taiwan new wave

est. 1983 – late 1990s

Nestled between the vast Pacific Ocean and towering mountain ranges, Taiwan New Wave emerged as a transformative force in cinema. Flourished during the 1980s and 1990s, it gained international acclaim for its exploration of complex cultural, political and societal themes. Led by a group of visionary directors, Taiwan New Wave offered a fresh perspective on Taiwanese identity, and initiated a transformation in the nation’s cinematic landscape.

Origins of the Taiwan New Wave

Taiwan New Wave, also known as Taiwan New Cinema, emerged at a pivotal moment in Taiwan’s history. The lifting of martial law in 1987, after nearly 40 years of authoritarian rule, marked a significant turning point. This political transition ushered in a new era of artistic freedom and expression, allowing filmmakers to address previously censored or sensitive topics.


Taiwan’s economic miracle during the 1980s also played a role in the development of Taiwan New Cinema. The prosperity and availability of resources facilitated the production of films, enabling directors to experiment with their narratives and aesthetics. This period of economic growth paralleled the artistic growth of the movement.

Taiwan New Wave - Rebels of the Neon God (1992) by Tsai Ming-liang
Rebels of the Neon God (1992) by Tsai Ming-liang

Characteristics of the Taiwan Wave

One of the driving forces behind Taiwan New Cinema was the quest for a distinct Taiwanese cultural identity. Taiwan’s history had been shaped by complex interplay of influences, including indigenous cultures, waves of migration from the mainland China, Japanese colonial rule and Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) governance. The movement sought to explore and assert a unique Taiwanese identity, separate from the political ideologies of mainland China.


It often served as a vehicle for social and political commentary. The films engaged with issues such as authoritarianism, historical trauma and urbanization, providing a critical examination of Taiwanese society.


The visual aesthetics were often marked by a sense of visual poetry. Directors used symbolism, extended takes, and a careful composition of shots. Being influenced by Italian Neorealist cinema, they embraced realism, offering a contemplative and patient approach to storytelling with meticulous attention to details, allowing audiences to immerse themselves in the lives and emotions of the characters. Well-developed and multi-dimensional characters were prioritized, portraying the complexities and internal struggles of individuals in the context of a changing society.

Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) by Ang Lee
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) by Ang Lee
A City of Sadness (1989) by Hou Hsiao-hsien
A City of Sadness (1989) by Hou Hsiao-hsien

Important filmmakers and films

Hou Hsiao-Hsien is often considered the central figure of Taiwan New Wave. His films such as “A City of Sadness” (1989) and “The Puppetmaster” (1993), are celebrated for their slow, contemplative pacing, realistic portrayal of everyday life, and their exploration of Taiwanese history and identity. Hou’s work is known for its poetic and nuanced storytelling.


Another luminary, Edward Yang, in films like “Taipei Story” (1985) and “Yi Yi” (2000), explored contemporary Taiwanese society with a keen and introspective eye. In addition of portraying the changes of Taiwanese middle class, he examined the struggle between the modern and the traditional, as well as the relationship between business and art. His films delved into the lives of ordinary people, offering deep character studies and multifaceted narratives.


In the realm of contemplative cinema, Tsai Ming-liang’s contributions are nothing short of remarkable. Works such as “Rebels of the Neon God” (1992), and “Vive L’Amour” (1994), are celebrated for their minimalist style, long takes and exploration of urban alienation. Tsai’s films challenge conventional storytelling norms, inviting viewers to discover beauty in the ordinary and mundane. 


Together, these visionary directors added multifaceted dimensions to the movement, showcasing its intellectual, emotional and artistic capabilities.

Taipei Story (1985) by Edward Yang
Taipei Story (1985) by Edward Yang

Legacy and Influence of the Taiwan New Wave

Taiwan New Wave played a pivotal role in shaping Taiwan’s cultural identity, and fostering a new generation of filmmakers dedicated to exploration of the complexities of their society. The movement’s success at prestigious film festivals, including the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals, established Taiwan as a hub for artistic and innovative filmmaking. Directors from the movement, such as Ang Lee and Edward Yang, went on to achieve international acclaim, further solidifying Taiwan’s position in the cinematic landscape.


A testament to the transformative power of film as a medium of expression and reflection, Taiwan New Cinena emerged during a time of cultural and political transformation, offering a cinematic voice to a nation in transition.

Taipei Story (1985) by Edward Yang
Taipei Story (1985) by Edward Yang

Please refer to the Listed Films for the recommended works associated with the film movement.