葉天倫:炸出正宗台味雞排英雄

:::

2011 / 5月

文‧林欣靜 圖‧青睞影視製作公司提供


繼《海角七號》寫下新台幣5億3,000萬元的票房紀錄、《艋舺》2億6千萬元的亮眼成績後,今年的國片市場再創驚喜──春節上映的賀歲電影《雞排英雄》在短短20天內票房就突破1億元,總計票房近新台幣1億4,000萬元,成為台灣有史以來第三部票房破億的國片。

六年級生、首度執導演筒的《雞排英雄》導演葉天倫,與曾擔任楊德昌導演副手的魏德聖,以及童星起家並有多部偶像劇及電影執導經驗的鈕承澤相較,顯得資淺許多,但他卻敢於挑戰久未聞見的本土喜劇題材,並且一炮而紅。為什麼葉天倫第一次拍片就能成功?連續幾年國片票房屢創佳績,是否透露出國片回春的跡象?


 

日暮時分,當街燈亮起,「八八八夜市」就擠滿人潮、熱鬧開市。然而看似風光的各攤商,每個人背後都有一拖拉庫的辛酸心事,生意最好的滿意雞排,老闆娘辛苦拉拔體弱又愛惹事生非的弟弟長大,還得一天到晚和隔壁攤的阿珠牛排鬥智搶客人;賣牛排的阿珠看似強勢俗豔,卻是個曾飽受家暴的單親媽媽,幸好還有愛她的烤香腸攤商「十八王」在旁默默守候;挽面的阿水嬸,總是忍不住誘惑偷賣盜版光碟,她和從不吝惜露出好身材的女兒美香辛苦工作,只為了照顧重度中風的丈夫……。

把這群看似散沙的攤商團結起來的靈魂人物,是年輕的夜市自治會長阿華,他有著圓融八方的台客性格,在這裡設置了服務台、舉辦各種炒熱氣氛的擂台賽,還有超夢幻的托兒服務。

不過當生意欣欣向榮的同時,卻有建商看上了擺攤的土地,建商結合勢利政客及媒體,打著「都市更新」的美名,企圖以最粗暴的手段趕走這群汲汲營營於微薄利潤的「賺吃人」,「八八八夜市」的危機正要開始……。

影劇世家的養分

這一齣融合本土趣味、小人物辛酸、黑白道混戰、都市更新等故事題材的《雞排英雄》,可能發生在台灣任何一個夜市角落。

「夜市是台灣最特殊的地景之一,每個人都可以找到屬於自己的味覺與情感記憶,」《雞排英雄》導演葉天倫說。

葉天倫何許人也?幾個月前,在台灣導演圈提及這個名字,可能還有人丈二金剛摸不著頭腦,然而隨著《雞排英雄》的快速走紅,這個年僅36歲的新手導演,已上遍國內各大電子及平面媒體。

很多人好奇,初執導演筒的他,怎麼能一鳴驚人拍出國片市場多年罕見的喜劇賣座片?受歡迎程度甚至連網羅周杰倫等大卡司、製作成本超過1億美金的好萊塢強片《青蜂俠》都自嘆弗如!

能如此一步到位地抓準市場走向及觀眾口味,得從葉天倫的成長經驗說起。

葉天倫與《雞排英雄》編劇葉丹青,是相差不到3歲的兄妹檔,父親葉金勝是國內知名的廣告製作人,曾經執導《在室女》及《莎喲娜拉.再見》兩部電影,母親潘鳳珠則是電視劇製作人。

這一家子影劇人合組的「青睞影視製作公司」,近年來製播了許多部叫好又叫座的廣告、電視劇及電影,內容多半鎖定在台灣文學及本土題材,如1999年的電影《天馬茶房》(林正盛執導)、2005年獲得金鐘獎最佳戲劇等5項大獎的民視大河連續劇《浪淘沙》,以及有客委會支援贊助的2009年國片票房冠軍《1895》,這些評價極高的作品,都出自這家人的協力合作。

「記憶中小時候是沒什麼家庭生活的,爸媽總是忙於工作、把我們丟給阿嬤照顧,不然就是把3個小孩一起帶去片場瞎混。」

兒時兩兄妹出遊的次數少得可憐,總是陪在片場邊等待、邊納悶:「這群人到底在搞些什麼呀,怎麼我們睡了又醒、醒了又睡,他們還在剪同一段影片?」最開心的是爸媽會帶他們去看午夜場電影,還會一起興致勃勃地討論劇情直至將近天明。

