For the first time since COVID-19’s inception, Taiwan’s film industry thrived in 2020. It was a good year for local Taiwanese films because there was no worldwide competition to contend with.
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What were the best Taiwanese films of 2020 in the middle of these extraordinary circumstances?
As a starting point, the editors of Cinema Escapist assembled this list of the top 11 Taiwanese films of 2020. These 11 Taiwanese films were selected for their high level of enjoyment, technical skill, and social significance. We’ve curated a wide range of films, from independent to blockbuster, across a variety of genres. We’ve also provided links to watch these Taiwanese movies on platforms like Netflix if they’re currently accessible.
11. Do You Love Me As I Love You
Taiwanese movies aren’t shy about featuring love triangles between students, and 2020 is no exception. As one of Taiwan’s highest earning pictures in 2020, Do You Love Me As I Love You is a stalwart member of the subgenre, despite the Cinema Escapist editorial team’s typical antipathy to sweetness.
On-screen actress Chen Yuu (The World Between Us) plays Tian Xiao-xiang, who is infatuated with her male best friend Li Zhu-hao (Island Nation) (played by Tsao Yu-ning). To make matters worse for her, Li has developed feelings for Tian’s roommate Song Yi-jing and has asked Tian for help in locating the beautiful young lady he has fallen for. A classic love triangle plot unfolds, with with all of its usual shenanigans.
Tsai Ming-liang is a well-known director in Taiwan. In Taiwan’s Second New Wave film, he was a pioneer and is well-known for his artistic explorations of urban alienation shot at a slow pace.
Following Stray Dogs in 2013, Tsai returns to the big screen with Days, her first feature picture in seven years. A wealthy, but aging, old man begins on an illicit romance with a younger man in this film, which stars Tsai’s longtime collaborator Lee Kang-sheng (played by Anong Houngheuansy).
The film carefully tackles the vicissitudes of aging and coming to terms with one’s own mortality with minimal use of dialogue. Fans of art cinema, particularly Tsai devotees, will find Days a welcome respite from the frantic speed of the modern world.
9. My Missing Valentine
My Missing Valentine is a good choice for those looking for a romantic comedy that doesn’t rely on the corny sentimentality of children’s stories. Yang Hsiao-chi, the heroine of this offbeat romantic comedy, is a young woman who appears to be experiencing life at a rate faster than the average person, blinking prematurely for photos and singing out of tune. She discovers that her Valentine’s Day has magically passed and that there are indicators that she may have found an exciting new boyfriend. Retracing his steps, Hsiao-chi discovers the limitations of each individual’s perspective on life in this film.
Although our reviewer felt the plot of My Missing Valentine to be a little disjointed, we decided to include it on this list because of its originality. Two-act structure is used to express its arguments on viewpoint limitations, and the film delivers an aesthetic level of whimsicality and philosophical contemplation that most Taiwanese romantic comedies do not. Because of this, the Golden Horse Awards (Taiwan’s Oscars) may have given My Missing Valentine the most accolades, including best feature film.
8. Get the Hell Out
Throughout 2020, the coronavirus ravaged the planet, igniting a new wave of zombie-themed films. The flesh-eating action of Get the Hell Out will be hitting Taiwanese theaters and major international film festivals (particularly the Toronto International Film Festivals) in the fall of 2020.
Get the Hell Out isn’t only a fun zombie flick; it’s also a political satire. Its Mandarin title, “flee the Legislative Yuan,” refers to Taiwan’s legislature and describes the film’s plot. To save themselves from being eaten to death, the film’s characters break out of the Legislative Yuan building, which has been closed down, throughout the film’s events.
With its notorious legislative violence and spectacular media milieu, Get the Hell Out satires Taiwanese politics particularly well. In the film, there are several Taiwanese political references that will be familiar to those who have been to Taiwan. Taiwan has traditionally been reticent to make films with political overtones, but Get the Hell Out is part of a growing movement that defies that tradition.
7. Classmates Minus
The Great Buddha+, a Taiwanese film directed by Huang Hsin-yao, won the Golden Horse Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2017. In 2020, he returned with Classmates Minus, which deals with the same issues of estrangement in Taiwan’s southern regions.
In Classmates Minus, a group of middle-aged men based on Huang’s former classmates from high school appear. By running for legislative office, they hope to find a sense of purpose and success in their lives before it’s too late. Classmates Minus is likely to resonate with those who love male-centric dark comedy.
