter into the competition were relaxed. In 1992, five years after martial law was lifted, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council lifted restrictions on Chinese films by allowing the import into Taiwan of films where less than half of the cast and crew were Chinese. The executive committee immediately allowed for such films to compete for the awards.

In 1996, the year of the first direct presidential election in Taiwan, the Golden Horse Awards nominated a Chinese film for the first time. Films could enter as long as the main spoken language was Mandarin, regardless of whether it was a foreign film, how it was funded, or the nationalities of the actors. That year, Chinese director Jiang Wen (姜文)’s In the Heat of the Sun (陽光燦爛的日子) won the award for Best Feature, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Sound Editing.

ACCEPTING ALL MANDARIN LANGUAGE FILMS

Opening up, independence and diversity slowly transformed the core values of the Golden Horse Awards. Starting in 2003, the Golden Horse Awards stopped requiring the main language of film entries to be Mandarin. In 2016, the requirements were loosened even more, requiring only the director and seven others in the creative team to be of ethnic Chinese origin, paving the way for films from many other countries to participate.

(To read the Chinese version of this article, please click: 真的假的?第一次「金馬獎」其實是台語影展? )

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