Main Program

A Wang Toon Retrospective: Scenes in Historical Wilderness

Wang Toon was born Wang Zhonghe in 1942 in China's Anhui province. In the early 1980s, he transitioned from a production designer to film director, winning the Golden Horse Award for Best Feature Film with his debut feature, If I Were for Real (1981). His film career spans over 50 years, and includes directing 15 narrative features. His realistic style and down-to-earth subject matter helped usher in a brand-new look to Taiwanese films in the 1980s along with other Taiwanese New Wave stalwarts such as Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang, Chen Kun-hou and Wan Jen, together penning an important page in the history of Taiwanese cinema. In 2019, he received the Golden Horse Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions.


Artistic Journey

Wang Toon learned to draw from a young age and grew up in the 1960s era when artistic concepts were changing. After graduating from the Department of Fine Arts of National Taiwan Academy of Arts, he joined the Central Motion Picture Corporation (CMPC). Starting as a trainee, he studied production design through extensive practical experience and continuously polished his skills in set dressing, set design, and costume design. He worked as a production designer for more than a decade, developing sound filmmaking fundamentals through collaborating with and learning from major directors such as Li Han-hsiang, Lee Hsing, King Hu, Pai Ching-jui, and Chen Yao-chi. CMPC's international co-productions also gave Wang Toon a different perspective on cinema. These techniques and nutrients inherited from the studio's industrial system often gave Wang Toon's films highly appealing visual designs.


Writing History Through Images

Most of Wang Toon's films are closely tied to history. Some came about by chance, as the early films he was commissioned to direct were imbued with a thick historical atmosphere. Others were driven by a strong sense of mission, as he wholeheartedly wanted to document Taiwan's history through film. Accordingly, his films after the lift of martial law were not only related directly to Taiwan's historical experiences, but also integrated the memories of displacement from his own life. Facing the disappearance of history is like being in a wasteland. Recreating life in the past from scratch is often a big challenge for filmmakers. Wang Toon's solid art background, however, makes handling such subject matter seem easy. From set design, costumes to even action choreography, he infuses details and textures into his visuals, creating images that may become important memories in the lives of his viewers; like some kind of magical moment, they are no longer easily forgotten.


From Set to Scene  

Wang Toon pursues truth but is not limited to realism. He understands that production design does not exist purely for aesthetics, and is not just to create an objective material world. What he hopes to create is a film space that integrates theater but still maintains authenticity. With scene after scene that can stir the audiences' emotions and leave lasting impressions, his films always tend to carry a thick earthy flavor. Of course, this is also due to Wang Toon's strong feelings toward this land, as well as the compassion and empathy he has for the little people we see in everyday life. Ultimately, production design has to give way to people — the little people struggling at the bottom of society in pitiful or absurd situations, yet still strive to preserve their dignity or hope in life.


This retrospective features a selection of nine WANG Toon films with historical themes. In addition to his classic "Contemporary Taiwan Trilogy”, there is the rare Taiwanese-language version of A Flower in the Raining Night (1983) and the wuxia film Run Away (1984). Tracing back to his filmmaking origins, there is also his early adaptation of the scar literature play If I Were for Real (1981), Portrait of a Fanatic (1982), and a special presentation of All the King's Men (1983), for which he worked as the production designer. Travel back to the context of Wang Toon's era and rediscover this epoch-making Taiwanese filmmaker.


※Cover photo credit to Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival Executive Committee