The first time I went to the Seattle Taiwanese American Film Festival was in 2019. It’s a young festival started in 2018 by Seattle TAP (Taiwanese American Professionals). I had a phenomenal time. I saw the short film version of what would later be re-cast, re-shot and turned into the award-winning feature length film Little Big Women 孤味 directed by Joseph Hsu Chen-Chieh 許承傑. Highlights from that pre-COVID year also included Long Time No Sea 只有大海知道 (“only the sea knows”) about the Tao people of Orchid Island directed by Heather Tsui 崔永徽, and Our Youth In Taiwan 我們的青春，在台灣 about the Sunflower Movement directed by Fu Yue 傅榆.
Due to COVID-19, the festival moved online last year but I missed it because I was wildly distracted by the pandemic. So, this summer, I made a point to attend and last week had the pleasure of watching the 2021 Seattle Taiwanese American Film Festival 西雅圖台美電影節 online. Because of the Delta variant and fifth U.S. wave, the event was virtual again.
This year’s hands down favorite for me was the feature length film My Missing Valentine 消失的情人節 (“Valentine's Day vanishing”) directed by Yu-Hsun Chen 陳玉勳. It's a romantic comedy about a quirky, fast-moving post office worker who wakes up one morning and discovers her Valentine’s Day has vanished. The film is such a great movie – charismatic, unexpected, very well-acted and artfully made. The story is hilarious, of course, but at the same time heartfelt, smart, and surprising – something romantic comedies typically struggle to accomplish. My Missing Valentine swept the 57th Golden Horse Awards last November, receiving 11 nominations and taking home Best Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, and Best Director.
I also really liked the 2021 short film Hello from Taiwan 你好，從台灣來的 directed by Tiffany Frances 黃咏婷, about a Taiwanese family reuniting in the U.S. after a year of transnational parental and sibling separation. This film packed a lot of depth and complexity into its shorter format from the transnational, multicultural navigation of marital and family discord, to a beautiful re-curring earthquake metaphor of the youngest daughter’s confusion. Frances is a Taiwanese American director and this film was a product of the 2020 American Film Institute Directing Workshop for Women (AFI DWW).
There was the heartbreaking 2017 short film Turn Around and Run 少年愉竊ji記 (“juvenile theft”), directed by Yu-Che Wu 吳語哲, about a boy abandoned by his mother who clings to a disintegrating ping pong paddle she once gave him. Conversations with directors were live streamed and recorded throughout the week. During his interview, Wu spoke on the challenge and also the joy of working with a child actor on such a serious role. The result is hard to watch but so compelling; poignant, raw, and hard-hitting.
I was impressed as well by The Way Home 阿查依蘭的呼喚 (“call of the Azangiljan”) directed by Elaine Wei 魏郁蓁. It's a documentary about the difficult journey of a displaced Indigenous Taiwanese woman and single mother of three, Dremedreman Azangiljan, to return home and take her place as Paiwan tribal chief heir. Wei is a longtime producer and this film was her directorial debut. It took a bumpy seven years to film The Way Home. She is dedicated to helping preserve Indigenous Taiwanese and Hakka culture through documentary film-making but is not Indigenous herself.
Finally, I was so heartened to see strong LGBTQIA+ representation among the festival's lineup, such as in the feature length film Dear Tenant 親愛的房客, directed by Yu-Chieh Cheng 鄭有傑, and short film Swingin’ 輕鬆搖擺 (“easy swinging”), directed by Shang-Sing Guo 郭尚興. Taiwan was the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage and while the move was progressive, there’s still a long way to go as the country tries to evolve beyond traditional Confucian, cishetero, patriarchal norms. Dear Tenant won both Best Leading Actor and Best Supporting Actress at the 57th Golden Horse Awards.
My takeaway after my second Taiwanese American film festival is this: Taiwan truly is a unique place with its own historical trajectory (entirely different than China’s); its own complex culture made up of many different ethnicities; and its own multifaceted, important stories to tell. To an extent, I always knew this as a Taiwanese American. But there’s still so much I don’t know and getting to experience this film festival reminded me again how special Taiwan is. Though it may be small, the islands have a lot to say. 加油台灣！