A record number of virtual reality productions from Taiwan will be featured at this year’s 76th Venice Film Festival, raising the hopes of the lackluster film industry in Taiwan, which has been quietly transforming itself into a next-generation content production hub through technological advancement.
While Taiwan’s tech giant HTC, which has been developing not only high-quality headsets under its HTC Vive unit and commissioning original VR content production under HTC Vive Originals shingle, plays a major role in driving the trend, the growth of tech start-ups specializing in extended reality (XR) — which includes VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) — are also eyeing on the potential in entertainment content.
Taiwan tops Asia in this year’s Venice Virtual Reality competition section, with seven entries. Three — “O,” “Only the Mountain Remains” and “The Making of” — are the fruits of the 5×1 initiative, a partnership focusing on VR films between HTC Vive Originals and the Golden Horse Film Academy, founded by renowned auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien. Qiu Yang’s 23-minute “O,” which follows a mysterious, sad man, and Chiang Wei-liang’s “Only the Mountain Remains,” a half-hour thriller revolving around a pregnant Thai woman’s escape from the midlands of southern Taiwan, are competing in the linear section of the VR competition. Midi Z’s 10-minute short “The Making of,” a high concept pseudo-documentary selected by the SXSW Film Festival in the U.S. earlier this year, is featured in the out-of-competition section.
“Inori,” an interactive artwork by Japanese contemporary artist Mita Komatsu and composer Kay Huang, is another HTC Vive Originals production competing in Venice under the non-linear section of the VR competition. “Gloomy Eyes,” by Jorge Tereso and Fernando Maldonado, is a co-production between HTC Vive Originals and French animation studio Atlas V. It is competing in the linear section.
Liu Szu-ming, president of HTC Vive Originals, said that for three years the company has been working on integrating the industry. “The five [selections] does not represent a single win by one team, but showcase the successful VR industry cluster and announce the cultural creative power of Taiwan to the world,” Liu said.
Besides productions from HTC Vive Originals, Huang Hsin-chien’s “Bodyless,” set against the backdrop of Taiwan’s martial law in the 1960s, is another Taiwanese entry in the VR competition. Produced by Virtual and Physical Media Integration Assn. of Taiwan, it is unspooling in the interactive category. Huang, a winner of the best VR experience in 2016 at the 74th Venice Film Festival, also “To the Moon,” a collaboration with Laurie Anderson, selected in the out-of-competition section.
Taiwan has been gradually assuming the leading role of VR content development. In 2017 Taiwanese-Malaysian auteur Tsai Ming-liang released his first VR film, “The Deserted,” which was produced by HTC Vive and also shown in Venice. VR films “Chalkroom” and “Mr. Buddha,” also a 5×1 project, were featured in Tribeca Immersive of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Taiwan’s Kaohsiung Film Festival’s VR Film Lab has been grooming young filmmakers in VR filmmaking. Last October, the first 8K VR cinema was opened in Pier 2 Art Center in Kaohsiung, dedicated to the screening of VR films. One of the highlights currently on show is Huang’s “The Missing Body Episode 1.” A thriller in collaboration with acclaimed composer Lim Giong, the film was selected earlier in the Cannes XR unit.
Earlier this year, industry platform XR Express Taiwan released the island’s first XR industry white paper surveying nearly 80 companies in the field. The report showed that 68% of the companies are start-ups under five years old. While 23% of them focus on games, 14.5% specialize in audio-visual entertainment, a category that the industry expects to grow further. XR Express called Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture to relax the legal definition of VR films so as to boost the growth in this sector.
HTC Vive Originals’ president Liu Szu-Ming said the tech giant will launch a content management and blockchain authentication system to pave the way for the HTC Vive Originals Theater Management System, besides having more commercial projects and VR film projects with the Golden Horse Film Academy in the pipeline. “This system will help content creator, cultural creative workers and offline channels to integrate their resources,” he said.