On Location: The Big Screen Guide to Exploring the City
Words by: Rik Glauert
Photos by: Taiwan Scene, 3 Ng Film, Oxygen Film, Yenyi Lin
Watching movies filmed in different cities and countries has been an efficient way for people to explore the world, especially at the time when travel activities are limited due to the ongoing pandemic. Through the lenses of filmmakers, we may discover the city from angles we have never thought of, and get to know people’s varied ways of life, even when they are thousands of miles away.
Taipei, the frenetic capital of Taiwan, is home to both the modern and the ancient. In Taipei, you'll find state-of-the-art skyscrapers reaching into the clouds as well as ancient old streets and wharves revealing the capital's long history as a trade hub. Looming behind almost every Taipei City scene are towering mountains. As a basin city, peaks circle Taipei, giving a fresh and green backdrop to the urban setting.▲Through movies, we can see the diverse sides and undiscovered corners of Taipei. (Photo/Taiwan Scene)
No wonder, then, that Taipei has played host to some of the country's — and the world's — most popular audiovisual works like TV dramas and films. Luc Besson's 2014 thriller Lucy, for example, represents Taipei to the world from its Sci-Fi point of view.
Shooting on location brings all the vibrancy and energy of Taipei City life to the screen. Those of us wishing to explore the city can take some of those famous scenes as inspiration to get to know Taipei even better.
In addition to Hollywood productions, more and more locally-produced films from Taipei can be watched everywhere as long as one is connected. Thanks to streaming services, an increasing number of Taiwan- based movies are now accessible to audiences across the world. Just turn on your devices and you will find authentic stories and scenes set in Taipei.
Here are some of the amazing filming locations in Taipei selected from audiovisual works released in recent years which you can enjoy at home to learn more about this lovely city.
A SUN: HUANAN VILLAGE
Gritty family drama A Sun (陽光普照, 2019) depicts some of the darker aspects of Taipei life. The 2019 film by established Taiwanese auteur Chung Mong-hong (鍾孟宏) follows a Taipei family ripped apart by sex, crime, and death. Not for the faint-hearted, the winner of multiple Golden Horse Awards, the most prestigious film award in Taiwan, takes a deep dive into the loves and losses of some of Taipei's residents. Many of the film's most moving scenes were filmed in the iconic streets of Huanan Village (化南新村) in Muzha, one of Taipei’s oldest neighborhoods.▲A Sun, released in 2019, was selected as a contender for the Academy Awards this year. (Photo/3 Ng Film)
National Chengchi University built Huanan Village as a dormitory for staff in the 1950s, but, for the last five years, residents and supporters have been campaigning to halt its demolition. The area is iconic for its stout red-brick buildings covered with luscious greenery. Chung said he filmed scenes in the area in the hope that the old houses would be preserved. Walking in the community, you will feel the atmosphere of old Taipei and the simple days in the past.▲Huanan Village, where A Sun was filmed, keeps the poetry of red brick architecture alive. (Photo/ Taiwan Scene)
The historic architecture — brought to cinemas around the country by the masterful epic — has made the neighborhood popular with young Taiwanese, who enjoy walking through the romantic brick streets and posing for fashionable photos. The neighborhood's Insta-worthiness has been capitalized upon by a local group, Huanan Wanxing Vision Team (化南萬興願景團隊), who have created a cutesy map to guide you through the lanes and introduce some of the friendly residents. At the foot of the luscious Maokong, the village is also home to plenty of wildlife, including the iconic Taiwan Blue Magpie. Those wanting to make a day trip of Huanan Village can easily visit Taipei Zoo (台北市立動物園) just around the corner or hop on a cable car on the Maokong Gondola (貓空纜車) up to Maokong, known for its fresh air and tea farms.
YOUR NAME ENGRAVED HEREIN: NATIONAL REVOLUTIONARY MARTYRS' SHRINE
Your Name Engraved Herein (刻在你心底的名字, 2020), a romantic drama by Patrick Kuang-Hui Liu (柳廣輝), has charmed audiences since its release in September last year. The movie, narrating a love affair between two boys at a Catholic high school, was the first LGBTQ-themed movie to make more than NT$100 million at the box office in Taiwan. The movie follows students A-han and Birdy as they explore their feelings and sexuality amid a backdrop of the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and the end of martial law in Taipei.▲Your Name Engraved Herein depicts the love story of two boys under a fast changing society at the end of the 1980s. (Photo/Oxygen Film)
A pivotal scene sees the two young lovers take a trip to Taipei to mourn the death of President Chiang at the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine (國民革命忠烈祠). The movie shows hordes of mourners weeping at the shrine on the banks of the Keelung River (基隆河) and at Yuanshan (圓山). A brilliant example of classical Chinese architecture, the Martyrs’ Shrine was built to worship martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the country. A-han and Birdy take advantage of the trip into the city, away from the campus, to get to know one another better and explore the neighborhood around Yuanshan.▲In Your Name Engraved Herein, the protagonists came to Taipei to join the memorial service for the late president, leading to the beginning of an innocent love. (Photo/Oxygen Film)
More than 30 years after the events of the film, the Martyrs’ Shrine and the surrounding neighborhood are still well worth a visit. The Keelung River in the north of the city is lined with luscious parks and cycle ways, perfect for getting some fresh air without leaving the city. Just across the river from the Martyrs’ Shrine is the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (台北市立美術館). This striking building (in the Japanese Metabolist style) features some of Asia's best contemporary art and hosts the Taipei Biennial.▲At the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine, you can witness the changing of the guard on the hour.
FRESH OFF THE BOAT: THE GRAND HOTEL
Undisputedly the most renowned hotel in Taiwan, The Grand Hotel (圓山大飯店) has played host to important events on screen and off since it opened nearly 70 years ago. The gargantuan and opulent building, constructed in the classical Chinese style, is viewable from all over the city and only Taipei 101 rivals it as a city landmark. The hotel’s grand rooms and vast dining halls have played host to foreign dignitaries, celebrities, and a number of film crews for decades.
Edward Yang’s (楊德昌) 2000 classic Yi Yi: A One and a Two (一一) opens with a huge wedding reception at the Grand Hotel and sees eight-year-old Yang Yang climbing the lobby’s iconic oversized flight of red- carpeted steps. In 2016, US-series Fresh Off the Boat opened its third season with the Huang family (the mother played by Constance Wu of Crazy Rich Asians) returning to Taiwan and staying at the iconic residence.▲The Grand Hotel is one of the most iconic buildings in Taipei, with its awe-inspiring palatial architecture.
Recently, the hotel has attracted local tourists who have long desired to try out the hotel’s coveted rooms themselves. Some great staycation deals have helped ensure the Grand Hotel is just as bustling as ever. Another draw is the hotel’s unique feature, a (once) secret escape tunnel built by the late President Chiang Kai-shek (蔣中正).
Chiang built the hotel as a place to host visiting dignitaries after the Nationalist government retreated to Taiwan, and the escape tunnel features concrete slides to ensure quick evacuation. The hotel’s guided tour takes you down this quirky artifact of Taiwan's past and enlightens guests to other unique features of the astonishing hotel.▲The secret escape tunnel built by late President Chiang Kai-shek is now open to the public.
Nearby is the world-famous Shilin Night Market (士林觀光夜市), the place to pick up Taiwan street food classics such as giant fried chicken chop (大雞排), shuijianbao (pan-fried stuffed bun, 水煎包), and stinky tofu. To burn off all those calories, there are trails up the mountain behind the hotel, perfect for taking in Taipei's nighttime cityscape after an indulgent dinner.
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