Taiwan is making a play for a position as Asia’s best co-production partner. With a vibrant creative community, none of the censorship limitations or political restrictions that plague other markets, and a host of filming incentives, it’s not the region’s toughest sell.
When GagaOOlala founder Jay Lin took to the stage during Tiffcom in Japan in October this year, and then a few days later at the Taiwan Creative Content Fest in Taipei, he stood for more than a slate of new shows looking for production partners and financing.
Lin, together with the filmmakers he is gathering under the GOL Studios banner, speaks to a generation of creators confident in their storytelling skills, fresh from a hard-won fight for gender equality, unshackled by censorship, free to wander wherever their creativity takes them, religion and politics included, and – critically – supported by a two-and-a-half-year-old government agency, Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA), with a clear goal to carve a space for Taiwan on the global content stage.
Supervised by Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture, TAICCA’s focus these days is on co-production. This focus is driven by exploding demand from local and global streaming platforms, including iQiyi, Netflix, Viu and HBO Go, as well as the Squid Game effect, which has given Asian creators a new confidence in their ability to participate in the global boom.
Newcomers are bound to boost production fortunes even further. Disney+ launched in Taiwan this month. In the run-up, the streamer announced Taiwanese comedy drama, Small & Mighty, starring Chen Bo-Lin, and Women in Taipei as part of its upsized production slate that aims to have 50 APAC originals by 2023. HBO Max is on its way; while the market is familiar with WarnerMedia’s current streamer, HBO Go, Max could be an entirely new product.
And, of course, not forgetting the five-year-old Taipei-based LGBTQ+ streaming platform GagaOOlala, which launched globally in May 2020 and now has 1.2 million registered members around the world. The platform carries 1,200 titles, including a fast-growing slate of originals.
If this pales against Netflix’s 214 million, Disney+’s 116 million and iQiyi’s 103 million, GagaOOlala has nevertheless carved a unique entertainment space for an underserved community. The platform’s production unit, GOL Studios, has attracted filmmakers such as Nancy Chen (Papa and Daddy), Adiamond Lee (Five Lessons in Happiness – Homebound) and Thailand’s Aam Anusorn Soisa-ngim (Present Perfect), who directed GOL Studios’ first Thai Boys Love (BL) original, Call It What You Want.
GagaOOlala ramps up diversity and inclusion in an environment where the scope of drama today is as broad as the demand for it is vibrant.
Titles out of Taiwan encompass everything from this year’s epic historical TV series Seqalu: Formosa 1867 by public broadcaster PTS to apocalyptic love story Rainless Love in a Godless Land (2021), which is Chinese streamer iQiyi’s first original with Taiwanese production house, Three Phoenixes. And a whole lot in between.
Following early stumbles with widely panned Nowhere Man (2019) – Netflix’s first fully funded Mandarin original – the global streamer has shaped its Taiwan slate with titles such as this year’s Heaven on the Fourth Floor and Golden Bell Award-nominated series, The Victims’ Game.
Directed by Singing Chen for public broadcaster PTS, Heaven on the Fourth Floor stars Anthony Wong (Infernal Affairs) as a masseuse able to heal emotional wounds. The show was on Netflix’s top 10 in Taiwan for five weeks running from 11 Oct to 14 Nov.
Season two of Golden Bell Award-nominated series, The Victims’ Game, by Greener Grass Productions, returns exclusively to Netflix in 2022, with producers Hank Tseng and Phil Tang and directors David Chuang and Allen Chen. Season one stars Joseph Chang in the story of a forensic detective who, after discovering his estranged daughter’s link to murders, risks everything to solve the case.
Taiwan’s recent batch of premium originals also stretches across crime mystery, coming of age lesbian drama, martial arts, dark comedy, science fiction, kids and animation.
Dramas include Hong Bo Hao’s mystery crime series Trinity of Shadows (2021), which binds a detective, a public official and a rookie policeman in a dark power play; Angel Teng’s coming-of-age lesbian series, Fragrance of the First Flower (2021), starring Lyan Chen and Zaizai Lin; Liu Yi’s martial arts drama Chi: The Method Of Breathing; and seven-episode anthology series, Twisted Strings, which is the latest poster show for the kinds of multi-partner collaborations at the top of the country’s agenda.
Twisted Strings, showcased for the first time at the Series Mania Forum in France at the end of August this year, is scheduled for an early 2022 release. The series is a co-production led by Taiwan’s Catchplay with WarnerMedia/HBO Asia, which has about 10 originals from Taiwan on its slate already and has been a consistent co-production and distribution partner for Taiwanese producers.
Executive produced by Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien, Twisted Strings is a tales-of-the-unexpected series featuring characters from all walks of life, fates and destinies. The series is written and directed by Golden Horse-nominated director, Huang Xi.
Starring Taiwanese actor, director and writer Lee Kang-sheng (Bang bang wo ai shen), Twisted Strings is produced by Catchplay’s year-old production subsidiary, Screenworks Asia, which is a joint venture with TAICCA. Production partners for the series are Taiwan’s Bossdom and Singapore’s Mediacorp.
The show will premiere as an HBO Asia original across HBO platforms, and will stream simultaneously on Catchplay+ in Taiwan and Indonesia, with a release on Mediacorp’s digital platform meWatch in Singapore.
Twisted Strings is filmed in Taiwan, where media authorities are well-versed in the language of incentives and familiar with international productions that have used the country as a backdrop.
TAICCA’s plan for the post-pandemic production environment is to ramp up cross-border collaborations. The effort is underpinned by the year-old Taiwan International Co-funding Programme (TICP), which can co-exist with select other incentive schemes from, for instance, the Taipei Film Commission. Set up in 2020, TICP offers film and TV studios a rebate of up to 30% of a project’s final production budget provided the first 70% has already been secured, or 30% of global marketing costs. The rebate is capped at US$300,000.
Requirements include flexible levels of Taiwanese involvement in the production, and projects do not have to be filmed in Taiwan. Projects that have tapped TICP include a film from Mauritanian-French director Abderrahmane Sissako (Timbuktu), who is said to have chosen Taiwan over China because of Taiwan’s free production environment.
Along with a bouquet of incentives and attractions, including TICP, TAICCA closes 2021 with virtual participation in the annual ATF event in December. The agency will host the Taiwan Pavilion as well as two online showcases highlighting eight TV programmes and two films (see page 19).
ATF showcase highlights include family sports drama Girls Win; reality show All Star Sports Day; entertainment/reality show Dancing Diamond, co-hosted by co-host Handian Chen; and science-fiction drama 2049, an 18-episode drama divided into three chapters that deal with humans trying to control their destiny using big data, healing old trauma with new tech, and relationship repair using a mind-reading device. 2049 is produced by myVideo, Eastern Television (EBC) and Greener Grass Production.
“We hope this series can help audiences expand their imagination about life in the future,” producer Phil Tang says, adding: “The 2049 concept is an IP. We hope to use it to broaden our imaginations in creating. We want to use different genres, and different artists to tell the stories we want to tell”. He could, indeed, be speaking for Taiwan’s entire creative industry.
Sponsored content. Published in ContentAsia December 2021 magazine