家道中落的深刻記憶

異於同儕的成長過程,讓這對從小就精靈古怪的兄妹檔,無可避免地深植對影劇工作的興趣;父母放任卻鼓勵獨立思考的教養方式,則是他們日後發想天馬行空創作靈感的基礎。

不過,無憂無慮的童年生活,在青少年時出現變化。熱愛台灣文學,又與作家楊青矗、黃春明等作家交好的父親葉金勝,在文學及影劇圈好友的鼓勵下,決定「撩了去」跨足電影。

潘鳳珠回憶,那時他們是台灣廣告界的前五大公司,加上國內經濟景況又好,決心放手試試看,第一部作品《在室女》的票房頗佳,小賺幾十萬,後來加碼投資(約新台幣2,000萬元)黃春明的新作《莎喲娜拉.再見》,還請來香港巨星鍾楚紅及一群日本演員等大卡司,沒想到被片商惡意倒帳,最後慘賠了上千萬元。

為了還清債務,葉金勝變賣了自家住宅及中山北路黃金地段的片場與辦公室,一家人屈居不到30坪的狹小舊公寓。

不過,這段家道中落的苦澀記憶,卻絲毫沒有澆熄兄妹倆對影劇工作的熱情,葉天倫高中畢業後不顧父母的強烈反對選擇世新大學電影系就讀;妹妹更絕,特別挑選父母出國時參加台北藝術大學戲劇系的甄試,成功入學。

從電影逃兵到回歸本職

然而,葉天倫萬萬沒想到,就讀電影系,竟是粉碎自己導演夢的開始。

90年代初期他唸電影系時,正是台灣電影在國際影展大放光芒,「作者論」風行的時刻,同學爭相以侯孝賢、蔡明亮等名導為標竿,他也深入研究楚浮、高達、盧貝松等歐洲大師的作品,驚覺自己程度差太多,一輩子都不可能達到雅俗共賞的境界!

葉天倫決定暫時放下最愛,嘗試轉換跑道至表演領域,和同學合組了「流動夜市攤劇團」(因為都在學校附近的景美夜市討論創作),專接各縣市政府的表演活動;也曾跨刀主持工作,與藝人「粉紅豬」鍾欣凌合作的《台語嗄嗄叫》節目,榮獲金鐘獎最佳兒童節目主持人的提名;他更是國內廣告界炙手可熱的配音員,有「配音界金城武」的美譽,每年光是廣告配音的收入,就高達新台幣300萬元以上。

多年來徘徊於各種影劇工作,葉天倫卻不曾忘懷心底深處關於電影的小小火花。

2009年,他擔任電影《1895》出品人,參與多場與觀眾面對面的座談會。「觀眾真的很可愛,他們很用心地看電影、熱烈提問,分享觀影心得和建議,這種最直接的迴響讓我有了『或許可以試試看』的信心,」葉天倫說。

夜市是台灣的縮影

葉天倫開始著手準備,與妹妹幾經討論後,決定以夜市為題材發想腳本,這個劇本獲得2009年新聞局400萬元的電影輔導金,其後他賣掉一棟房子,又找到發行片商「吉時娛樂公司」贊助資金,最後籌資近新台幣6,000萬元開拍電影。

為什麼葉天倫會選擇以「夜市」為故事主場景,與現正熱映的電視八點檔《夜市人生》有關嗎?

「一切都是湊巧,我們有靈感時,夜市人生都還沒開播呢!觀光局又把2010年定於『台灣夜市觀光年』,更成為電影上映前的最佳行銷!」葉氏兄妹笑著解釋。

原來在葉丹青的最初構想中,只有男主角「阿華」的雛型,他熱心公益,但個性莽撞衝動,具有呆直又率性的「土台客」特質,遇到事情也會以「免煩惱,有我在」的氣魄勇於承擔,「我很喜歡這種典型的台灣男性,」葉丹青微笑透露。

困難的是如何將阿華跟周遭的人事物置放在一個合適的時空?

