At Cafe 6. Photo courtesy of FEFF.

Taiwan’s film industry has changed considerably over the past decade. Cape No. 7, from 2008, showed filmmakers how to make a successful commercial film – it remains the highest-grossing domestic production, with a box office take of US$17 million. It was a case study in successful domestic production and hinted there were untold stories about the country’s unique culture that audiences could identify with.

Two films at the 19th Far East Film Festival – 52Hz, I Love You and At Cafe 6 – reflect the changes in Taiwan’s commercial cinema since 2008.

Cape No. 7 was independently produced, with funds gathered by director Wei Te-sheng and producer Jimmy Huang. They established the production company ARS Film Production that has gone on to produce each of Wei’s films, including 52Hz, I Love You.

Expectations for the film were high, not least because the release date was ahead of the Lunar New Year, when box office revenues traditionally peak. 52Hz, I Love You has not lived up to expectations, however, grossing just US$1.5 million.
So what’s changed?

Taiwan’s box office relies heavily on mainland Chinese investment. At Cafe 6 is a typical example of a Taiwanese film funded by mainland companies, including Huashi Media Investment (Beijing) Co., Ltd. and Tianjin Huayi Brothers Blockbuster Film Ltd.

These collaborations also deliver opportunities. At Cafe 6 director Neil Wu told a panel discussion that he had always wanted to see his novels on screen but, without experience, the chances to make a movie were slim. Chinese film production companies are increasingly focused on quality content and eager to find new storytellers.

Political and cultural sensitivities remain a problem. At Cafe 6 was withdrawn from cinemas in the mainland and made only US$943,917 at the box office there.

Also, the bittersweet romantic comedies that have been the mainstay of Taiwanese cinema have become repetitive. Recent movies centered on the first loves and disappointments of college students have included You Are the Apple of My Eye (2011), Cafe. Waiting. Love from 2014 and 2015’s Our Times.

The latest in the genre, 52Hz, I Love You features musical performers in the leading roles and could be considered a vehicle for those musicians. These productions promote the soundtrack, gadgets and movie locations that make up the overall brand.

The box office from Taiwanese films will not replicate the success of 2008 and Cape No. 7. To do that, Taiwanese productions have to emerge from their safe zone and explore stories that currently seem to be overlooked.