Besides the hilarity, Classmates Minus provides an important window into life in Taiwan outside of Taipei, which tends to dominate the country’s cultural environment. For those looking for a more female-centric option to Classmates Minus that gives a similar perspective outside of Taipei, continue reading our selection.
6. Dear Tenant
Following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, the country’s film industry has experienced a boom in the LGBTQ subgenre. It is therefore one of several gay films that we have included in this year’s top ten list.
As a gay man takes care of his deceased lover’s son and elderly mother, he must overcome established prejudices against this arrangement in the face of public outcry. As the film points out, even though Taiwan has allowed same-sex marriage, the fight for true equality has not yet been won.
IWeirDo, a stylish and quirky rom-com, premiered in the perfect year. OCD sufferers, a man and a woman, are the focus of this film, which follows their relationship in Taipei, Taiwan, where they wear face masks, gloves, and protective gear even when there is no pandemic.
IWeirDo employs a highly distinctive cinematic style that incorporates dazzling color bursts and an odd aspect ratio. In the film, mental illness is neither avoided or sensationalized in any way. Instead, the film’s cinematic tactics vividly convey its characters’ complicated emotional states in a way that enables viewers to connect with them. I’m a Cyborg but That’s Okay and Castaway on the Moon are South Korean indie romances, and IWeirDo feels like a Taiwanese cousin to those films. As such, it should appeal to a wide range of moviegoers searching for a thoughtful, artistic, and non-sappy romantic film.
4. A Leg
This year Gwei Lun-mei returns to Taiwanese cinema with a powerful performance in A Leg. This dark comedy examines the downfall of an imperfect marriage via a multifaceted and wry lens.
Gwei stars as Qian Yu-ying, a woman who is married to Zheng Zi-han (Yang You-ning). Zheng is ready to have his leg amputated when he suddenly goes into a coma and dies in the beginning of the film. Qian decides to reattach Zheng’s amputated leg before he is cremated, which takes her on a wild goose chase through medical bureaucracy. Through flashbacks, we learn why Qian is so determined to locate Zheng’s missing leg.
3. The Silent Forest
In 2012, Taiwanese media reported that a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Tainan had a pattern of sexual abuse. On the basis of this case, the 2020 Taiwan film The Silent Forest will aim to drive Taiwanese society into a re-examination of its treatment of deaf people and the collective silence regarding sexual assaults.
When Chang Cheng moves to a school for the disabled, he witnesses a series of harrowing incidents of sexual abuse. Administrators at the school are doing everything they can to hide what happened, and Chang is forced to assess the benefits and drawbacks of going it alone.
Comparing The Silent Forest to the Ukrainian film The Tribe and the South Korean film Silenced, critics and viewers were left cold after seeing the film. A promise was made after seeing the film by Taiwan’s deputy education minister to better handle reports of sex abuse in schools. There is no guarantee that The Silent Forest’s efforts will lead to actual change, but they at least made a strong push in the correct direction.
2. Little Big Women
Look no farther than Little Big Women, if you’re looking for a more female-centric film about ordinary life in Southern Taiwan. The Taiwanese audience responded strongly to this film’s emotionally rich and oftentimes comedic view on family, making it one of the most commercially successful local films of 2020.
Lin Sho-ying, the owner of a successful restaurant, and her three daughters are the film’s four protagonists. His estranged wife Lin’s 70th birthday. Their lives will be thrown off course, pushing them to confront family secrets and personal issues.
A comparison to The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful (our pick for 2017’s finest Taiwanese film) may occur to those who are familiar with Taiwanese cinema, which similarly involves a dominant matriarch and three daughters. While the Waishengren family in Taipei is the focus of The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful, the Benshengren family in Tainan is the focus of Little Big Women.
1. Your Name Engraved Herein
Your Name Engraved Herein is our pick for the greatest Taiwanese film of the year. It was Taiwan’s top-grossing LGBTQ movie of the year in 2020, making it the highest-earning Taiwanese film ever.
Your Name Engraved Herein tells the love tale of two students at a Catholic high school for males in 1987, just after the conclusion of Taiwan’s martial law period. Filmmaker Patrick Liu Kuang-hui drew inspiration from his own life experiences to create a tale that is equal parts emotional and historically rich. The film is easily rewatchable and was well-received at a number of promotional events in Taiwan (which were possible given the lack of need for COVID lockdowns).