「我們希望作品能與觀眾溝通、有共鳴,而夜市就是最佳的地點,」葉丹青說。

不過,選擇一個觀眾太過熟悉的場景也有風險,因為「太容易被看穿!」為了精準描繪夜市風貌,兄妹倆由北而南,踏遍了饒河、士林、羅東、逢甲、六合等全台知名的夜市,也曾多次造訪林口、桃園、八里一帶只有在固定時間擺攤的「空地型」夜市。

結合紮實田野調查而虛擬的「八八八夜市」,並沒有特別以哪一個夜市為藍本,但卻能讓觀眾浮起「這裡好像我們家旁邊夜市」的親切感;此外,電影中出現的熱賣食物也有所本,像片中的兩大美食主角──雞排和牛排,就是特別商請士林及師大夜市的人氣攤商「豪大雞排」與「牛魔王」提供食材及技術指導,其他像是「肥豬的攤」老闆,本尊則是如假包換的永和樂華夜市自治會長,身為影癡的他,不但出人出力,還為劇組號召樂華夜市的攤販協助拍片,是故事深具真實感的幕後功臣。

「搭建在中和停車場的『八八八夜市』,有水塔、冰櫃,也有攤商投入,看起來就和真的夜市沒兩樣,拍片時還有不少觀眾誤以為是新開的夜市要來吃宵夜,片子拍完後幾乎每個演員都胖了一圈,」葉天倫笑說。

很有「梗」的台式笑點

除了容易讓觀眾投射親切感的夜市主題外,《雞排英雄》能成功引起共鳴的原因,首推處處有「梗」的台式笑點。

像是影片一開始的陸客團遊夜市,從口音、服裝(陸客團大多西裝革履,不像台灣人迺夜市愛穿花襯衫、T恤和夾腳拖),以及逛街方式等差異性(陸客團只選重點小吃走馬看花,不像台灣人般閒散隨興),凸顯兩岸文化的異質與磨合,末了甚至還在陸客團飄飄然陶醉於雞排美味時,配上「台灣好,台灣好,台灣真是復興島,愛國英雄英勇志士都投到她的懷抱……」的歌詞,套句葉氏兄妹的形容,真可謂「機車到極點」,卻又讓人忍不住哈哈大笑!

另一個大快人心的賣點,則是片中狠狠修理台灣當前公認的兩大亂象──政客和媒體。例如由豬哥亮飾演的地方民代「張進亮」一角,本身不學無術、好大喜功又唯利是圖,註定只能被狐假虎威、手腕高出一等的助理處處制肘,成為官商勾結傳統戲碼下被操弄的工具;而媒體在追逐這場小蝦米力抗大鯨魚的過程中,種種消費悲情、斷章取義、以偏執道德觀包裝扒糞手段(如阿珠牛排的老闆娘被挖出本是酒家女)的醜態百出,更讓觀影者在笑淚交雜之餘,心有戚戚焉。

葉天倫嚴肅地說:「我們只是『溫和的批判』罷了。」像「白天為馬路,晚上做生意」的土地是否違法使用問題,幾乎是全台夜市的共同痛處,而對於政客和媒體的不滿,也早就深植於觀眾心中。例如日前也因土地徵收問題焦頭爛額的苗栗夜市自救會,觀影後就深受鼓舞,甚至還在臉書發起新一波的聯署活動!

演員卡司堅強

和多數國片一樣,《雞排英雄》的演員陣容多半來自電視演員,如藍正龍、柯佳嬿與劉品言,以及多位綜藝節目「B咖」,加上近來以「保庇」一曲紅遍半邊天的藝人王彩樺助陣。

有人認為電視演員每天打開電視就看得到,為何要為他們花錢進戲院?葉天倫指出,由於台灣一直沒有成熟的電影工業,除了張震、舒淇等少數知名藝人外,其他演員如大S、阮經天等,幾乎都是影視雙棲,電影演員有嚴重的斷層危機,但只要角色和劇本合適,電視演員躍入大銀幕就能有不一樣的發揮,反倒成為吸引觀眾的賣點。

葉天倫舉例,像演慣偶像劇「富公子」的藍正龍,私底下是宜蘭土生土長的台灣囝仔,台語說得一把罩,劇中「土台客」味十足的捲髮造型就是他主動去燙的。藍正龍很高興「終於有機會演出比較接近自己的角色」!

