Archiving Memories

Lan Tsu-wei on Taiwan’s Audiovisual Culture

2020 / August

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of TFAI /tr. by Brandon Yen

In the 1980s there was a film library tucked away inside an unpretentious office building on Qingdao East Road in Taipei City. This mecca for Taiwanese film buffs offered access to the works of internationally acclaimed directors such as François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Michelangelo Antonioni.


In 2020 the library was renamed the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI). Its newly appointed chairman, film critic Lan Tsu-wei, remembers how, back in the day, people used to start queuing outside the library two days before the annual Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. Information was tightly controlled in the martial law era. Under the strictures of martial law, Golden Horse provided the only opportunity to watch inter­national films. The level of interest and enthusiasm was phenomenal, Lan smilingly recalls.

Our shared memories

Lan watched his first film when he was four. The male and female protagonists were writhing under a duvet. When Lan asked his mother what they were doing, she scolded him. In 1969 the entire family stayed up to listen to a radio commentary on the Golden Dragon baseball team’s battle at the Little League World Series in the USA. Lan also witnessed the inauguration of Taiwan Tele­vision in 1962. When The Love Eterne was released in 1963, it took Taipei by storm. These are not only Lan’s personal recollections but also part of Taiwan’s collective memory.

Older cinemagoers may recall that films used to be preceded by the national anthem and newsreels. These shared memories have become an integral part of Taiwan’s history.

Lan wants the TFAI to preserve historical memories such as these. Through rearranging and interpreting the past, he aims to retain and reinstate Taiwan’s collective memories and shared cultural heritage.

Establishing the TFAI

Responsible for the preservation, restoration, and promotion of Taiwanese films, and for education about them, the TFAI has undergone several incarnations, from the earliest Film Library of the Motion Picture Development Foundation (1978‡1991), to the Chinese Taipei Film Archive (1991‡2014), and then the Taiwan Film Institute (2014‡2020). The TFAI received its current name in late May 2020, and its mission has been expanded to encompass TV and radio archiving.

Lan Tsu-wei, the TFAI’s first chairman, is the first Taiwanese journalist to have visited the international film festivals in Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Tokyo, and San Sebastián, along with the Oscars, within a span of five years. He has been a TV news producer and led the production department at Central Motion Pictures Corporation. For many years he shared his passion for film music on the radio. A lifelong film connoisseur, Lan is an ideal person to head the TFAI.

“We aim to compile a history of Taiwan’s audiovisual culture from 1895 onwards,” Lan says. The year 1895 has been chosen not because it saw the beginning of Japan’s colonization of Taiwan, but because the world’s first film was created that year. Toyojiro Takamatsu’s Taiwan Jikkyo Shokai (“Introduction to Conditions in Taiwan,” 1907) marked the first time Taiwan was filmed. The world’s first wireless radio broadcast of music and entertainment was reportedly made in the USA in 1906. In 1928 the establish­ment of the Taipei Broadcasting Station brought the wider world to Taiwanese households. The historical film Kano (2014) shows Taiwanese families listening to a live radio commentary on the 1931 National High School Baseball Championship of Japan. These are all precious moments that define the national psyche.

Archiving past and present

Television and radio now fall within the TFAI’s remit. As Lan acknowledges, piecing together fragments of memory isn’t easy. However, “if we don’t make an effort now, it will be even harder in the future.”

Until 1989, Taiwan was oblivious to the preservation of images, Lan observes. “As a result many cultural assets and social memories have vanished irretrievably. Even if you have personally witnessed the beauty of it all, you won’t see it again.”

The TFAI is seeking to collaborate with the Voice of Han Broadcasting Network, the Police Broadcasting Service, and Taiwan Television to provide open access to their cultural resources. “We don’t want to over-­interpret Taiwan’s historical trajectory. What the TFAI aims to do is simply to preserve and restore what used to be.”

This task includes collecting interviews with professionals. “We’ll ramp up our efforts to interview professional practitioners in the film and audiovisual industries while they are still among us, so as to create an oral history archive. We very much hope they’ll help us reconstruct the history of Taiwan’s audiovisual culture.”

Lan mentions his own interviews with film director Wang Tung, which were published as a book in 2010. Before working in the film industry, Wang had trained in art and design. Lan’s interviews—an indispensable primary source for researchers—reveal the depth and breadth of Wang’s art, covering his set construction, camera movements, symbolism, casting, musical arrangements, language, and more.

“I always think of my career as a bridge,” says Lan, waxing lyrical. “At one end, I marveled at the gorgeous landscape of the 1960s to the 1980s. Now, in 2020, people at this end of the bridge don’t know what it was like at the other end. My job is to bring the scenes from the other end of the bridge over to this side so that people can know the splendor of the past.”

Film restoration

The TFAI’s documentary Archiving Time shows just how complex and intricate a process film restoration is. Restora­tion involves rescuing films frame by frame, ­repairing damaged sprocket holes and clearing away old splicing ­cement. After digital scanning, the digital restorer removes scratches and stains from each frame. The colorist touches up faded hues. The audio engineer brings back original sounds. The task is one of herculean proportions.

