In 2020, when Covid-19 ravaged the world, we were glad to see the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival presented in physical form without any reduction in its programme size or in the number of screenings. Ten Asian films by talented new directors were selected by the festival for the NETPAC Award. Whether judging from their production value or auteurist vision, the selected works demonstrated considerable creative ambitions that reflected the social and cultural landscapes of their origins, each exhibiting its own memorable highlights and surprising genius.
Colorless by Takashi Koyama (Japan) portrayed its characters in a sophisticated fashion, presenting the image of an urban female desperate to fill her inner void.
Tiong Bahru Social Club by Tan Bee Thiam (Singapore) was a brilliant dark comedy and social allegory about an urban community’s pursuit of ultimate peace and collective happiness.
Eeb Allay Ooo! by Prateek Vats (India) recounted a poignant satire that depicted the predicament of a man seeking survival in a profession where his existence is considered inferior to monkeys.
Sometime, Sometime by Jacky Yeap (Malaysia) presented a mother-son relationship of interdependence and conflict with a spontaneous but realistic narrative.
Gull by Kim Mi-jo (South Korea) added new layers to the familiar subject of sexual assault and reflected the core concerns of contemporary Korean cinema.
Ròm by Trân Thanh Huy (Vietnam) told the story of a group of young boys whose survival hinges on the greed of local community residents. It explored the coming of age, setbacks, and disillusionment of the youths through its intense chase scenes.
Reclaim by CJ Wang (Taiwan) delved into a modern career woman’s familial responsibility and worries with nuanced observations.
Cleaners by Glenn Barit (Philippines) adopted a vibrant visual form to deliver a poignant tale that dealt with teenage angst towards an educational institution.
Stoma by Kit Hung (Hong Kong) examined the struggles of queer love through the protagonist’s new comprehension and definition of his own ailing body.
In the end, The Story of Southern Islet by Chong Keat Aun (Malaysia) garnered the NETPAC Award with the jury's unanimous vote. This unconventional, supernatural film resurrected memories from the director’s homeland where gods, humans and shamans are believed to coexist, blending a measured and mature narrative with a unique visual style. The film also won the FIPRESCI Prize and Best New Director Award at the Golden Horse Awards. Director Chong Keat Aun flew to Taiwan and underwent a 2-week quarantine to attend the physical festival and awards ceremony in person.
The brilliance of these ten films not only shone at the festival but established promising futures for the ten filmmakers whose next films will be much anticipated.
-- Zoe C. J. Chen, Lee Chia-hua and Chang Yen-tuo -- Edited by Latika Padgaonkar