另一個媒體焦點,則是葉天倫竟然能說服「出國深造」(指躲債)又息影多年的紅牌主持人豬哥亮跨刀相助。葉天倫說,劇中的地方民代「張進亮」一角,早年為賭所苦、負債累累,其後鹹魚翻身,卻又擺盪於利益與良心的兩難之間,演技層次感極高,就是為具有同樣生命歷程的豬哥亮量身訂作。

「說服豬大哥跨刀演出,其實不像外界傳說般困難,因為他感受到我們的誠意,雙方對劇本的理念與感觸接近,才會一拍即合,能找到他協力相助,真的是『挖到寶』!」葉天倫說。

而這個深具本土「俗擱有力」的符號,也明顯地成功爭取到中南部觀眾進入戲院觀賞。

關鍵:投資、劇本與行銷

從《海角七號》到《雞排英雄》,連續幾年國片市場都開出票房紅盤,是否代表沈寂已久的國片已走出長期陰霾,重新找回觀眾了呢?

葉天倫認為,一部能吸引觀眾的國片,成功關鍵有三,其一是能引人共鳴的「在地故事」,而故事背景不能只針對台北,因為不是所有觀眾都成長於都市,太過都會化的故事設定與場景描繪,會讓台北以外的觀眾找不到自我定位。

第二是至少要有超過100萬美金(約合新台幣3,000萬元)的投資,這是兩岸三地一部成功中小型商業片的最基本門檻。台灣觀眾早被大成本、大製作的好萊塢片商養壞胃口,如果國片的投資不足,就不可能有製作精良的場景和「叫得出名字」的演員卡司撐場,當然也不會有人想花錢進電影院看導演闡述理念。

最後則是借助外商發行。葉天倫分析美商電影公司在台灣的發行策略說,由於美商與戲院盤根錯節的合作關係,早已宛如7-11布點般深入,導演的作品再好,如果不能「成功上架」,銷售量還是會大打折扣。

另一方面,美商對於市場的精準眼光與行銷手法的到位,也是國內片商遠遠不及。當《雞排英雄》選定春節賀歲檔後,發行片商福斯公司就建議葉天倫走「閤家觀賞」的喜劇路線,才能把觀眾群拉寬;對於演員卡司的要求也絲毫不得馬虎,例如飾演柯佳嬿已逝父親與只有一場戲的「前男友」等角色,都特別請來李李仁和溫昇豪等當紅演員擔綱。

行銷上的創新更是美商強項,《雞排英雄》在西門町的首映會時,找來超過20個夜市攤商助陣,觀眾憑首映會票券就可兌換餐券免費吃喝,不但炒熱媒體話題,香噴噴、熱騰騰的夜市小吃,更成為收買現場觀眾的最佳功臣。

而觀諸近年來3部票房破億的國片,就與葉天倫的觀點不謀而合,除了皆訴諸本土故事外,在投資額方面,也大幅甩開過去國片就等同「低成本」的刻板印象,如《海角七號》投資額約在5,000~6,000 萬元、《艋舺》更高達7,000萬元、《雞排英雄》則為 6,000萬元;發行上也都借助博偉、華納、福斯等外商。

不過,也有文化界人士認為國片近年的「在地化」熱潮,不利於打開國際市場,葉天倫則有不同想法:「台灣導演太缺乏『練習』了,如果我們不先從『講一個自己觀眾會喜歡、能瞭解』的故事開始,又怎能奢言國際市場?」許多在國際影展或市場取得好評的非好萊塢片,其實都各自保有獨特的文化特質。像《雞排英雄》走訪「新泰影展」、「沖繩電影節」時,很多人都對影片中所描述的夜景觀、美食與人情味神往不已。

大火快炒後的期待

知名影評人藍祖蔚曾以「大火快煮炒」來形容《雞排英雄》一片,認為該片是一部徹底發揮「刻板印象」的作品(如熱血的年輕記者、煽情的媒體、唯利是圖的建商與政客……),雖然容易引起觀眾迴響,卻也因為制式內容設定過多,結果全在預期之內,藝術成就也少有新意……。

猶如一部「豪華版」電視劇的《雞排英雄》,弱點為部分劇情不合邏輯或太過矯情,但笑料的安排則因恰到好處而贏得支持。

初試啼聲的葉天倫,靈巧地以大火快炒的火光溫度,遮掩了片中的細部瑕疵。身為一個願意貼緊市場並獲得成績的新手導演,許多人期待他能吸納並掌握更多元的人才與觀點,為國片創造出更美麗的篇章。

