5. Prince of Tears (2009)
The most recent movie set during the tragic “White Terror”, the period of martial law when Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang government brutally suppressed any opposition. Filmed on location, it’s a gorgeously crafted film, accurately recreating the sights and sounds of 1950s rural Taiwan (the plot focuses on daily life in a remote Taiwanese village).
6. Monga (2010)
A gangster film set in 1980s Taipei Wanhua district, jam-packed with action and brilliantly evoking the streets, gangs and fashions of the decade – the Longshan and Qingshui Temple scenes and Triad rituals are especially realistic. Brawls in Huaxi Street Night Market, gruesome choppings and a liberal dose of prostitution – it’s the seedy, violent side of Taipei that foreigners (hopefully) never experience in real life.
7. Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (2011)
Simply stunning. An epic portrayal of the oft forgotten Wushe Incident in central Taiwan in 1930, when members of the Sediq – one of Taiwan’s ‘aboriginal’ tribes – rebelled against the Japanese. The battle scenes are grimly realistic – the movie must contain the highest number of beheadings ever. Essential viewing, not least because it’s one of few movies to portray aboriginal people in an accurate way. It’s also beautifully shot on location throughout the lush, mountainous hinterland of Taiwan. No wonder the movie led to a spike in tourism.
8. You Are the Apple of My Eye (2011)
A heart-warming – but certainly not sentimental or syrupy – teenage romance primarily set in the 1990s, based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Taiwanese author Giddens Ko. Packed full of teenage angst and high-school antics set amongst the classrooms of provincial Taiwan, it was filmed almost entirely on location in Changhua County and at Ching Cheng High School, which Giddens attended.
9. Bang Bang Formosa (2012)
This is a crazy, colourful romp through contemporary Taiwan. Retirees on tour bus excursions, “betel nut gangs”, a shrimp fishing club, stinky tofu and the Taiwanese penchant for wearing Hawaiian shirts are all ruthlessly skewered for laughs. The main plot – a posh Shanghainese girl travelling to Taiwan is kidnapped – also highlights the boom in mainland Chinese tourism to the island, only permitted since 2008.
10. Din Tao: Leader of the Parade (2012)
Traditional Chinese music is big in Taiwan, and this movie – a poignant tale of a young man reconciling with his father – was inspired by the real-life Chio-Tian Folk Drums and Arts Group. This is Taiwan at its most vibrant and spiritual – the troupe mostly comprises kids down on their luck, gradually transformed by the music, the Taoist rituals and the boisterous parades. Filmed on location at Chio-Tian’s temple outside Taichung and other sites in the city; you’ll also get to see temples in Donggang, the Southern Cross-Island Highway and the Tropic of Cancer Monument in Fengbin. Unusually, most of the dialogue is in Taiwanese (Hokkien), a language you’ll hear a lot more than Mandarin in the south of Taiwan.
Stephen Keeling is the co-author of the Rough Guide to Taiwan.