Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 22 2008

Photo award and Cape No. 7

I was lucky enough to win an award in the “Beautiful Xindian” photography contest recently. The awards ceremony was supposed to be last weekend, but they had to reschedule due to the typhoon. I’d never been to one of these things, so when the people from the contest called to see if I’d be attending, I said ok. “By the way, ” the woman on the phone asked, “What nationality are you?”

“Taiwanese,” I said.


The weather on Saturday was bright and hot, so quite a few people showed up at the awards at the Xindian Library. I think the fact that they had free food had something to do with it as well. I picked up my name tag, got an assigned seat, and then walked around looking at the various prize-winning photographs. There were some really nice shots, beautiful composition and subject matter there, but the quality of the photography not only varied widely, it seemed to bear no relation to the level of prizes. Many of the “recommended” shots were easily better than the photos that won medal awards.

Award ceremonyThe ceremony was a little embarrassing. No fewer than three dance shows were held, one with several bored-looking girls and one excited-looking but rather erratic girl, one pseudo-Arabic dance, and a hip-hop dance show during which the MC didn’t shut up about the dancer’s background until halfway through. Then the awards started.

All this for a photograph? I wondered as I watched the people lining up to get their plaques and have their picture taken with some random official. The mayor was stuck in traffic and only arrived later. I’m not sure if she got to see the picture of her painting calligraphy, the one with no real attributes besides having the mayor as a subject, get a bronze medal. Some people had several shots win awards, which seems strange. Apparently over 3,600 entries were received; why not limit it to one award per person and give some other people a chance?

I got my award and picture, and as I sat down again the MC related the gist of the phone call concerning my nationality to the audience, which clapped appreciatively. A “photography expert” then got up and gave a speech about photography which quickly devolved into a slide show of his shots, some of which were ok. I was pulled outside at this point to give an interview to a local TV reporter, who asked me why I took the particular shot, what it meant, etc. “I thought it looked nice,” didn’t seem to satisfy her, so I babbled on about reflections and dragonboats and whatever came to mind until she got what she wanted.

Back inside, another “expert” was giving tips on shooting, which also quickly became a slideshow of the guy’s shots. I was waiting for the speeches to be over so I could eat some of the free food in the lobby, so I amused myself by taking pictures of the chairs in front of my and other people’s feet. After the slideshow/speeches, however, I was drawn into a conversation with the organizers about photography.

I’m afraid I got a little controversial at this point. I usually don’t enjoy talking about photography as it is too subjective and I find it difficult to describe what appeals to me about a particular shot. I was feeling rebellious, however, and gestured at a photo on display to the side of the room, one that either got a bronze medal of maybe an “excellent” award, I forget, and declared: “This is probably the best photo here,” and promptly pointed out all the ways it could have been even better.

In retrospect, I probably erased any chances I have of ever winning an award from these people ever again; I should have kept my mouth shut and just nodded when told that all the photographs there were wonderful works of art. The immediate result of this was that, by the time I made my way to the lobby, all the food had been eaten already. Serves me right, I suppose.

In other news, last night I went to see Cape No. 7, a local film that has become very popular recently. The preview didn’t impress me, so I wasn’t originally interested in seeing it until a friend of mine mentioned he wanted to see it, so I thought I would go see what all the fuss was about. We saw the film at the dusty, old Scholar Theater in a basement on Changchun Road. The place was packed, though, a good sign and always useful in gauging audience reaction.

I have to say I was impressed. Although the film’s a bit long, with so many characters that many strings are left untied at the end, it was a very satisfying story despite the lack of development among the main characters. I spent the first hour hating the Japanese girl, and occasionally caught some awkward bits, clumsy shots and bad CG, but in the end, this movie has heart. I haven’t felt this way about a Taiwanese film in ages; it reminds me of The Scarecrow in its tone. Some have accused it of sugarcoating reality, but it is not meant to be a documentary. It had a sense of pacing and a touch of art usually absent from what some would call “lowbrow” cinema here, but it mercifully rationed its share of long, brooding shots that have trademarked Taiwanese cinema for decades now, in my opinion to its detriment. We’ve mourned enough via films like City of Sadness and Yi Yi; Cape No. 7 strikes a more confident tone, without the whininess and yet allowing the audience to laugh at itself and Taiwanese society. This, I think, lies at the base of its appeal to local audiences. Yes, this is who we are; we have flaws, it proclaims, but we also have heart, and we are no worse than people in other countries. Perhaps this kind of reassurance is sugarcoating, but the reception the film has received so far suggests to me that perhaps it has struck a much-needed chord in this society. For better of worse, there will no doubt be many copycats hoping to cash in on the film’s success in coming years; if we’re lucky it will inspire a renaissance of filmmaking here as well.

posted by Poagao at 1:07 am  


  1. Congrats on the award. I am curious about which photo netted the prize.

    Comment by David on Formosa — September 22, 2008 @ 2:50 am

  2. It was this one:


    Comment by Poagao — September 22, 2008 @ 3:15 am

  3. Honest criticism is often requested but rarely welcome.

    Most people prefer indiscriminate praise.

    Comment by Mark — September 23, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

  4. why isn’t the photo on your flickr? Or is it?

    Comment by Prince Roy — September 23, 2008 @ 7:24 pm

  5. It is, but I made it private along with the others I submitted to the contest; I guess I can make it public again now.

    Comment by Poagao — September 23, 2008 @ 9:26 pm

  6. nice work TC. i find myself agreeing with virtually everything you say.

    Comment by MJ Klein — September 24, 2008 @ 3:34 pm

  7. was that the only photo you submitted?

    Comment by Prince Roy — September 24, 2008 @ 9:22 pm

  8. No, I submitted a few others as well.

    Comment by Poagao — September 24, 2008 @ 9:34 pm

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