長久以來,國片在商業與藝術之間擺盪,難以平衡,當年因夢幻式「三廳商業電影」過於脫離現實,演變出回歸真實世界的新浪潮電影,但後來又因太過重視素人演員與導演意志,忽略了明星魅力而失去觀眾。如今這一代觀眾對國片沒有成見與包袱,加上網路口碑傳播快速,以及對本土認同的自信,讓國片重新站在浪頭上,這也將成為眾多對電影懷抱熱情與企圖心的影視工作者最佳的投入契機。

相關文章

近期文章

EN

Yeh Tien-lun and the Taiwanese Tastes of Night Market Hero

Lin Hsin-ching /photos courtesy of courtesy of Green Film /tr. by Geof Aberhart

Following in the footsteps of Cape No. 7's record-breaking NT$530 million box office and Monga's stunning NT$260 million takings, this year Taiwanese film produced another surprise winner. In just 20 days after its Chinese New Year release, Night Market Hero pulled in over NT$100 million, making it the third locally produced film to pass that mile-stone, before going on to reach a box-office total of almost NT$140 million.

Director of Cape No. 7 Wei Te-sheng had previously worked as an assistant to legendary director Edward Yang, and Monga's helms-man Doze Niu was a child star and has vast experience in front of and behind the camera. In contrast, director of Night Market Hero Yeh Tien-lun was a 30-something first-timer, but nonetheless managed to hit the big time with his first outing, an effort to revive the long-dormant Taiwanese comedy genre. How did he manage to accomplish so much with his first film? And does this string of successes signal a renaissance for Taiwanese film?


As the sun sets and the streetlights flicker on, 888 Night Market is a hive of activity. But behind the apparent success of this assortment of stalls are stories of the hard work and sacrifice of their owners. The owner of Enjoy Large Fried Chicken, the most successful stall in the market, and her trouble-making younger brother are in a constant competition for customers with neighboring A-Zhu Steak. The eponymous A-Zhu, meanwhile, appears to the world to be a strong, confident woman, but is in actuality a single -mother and past victim of domestic violence, who is watched over in silence by her admirer, the owner of 18 Wang, a neighboring sausage stall. Meanwhile, cosmeticist A-Shui succumbs to temptation and starts selling pirated DVDs, as she and her flirtatious daughter Mei--xiang work to support her stroke-afflicted husband.

Bringing together these disparate people is the young head of the nightmarket management committee, A-Hua. A dyed-in-the-wool taike, A-Hua sets up a service kiosk, organizes regular competitions to liven up the atmosphere, and even offers a fantastic childcare service.

But even as business begins to boom, a local property developer has an eye on the land the night market calls home. In the name of "urban renewal," he gets politicians and the media on his side, while attempting to drive out these low-profit "scavengers" by any means necessary. 888 Night Market's troubles have only just -begun....

Raised on the set

Combining stories of the "little people," a battle between good and evil, and the issue of urban renewal with down-home Taiwanese flavor, Night Market Hero's plot felt like it could be the story of any of Taiwan's myriad night markets.

"Night markets are one of Taiwan's most distinctive hallmarks," says director Yeh Tien-lun. "Everyone can find a little something there to stimulate their tastebuds and bring back memories."

So who exactly is Yeh Tien-lun? A few months ago, the mention of his name would have elicited little more than blank looks and scratched heads even in the industry, but since the breakout success of Night Market Hero, this 36-year-old has become the most celebrated newcomer to Taiwanese film. Now his name can be found all over Taiwan's electronic and print media.

Many have been left wondering how a newcomer could achieve such success not only with his first directorial effort, but one in that rarely seen genre, Taiwanese comedy. So well received was this film, in fact, that it blew away the Hollywood release The Green Hornet despite the latter's US$120-million-dollar budget and its boasting a cast including such bankable stars as Seth Rogen and Jay Chou!

To understand how Yeh was able to so accurately target the tastes of his audience, we need to go back into his childhood.

Yeh and his sister Yeh Tan-ching-writer of Night Market Hero-are the children of renowned Taiwanese advertising producer Yeh Chin-sheng, director of the films An Unmarried Woman and Sayonara, Goodbye, and television producer Pan Fengzhu.

"I don't really remember having any kind of home life as such," says Yeh. "Mom and dad were generally busy with work, so we were usually taken to the sets or left with our grandma."

