Award-winning director Mark Ang, 36, whose microfilm “Replace” has been successful at international film festivals and who last month organized the Formosa Festival of International Filmmaker Awards in Taichung, said in an interview with ‘Liberty Times’ （sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’） staff reporter Ho Tsung-han that he is determined to help Taiwanese films be seen by the world after he was previously mistaken for someone from Thailand
By Ho Tsung-han /
Liberty Times （LT）: You originally studied foreign languages. How did you become interested in theater and film?
Mark Ang （洪馬克）: My father is linguist Hung Wei-jen （洪惟仁）. Due to his influence, I have been interested in languages since I was young. The year I was accepted into Yuan Ze University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Applied Linguistics, my father was also appointed at Yuan Ze. I went from originally hoping to enjoy the freedom of attending college away from home to being watched by all of the department’s professors.
There were many opportunities to perform in plays in the foreign languages department: during freshmen orientation, senior send-off, Christmas, graduation productions… I also double-majored in English and Japanese, so when other people performed four times, I performed eight times.
I also participated in the school’s theater club. As an actor, I slowly became interested in scripts and directing. I took in a lot of films from movie theaters, the Chiu Hai Tang （秋海棠） video store and affordable VCDs.
During my junior year, I audited film critic Lan Tzu-wei’s （藍祖蔚） class on film appreciation. That was my first formal film class. Once, we analyzed three film adaptations of Anna Karenina in class. That was when I discovered that the same story could be told in many different ways and that film appreciation could be incredibly diverse.
LT: How did you shoot your first film?
Ang: After graduation, I heard of the Environmental Protection Administration’s “Throw Away Your Cigarette” （丟你的菸） campaign competition and took advantage of the break before I entered military service to create a good entry.
I thought that signing up for the “society” category, I would be treated as cannon fodder. I did not expect to receive first place, but to my surprise I claimed the NT$130,000 prize.
Shortly afterward I went on a self-guided tour of Japan. In a photograph I took randomly, I saw an announcement for an environmental protection video contest hosted by public broadcaster Japan Broadcasting Co （NHK） and I filmed a video for entry.
Even though I did not win, I received a letter from NHK saying that it liked my work. That was a huge encouragement for me and I became surer of this path.
During military service, I filmed event documentaries and news videos for the military police school. After being discharged, I decided to start a business with my friends. Because we did not receive professional training, the three of us only earned NT$200,000 the entire year.
Often, we had to share a loaf of bread for a week, until we were commissioned to film a postal service insurance commercial. We then were asked to film commercials for CPC Corp, Taiwan and Taiwan Sugar Corp. After that, we were able to earn NT$1 million [US$33,503] per year.
Later, I started feeling like I was a money-making tool. Ninety-five percent of the time, I was working in others’ service and not creating. I was very unhappy. I only really came in contact with the film world when I received a special effects storyboard-drawing job for the title sequence of the movie Monga （艋舺）.
LT: Was it also your experience from filming movies that helped you blend into the international community?
Ang: My first work, Replace （替生）, portrays organ transplantation. The subject is very heavy. But I thought: “I took the filming seriously, so it should be shown in a context where people will watch it seriously.” I decided to participate in film festivals.
The first time I brought the crew with me to Kyoto, the audience remained quiet after our film finished playing. I thought that my creative career was over. I did not expect everyone at the party that evening to line up to chat with me about the film. A mother even cried during our conversation. The resonance I found with the audience completely changed my thinking.
In September 2014, Replace won an award in Utah. Before I left Taiwan, I received a telephone call from a Taiwanese mother in Utah who offered to let me stay at her home.
On the day I was going to receive the award, she called five of her friends and family to accompany me to the ceremony and I went from being alone to having the biggest fan club. The day before I left, she even found more than 30 people to send me off.
Afterward, I could not resist asking her: “I am not famous. I am nothing. Why are you so nice to me?”
All she said in response was: “Because you are Taiwanese.”
When I received an award in Canada, the host introduced me as a director from Thailand. Only then did I discover that many people do not know Taiwan.
Later, I received a different award and the incident was repeated. That is when I decided to start the “100 Film Festivals Project” and created an “I love Taiwan” flag to be taken to 100 international film festivals.
Later on, ever more agencies asked me about Taiwanese films, so I attended film festivals and organized a film festival at the same time.
In July, I went to Fukuoka, Japan. Five films from Taiwan were being screened. I was the only Taiwanese director who attended, while four directors attended from South Korea. For this reason, the hosts decided to cancel the Taiwanese movie forum and gave the time slot to South Korea.
I could only be an audience member, sitting offstage.
“Is this just an individual case?” I wondered. “These things keep happening around the world. We were offered a public, legitimate and proper honor — the opportunity was ours, yet Taiwan disappeared.”
LT: This year, nearly 600 works from more than 55 countries were screened at the Formosa Festival. That is not small-scale. What do you hope to accomplish?
Ang: Every year, Taiwan produces about 300 to 400 films. The Golden Horse Awards, Taipei Film Festival, Kaohsiung Film Festival and the Golden Harvest Awards are stuck in elite thinking. Taiwanese films have been defined as products — they need to meet a certain standard, feature movie stars, etc. However, Taiwan’s market is really too small and it is a free market. It is very difficult to win against Hollywood films.
Many Taiwanese directors face unemployment after filming their graduation productions. They want to shoot films, but do not get the opportunity. Eighty percent live depressed and unfulfilling lives.
Film festivals can provide a crucial motivation. Touring film festivals are screening Taiwanese films in other countries and around the nation, and directors are invited to join post-screening discussions.
When directors get to meet their audience in person, they can receive direct feedback. They can feel the praise and support for their work most directly at public screenings. It is a narcotic and a stimulant.
Attending festivals allows Taiwanese directors to become stronger and know where their own values lie. I want to encourage everyone to participate in these film festivals and find opportunities to be seen all over the world.
If the directors cannot go abroad, then I will bring the world to them.
Translated by staff writer Sherry Hsiao