The TFAI’s mission to remaster classic Taiwanese films began in 2013. Its achievements to date include Dragon Inn, A Touch of Zen, and Raining in the Mountain, all of which have received accolades at the Cannes Film Festival, and rights to the restored versions have been sold.

In an article published in The New York Times in May 2020, film critic Ben Kenigsberg dubs Hou Hsiao-hsien “Taiwan’s greatest filmmaker.” Lan Tsu-wei ascribes the timing of this tribute to the TFAI’s recent digital restora­tion of two of Hou’s masterpieces, A Time To Live, A Time To Die (1985) and Dust in the Wind (1986), with the sale of online streaming rights making the films available in the USA. Classic films are timeless, and digital remastering ensures that they can be passed down to posterity.

Making national treasures accessible

Under Lan’s guidance, the TFAI will adopt a two-pronged approach: academic research is important, but content that appeals to the general public is also vital.

For example, we seldom recognize the achievements of the comedians Hsu Pu-liao and Chu Ke-liang, whose performances shared similarities with Chaplin’s iconic tramp. The popular film scores of David Tao, Sun Yueh, and Hsu Pu-liao also deserve to be rediscovered. Lan emphasizes that Taiwan’s film culture is not represented only by the masters of the Taiwanese New Wave of the 1980s‡1990s. It boasts a much greater diversity.

But after preserving and restoring these national treasures, what use would it be if they were to be locked up in the archives? Lan compares films hidden away in storage to neglected concubines in ancient China who yearned to be noticed. “Our intention is to make our work openly accessible to everyone in the future.” Only when these audiovisual resources become publicly available can we continue to remember, re­vital­ize, and celebrate the glorious blossoms of Taiwanese culture.

Lan draws an analogy from Western literature. In Roman mythology, the god Janus has two faces looking in opposite directions, one to the past, the other to the future. “The TFAI is an heir to the spirit of Janus,” Lan says. “We aim to revive the past for the appreciation of the present generation, but we’re not neglecting the present moment either, because archiving begins in the here and now.” Lan’s words define the TFAI’s mission: its archiving of the past is at once grounded in the present and oriented toward the future.

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文‧鄧慧純 圖‧影視聽中心










「我們希望從1895年之後,建立台灣的視聽史。」藍祖蔚說。這1895年並非日本殖民台灣的緣由,而是世界第一部電影誕生的年代。台灣第一次進入膠捲的框格中是1907年日本人高松豐次郎拍攝的《台灣實況紹介》,該片在全島北中南一百多處取景。1906年,無線電廣播發明,1925 年,臺灣總督府在始政(開始施政) 30 周年紀念展覽會上首次公開播放廣播,1928年,台北放送局(現址為台北二二八紀念館)成立,台灣人開始透過小小的方盒知曉世界大事,電影《KANO》中,重現了家家戶戶透過廣播,收聽遠在日本的甲子園球賽盛況。這些影像、聲音成為庶民生活的一環,記錄大眾日常的點點滴滴,共築全民的記憶。






許多電影舉辦的影後座談,導演與觀眾對話,這些資訊都應該被記錄下來。藍祖蔚又舉了自己與王童導演對談的書《王童七日談──導演與影評人的對談手記》。王童是從美術設計出身,再一路進階到執導演筒,書中藍祖蔚的提問,從美術搭景、鏡頭運動、符號意涵、角色選擇、音樂安排、使用語言等等,追根究柢地問明導演的意圖,留下的這些raw material,可供後世參考研究。





日前,《紐約時報》刊載了一篇美國影評人Ben Kenigsberg撰寫的專文,標題稱侯孝賢為「台灣最偉大電影人」。才好奇在多年後為何突然蹦出這則新聞,藍祖蔚解釋其中的關鍵,是中影公司重新修復了《戀戀風塵》與《童年往事》兩部作品,並賣出數位修復版權給線上串聯平台,讓影片在美國得以被看見,這顯示經典永遠有市場,而修復是香火傳承的重要工程。









文・鄧慧純 写真・影視聽中心 翻訳・山口 雪菜










「私は1895年以降の台湾の映画‧放送史をまとめたいのです」と藍祖蔚は言う。1895年というのは日本統治時代だからではなく、世界で最初の映画が誕生した年だからだ。台湾が初めて映像に撮影されたのは、1907年、日本の高松豊次郎が制作した『台湾実況紹介』で、北部から南部まで台湾の百ヶ所余りが映っている。1906年には世界初のラジオ放送が行なわれ、1928年には台北放送局が放送を開始した。映画『KANO 1931海の向こうの甲子園』でも、人々がラジオの前で甲子園の実況中継を聞く姿が描かれている。これら映像や放送は当時の庶民の暮らしの一部であり、人々の共通の記憶を記録している。











先ごろ、ニューヨーク‧タイムズで映画評論家のBen Kenigsbergが、映画監督‧侯孝賢を「台湾で最も偉大な映画人」と絶賛した。なぜ突然侯孝賢が取り上げられたかと言うと、実は台湾の中影公司が侯孝賢の『恋恋風塵』と『童年往時』を修復し、デジタル‧リストア版の放映権をオンラインプラットフォームに売ることでアメリカでも見ることができるようになったからである。こうした名作には永遠に市場があり、修復して引き継いでいくのも重要な仕事なのである。






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