As children, the Yehs didn't travel especially much, instead ending up standing around bored on sets waiting for their parents. "I used to wonder what all these people were doing, and how they could still be working on the same thing every time I woke up after falling asleep there." They were at their happiest when their parents took them to midnight movie showings, after which they would talk excitedly until morning about what they'd seen.

A tragic backstory

Given their surroundings, it seemed almost inevitable that these two impish siblings would develop a much stronger interest in the world of film than their peers. This was only compounded by their parents' encouraging them to become independently minded, laying the foundations for their imaginative and creative minds.

The carefree life these two children led began to change once they became teenagers, though. Their father was a lifelong lover of Taiwanese literature and friends with writers like Yang Qing-chu and Huang Chun-ming, and with encouragement from both the film and literature worlds, Yeh Chin-sheng decided to try his hand at filmmaking.

Yeh Tien-lun's mother Pan Feng-zhu recalls that her husband was considered one of the top five advertising directors in Taiwan at the time, and between that and the strong economy, they felt confident in making the leap. Yeh's first film, An Unmarried Woman, was a modest box-office success, making several hundreds of thousands of NT dollars, and leading to his investing about NT$20 million in adapting his friend Huang Chun-ming's newest work, Sayonara, Goodbye for film. They even secured Hong Kong megastar Cherie Chung and several big-name Japanese actors for their cast. They never expected that the distribution company would go back on their word to repay Yeh, sending him bankrupt and in debt to the tune of over NT$10 million.

This unfortunate occurrence, though, did nothing to diminish the passion Yeh Tien-lun and his sister had for working in film. After graduating from senior high school, Yeh decided to major in film at Shih Hsin University despite his parents' strong objections. His sister, even more of a firebrand, waited until their parents were out of the country to test into the School of Theatre at Taipei National University of the Arts.

The fall and rise of an ambition

But Yeh would never have imagined that studying film would actually start crushing his dream of becoming a director.

During the early 2000s, while Yeh was at college, Taiwanese films were enjoying a surge in popularity at international film festivals, with more "auteurist" sensibility coming to the fore. All Yeh's classmates were struggling to measure up to big-name auteurs like Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang, and Yeh himself began delving into the works of European filmmakers like Fran-cois Truf-faut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Luc Besson. He was shocked to realize that his own skills were such that he could never hope to be part of that high-class world.

And so Yeh decided to set aside his dream of directing for a while, instead focusing on acting. He and a group of classmates formed the "Roaming Night Market Troupe"-so named for their having discussed the idea extensively while at the neighboring Jing-mei Night Market-and took their show on the road, performing at events organized by local governments around the island. As well as this, Yeh branched out into hosting, working with celebrity Chung Hsin-ling on a Taiwanese-language children's show, even earning a nomination at the Golden Bell Awards for Best Children's Television Host. He also began working as an advertising voice-over artist, becoming one of the most sought-after talents and earning more than NT$3 million a year from this work alone.

After several years trying his hand at various other jobs around the television industry, Yeh discovered his dream of getting involved in film was still as strong as ever.

In 2009, he served as presenter for the film Blue Brave, attending a variety of Q&A sessions for the film. "The audience were great! They were so engrossed in the film and so keen to ask questions and share what they'd taken from it. That experience actually got me thinking that I really should just give directing a go," says Yeh.

And so he began preparing, talking it over with his sister and ultimately deciding to write something to do with night markets. In 2009, the Government Information Office awarded the Yehs and their script a NT$4 million grant; Yeh also sold one of his apartments and secured sponsorship from Ji-shi Entertainment, ultimately gathering a total of NT$60 million in funds before beginning shooting.

A microcosm of Taiwan

So why did Yeh choose to set his film in a night market? Did it have anything to do with the popular prime-time -drama Night Market Life?

"It was a total coincidence," says Yeh. "When we got our idea, that show hadn't even started airing! The Tourism Bureau had declared 2010 to be the Year of the Night Market, and we couldn't miss that kind of free publicity!" joke the siblings.

When Yeh Tan-ching developed her initial concept, the only character she really had figured out was the male protagonist, A-Hua. A-Hua would be a young man dedicated to helping the community, but also a bit impulsive, as well as being the epitome of the blunt and brash taike; no matter what happened, A-Hua would always have a "never fear, I'm here!" attitude. "I quite like this kind of 'old-school' Taiwanese man," she says with a smile.

