t was meant to bring people together in celebration of the Chinese-language film industry but online fury boiled over on both sides of the straits after political comments stole the show at the 55th Golden Horse Awards held on Saturday in Taipei.
Struggling to hold back tears in her acceptance speech after winning the year’s Best Documentary award, filmmaker Fu Yue touched off a firestorm when she declared, “I hope one day my country will be treated as an independent entity. This is my greatest hope as a Taiwanese.”
Fu’s film,Our Youth in Taiwan, documents the experiences of three young people, including herself, in the Sunflower Movement, a student-led movement in 2014 which saw protestors occupy the legislature.
The blowback was immediate. Livestreams of the awards ceremony on the Chinese mainland were immediately interrupted as angry netizens scaled the Great Firewall to leave comments on the director’s Facebook page by the thousands, denouncing her as a “separatist” and “traitor”.
Taiwan movie fans fume
Fu’s statement was not the first of a political nature to be made that evening. Comments made earlier by Zhang Yimou while presenting the Best New Director award also rubbed Taiwanese fans up the wrong way. “All these works by so many young directors carry the hope and future of China’s film industry,” he said.
When Tu Men, last year’s winner of the Best Leading Actor, took the stage to present the award for this year’s winner, he upped the ante by saying, “I feel very honored once again to be invited once again to the Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan, China, this time to present an award.”
“I’ve met many old friends, and made many new ones too. Truly, we are one big family on both sides of the straits,” he added.
“Can we not invite him next year?” wrote one clearly annoyed Taiwanese netizen.
“Who’s family with you?” wrote another.
Gong Li raises eyebrows
Towards the end of the ceremony, jury chair Gong Li was supposed to take the stage with Ang Lee, president of the festival’s executive committee, to present the award for Best Feature Film, but when she remained firmly transfixed in her seat, even after Lee’s prodding from the stage, theories began to fly that she was doing so to protest Fu’s comments.
Gong’s appointment as jury chair was a contentious one as her failure to get the Best Actress award on her first outing at the Golden Horse in 2014 reportedly left her furious, vowing never again to return to “such an unprofessional festival”.
She also had to contend with questions about how impartial she would be as a judge with her old beau Zhang Yimou receiving multiple nominations at the awards for the very first time.
Another theory also surfaced that Gong was unhappy about not being introduced by host Tao Ching-ying, and that there was a history of bad blood between the two. In a tweet that has since been deleted from Weibo, Tao explained that she had asked Gong during commercials whether she had a few words to say, but as Gong declined, she decided she would not bother her.
According to a report by Taiwan’s Apple Daily, the doyenne was unhappy with the results of the Best Documentary award but there was little she could do as she was outnumbered by the jury, which comprised 17 judges – ten from Taiwan, one from Malaysia and six from China, Hong Kong and Macau.
From as early as 5.30pm on Saturday, rumors were emerging that she was pulling a long face and would not be presenting the award as planned.
Gong Li also departed from longstanding Golden Horse practice by not showing up at the media presser to lift the veil on the judging mechanism, leaving Ang Lee awkwardly fumbling to fill in for her.
Criticized for taking up Singaporean citizenship a few years ago, any mistake by Gong Li in navigating the situation could see celebrity endorsements dry up overnight for her in China.
Online tsunami on Weibo
As news of Fu’s comments went viral on Weibo, the hashtag #中国一点都不能少 (“China won’t give up one inch”) began blowing up on the microblogging platform.
Celebrities, including those at the awards in Taipei, began sharing an old post by the Communist Youth League featuring an image depicting the map of China including Taiwan and the nine-dash line.
The post-awards party was poorly attended as artistes from the mainland were reportedly warned to stay away. Zhang Yimou, Xu Zheng and Deng Chao were among those that did not show up.
The unexpected turn of events also led many of them, including Hu Ge and Zhou Xun, to cut short their stay in Taiwan to return home earlier to the mainland.
Taiwan politicians clap back
Taiwan’s culture minister Cheng Li-chiun, who was seated to the right of Ang Lee at the awards, took to Facebook to snap back at some of the remarks made by artistes from the mainland.
“Taiwan is the freest, most democratic and most diverse country in Asia. Taiwan’s Golden Horse has created an awards ceremony for everyone in the film industry – one that respects artistic license and creative freedom,” she wrote.”
“But please remember, this is Taiwan. Not ‘Taiwan, China’.”
Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen also weighed in, saying, “We have never accepted the ‘Taiwan, China’ formula and will never accept it. Taiwan is Taiwan.”
“I am proud of the Golden Horse Awards. It highlights how Taiwan stands apart from China, thanks to our freedom and diversity.”
“We welcome all filmmakers in Taiwan. Here, nobody will be disappeared just because they hold a different opinion, and we don’t have any sensitive terms that are censored on the internet,” she added. “This is Taiwan. and while we hope all our guests have the opportunity to soak in the air of freedom, we also hope that they will respect the wishes of the people of Taiwan.”
Tsai’s administration is facing its first major test on November 24, when voters in the self-governing island head to the polls to elect mayors, county magistrates and councilors in all 22 administrative districts.
A 10-question referendum is also on the ballot, allowing voters to make their voices heard on issues spanning from nuclear power to marriage equality to the ‘Chinese Taipei’ moniker under which Taiwan competes at international sporting events.
Questions over the future of Golden Horse
Established in 1962, the nameGolden Horse comes from the islands of Kinmen (金門) and Matsu (馬祖), two territories under Taiwanese control that were seen to be on the front lines of the Cold War.
As the centre of gravity of the Chinese film industry continues on an inexorable shift away from Taiwan and Hong Kong towards the mainland, questions linger over theraison d’etre of the awards ceremony.
For starters, celebrities who rely on the Chinese mainland for the bulk of their earnings may now think twice about an invitation to the Golden Horse.
A visibly-tired Ang Lee seemed to allude to this after the awards on Saturday. “I have tried my best to be a good host,” he said. “I have to do what I can. This is such an excellent platform. It’s not easy to ensure its continuity. Hopefully it will continue for a long time to come.”