The hard part now was figuring out the right setting for A-Hua and his associates.

"We wanted something that would speak to the audience and resonate with them, so a night market seemed perfect," says Yeh Tan-ching.

Picking a setting the audience would be so familiar with, though, has its risks. In order to make sure the night-market setting was totally authentic, the siblings visited famous night markets all over Taiwan, from Taipei's -Raohe Street and Shi-lin markets, out to the Luo-dong, Feng-jia, and -Liuhe markets further afield. On several occasions they even visited markets that regularly set up on abandoned lots in Lin-kou, Tao-yuan, and Bali.

The result of all this fieldwork was 888 Night Market, which wasn't modeled after any market in particular, but rather designed to give the audience the sense that "this could totally be that night market down the road." Even the foods sold at their fictional market were carefully thought over-the two biggest ones, chicken cutlets and steaks, were provided and overseen by two well-known stalls in the Shi-lin and -Shida Night Markets. The other stalls were even organized with the help of the man in charge of -Yonghe's Le-hua Night Market, who aside from providing advice, even organized it so some of the stalls from the market would help out with shooting. As you can see, there was a tremendous amount of dedication to authenticity behind the film.

Well grounded comedy

Not only did Night Market Hero succeed in putting on screen a convincing night market, it also attracted attention for its use of down-home Taiwanese humor.

Cross-strait cultural differences were lampooned right from the start of the film. Mainland tourists spoke with mainland accents, wore the suits that tend to mark them out against the -gaudy shirts and flip-flops of locals, and even browsed the market differently-where Taiwanese take their time and just wander, the mainlanders would have a list of places they wanted to see and zip from place to place. When they were particularly enraptured by the chicken cutlets, they even broke out into song, singing about how wonderful Taiwan is and the like, which raised big laughs from the audience at the irony of mainlanders singing a patriotic Taiwanese song.

They also charmed the audience by piercing two targets commonly acknowledged as big sources of trouble in Taiwan-politicians and the media. Veteran entertainer -Zhuge Liang appears as Zhang Jin-liang, an ignorant and incompetent figure who got where he is through his connections, which make him little more than a loud-mouthed pawn. The media, meanwhile, are shown as eager to use any scurrilous means to perpetuate their chosen "David vs. Goliath" narrative, taking comments out of context and even digging up dirt on A-Zhu, to leave the audience laughing through their tears.

"We're just poking fun," says Yeh seriously. The questions over possible illegal land use are common to many of Taiwan's night markets, as many are set up on what are public roads by day; similarly, the audience has long since developed their dissatisfaction with the media and politicians. The film has so accurately struck a nerve with its viewers that after the it opened, a movement to save a night market in -Miaoli from its land permit problems received a huge boost, and a petition was even set up on Facebook.

Casting conundrums

As is often the case with Taiwanese films, much of the cast of Night Market Hero was drawn from television, including actors Blue Lan, Alice Ke, and Esther Liu, along with several well-known "B-listers" from variety shows, including Lotus Wang, a variety-show regular who had just become a musical superstar with her song "Bobee."

Some may ask, why would an audience want to spend money to see stars at the cinema that they could just turn on the TV and see for free any day of the week? Yeh notes that Taiwan's film industry has never been especially well developed, and aside from a few exceptions like Chang Chen and Shu Qi, most of Taiwan's better-known actors like Ethan Ruan and Barbie Hsu work on both sides of that particular fence. On top of this, those who focus on film tend to have high standards for what script or character they'll take on, whereas TV stars look at film as an opportunity to show a different side of themselves, which then becomes a major selling point for the film concerned.

For example, Yeh says, Blue Lan is better known for his TV role as a rich playboy, but in reality he's Yi-lan born and bred and down-home Taiwanese through and through; not only does he speak perfect Taiwanese, he even suggested the -taike perm his character sports in Night Market Hero. Lan was reportedly ecstatic to "finally have the chance to play someone more like himself."

The other big attraction, at least for the media, was Yeh's ability to get -Zhuge -Liang on board. An A-list celebrity in Taiwan in the 1980s and early 1990s as host of his own variety show, -Zhuge -Liang disappeared suddenly from public view for about 16 years, ostensibly to "investigate options abroad," but in actuality hiding from the massive gambling debts he had accrued. Yeh explains that the character of Zhang Jin-liang, a man who had racked up massive gambling debts before turning over a new leaf, but who was still torn between his love of money and his good conscience, was virtually tailor-made for -Zhuge -Liang.

"Getting -Zhuge -Liang on board wasn't nearly as tough as the media made it sound," says Yeh. "He could tell we were being totally sincere with him, and we both were of the same mind about the script and story. We clicked almost immediately. Finding someone like him to help out was like finding buried treasure!"

With the help of this icon of "real" Taiwan, the Yehs were thus able win over audiences in central and southern Taiwan.

Stories, scratch, and salesmanship

With Taiwanese films from Cape No. 7 to Night Market Hero capturing audiences and box offices over the past few years, does this herald a comeback for the long-moribund Taiwanese film industry?

Yeh believes that for a Taiwanese film to capture local audiences, it needs to have three things. The first of these is a truly local story, rather than one that focuses just on Taipei. The majority of the audience didn't grow up in the city, and so settings and stories that fixate too much on the cities can leave audiences from outside the capital feeling left out.

The second is at least US$1 million (approx. NT$30 million) in funding. This is the most basic threshold for films made by small- to medium-sized businesses looking to succeed in the Greater China area. Additionally, since Taiwanese audiences have already been spoiled by big-budget Hollywood spectaculars, if a local film doesn't have a big enough budget, its makers may not be able to get the settings and big-name stars that are necessary to entice people to fork over their hard-earned cash at the theater.

Finally, they need outside help to get the film distributed. Yeh believes that with their well-developed distribution channels and good relations with theaters, foreign distributors serving Taiwan can ensure the film gets broad exposure, such as through promotion at 7-Elevens around the island. After all, no matter how good the film, if it can't get out there, it'll suffer financially.

Taiwanese films still have a long way to go before they can match their American counterparts in terms of marketing and attention. When it was decided that Night Market Hero was to be released for Chinese New Year, distributor Fox -wanted Yeh to promote the film as a "family film," so as to maximize the audience size. They were similarly demanding when it came to casting decisions: even for roles like the ex-boyfriend of Alice Ke's character, who had just one scene, and that of her late father, Fox specifically went after popular names like James Wen and Li Li-ren respectively.

Marketing of films is also a strong suit for American firms, and so for Night Market Hero's premiere at Xi-men-ding, the distributor worked with over 20 night-market stallholders to let viewers of the film exchange their ticket stubs for food. This not only created a buzz in the media, but also proved invaluable for getting people buying tickets.

And the blockbuster successes of Cape No. 7, Monga, and Night Market Hero seem to back up Yeh's perspective. In addition to all telling very local stories, each had a tremendous budget, blowing away the long-standing stereotype of Taiwanese films as being "low budget." Cape No. 7, for example, cost between NT$50 million and NT$60 million; Monga as much as NT$70 million; and Night Market Hero NT$60 million. They also worked with foreign-owned distributors, namely Buena Vista, Warner Brothers, and Fox.

What's next?

Respected film critic Lan Tsu-wei criticized Night Market Hero for "riding on the coattails" of previous successes. He commented that the film traded in stereotypes and cliches-the ambitious young reporter; the meddlesome media; the greedy, profit-driven property developer and politician, etc.-and said that although it was able to strike a chord with audiences, it did so through overuse of tropes and showed little artistic merit.

Feeling like an upsized television show, Night Market Hero may have relied on affectations and leaps of logic, but it nonetheless earned its support through well-done comedy.

Yeh Tien-lun may have managed to strike while the iron was hot this time and thus have the good fortune to have his film's minor flaws overlooked, but many people look forward to seeing what's next for this audience-oriented newcomer. There is hope that his success will bring in more new blood and new perspectives, and help create a new chapter in the history of Taiwanese film.

For years now Taiwanese film has been stuck dangling between art and commerce, having trouble finding a balance. It managed to escape the bounds of the unrealistic romantic movies and move into more down-to-earth subjects before, but then fell back into the trap of focusing too much on the whims of directors and the pursuit of "authenticity" in the form of amateur actors, losing the audience and ignoring the drawing power of stars. This new generation of Taiwanese audiences is finally free of past prejudices, enjoying rapidly spreading word of mouth online, and tapping into local identity, and as such it could offer new opportunities for ambitious and passionate local film buffs to try their hands. Could this be a new start for Taiwanese film? Only time will tell.

X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!
更快速更方便!