Ang Lee has done more than anyone to bring attention to the Taiwanese film industry, shooting much of his 3D fantasy film Life of Pi in Taipei and Taichung — and always making sure to thank Taiwan in those Oscar speeches, even if his film is about gay cowboys in Wyoming. But Taiwan’s local films have had a recent commercial resurgence as well, catapulted by 2008′s super hit Cape No. 7. More recently, successful films include You Are The Apple of My Eye, Monga, and Seediq Bale, in addition to Taiwan/China co-productions like the ensemble romantic comedy Love. At the same time, Taiwanese dramas are as rampant as ever — and all of this brings us a wealth of new Taiwanese leading ladies.
A comprehensive list that spans decades would definitely include Taiwanese talents such as Sylvia Chang, Brigitte Lin, Lu Yi-Ching, Mavis Fan, Barbie Hsu, Rene Liu, Vivian Hsu and more, but instead, we’re going to concentrate on young actresses ruling commercial Taiwanese film and television today.
As the honor student who all five male friends have a crush on in 2011′s hit film You Are The Apple of My Eye, Michelle Chen is the girl next door with that extra sparkle in her smile, should she respect you enough to shine it your way. The film was a commercial hit in Taiwan and the all-time highest grossing Taiwanese film in the Hong Kong box office, and it propelled Chen into stardom, earning her Best Actress nominations for Taipei’s Golden Horse Awards and Asian Film Awards.
The half-Taiwanese, half-French actress first started getting noticed in the international festival scene as the muse of director Cheng Yu-Chieh, who cast her in his 2006 film Do Over. In 2009, he wrote Yang Yang – about a Eurasian girl dealing with her identity as a newbie in the entertainment industry — with Pinna in mind. The well-regarded actress has a magnetic quality onscreen, simultaneously child-like and soulful, and she was most recently nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Horse Awards for her work in Touch of the Light, where she plays an aspiring dancer who befriends a blind pianist.
Often compared to Angelina Jolie for her sultry lips and smoldering effect onscreen, Shu Qi is most admired for her roles in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Millenium Mambo and Three Times, for which she won the Golden Horse Award for Best Actress in 2005. She also had a short stint in Hollywood acting, opposite Jason Statham in the original French action film The Transporter (co-directed by Hong Kong action director and choreographer Corey Yuen). In the last five years, she’s earned box office appeal in China with her romantic comedy If You Are The One 1 and 2, but most recently, she was part of the ensemble cast for the 2012 film Love, the Taiwanese version of Love Actually.
Alice Ke has a habit of popping up on many successful Taiwanese movies and dramas — from the tarnished hooker with the heart of gold in Monga, to the goal-oriented yet sometimes hapless department store worker in Office Girls, to the smokey-eyed unstable girl who thinks a teddy bear is her boyfriend in Bear It. And somehow Ke makes each wildly different character both likable and multidimensional. Her most recent drama was 2012′s Gung Hay Fat Choy (Wo Men Fa Cai Le).
Ariel Lin first shot to fame in 2005 with It Started With a Kiss. Based on a manga series, Lin plays Xiangqin, the struggling, yet optimistic student who first annoys her crush, the emotionally-challenged genius Zhi Shu, with her haplessness and borderline stalking, but later wins him over out of sheer will power. Seven years later, Lin has grown up and is less “adorable” but more self-reliant in In Time With You, playing the sophisticated but stubborn manager who can’t admit she loves her best friend. The role earned Lin her second Golden Bell Award for Best Leading Actress in a Television Series.
Amber Kuo is a Taiwanese Mandopop singer who gained attention as an actress in 2010, with roles in Arvin Chen’s Au Revoir Taipei (where she took home Best New Actress at the Taipei Film Festival) and the TV drama The Year of Happiness and Love (for which she was nominated for Best Leading Actress in a Television Series at the Golden Bell awards). In Doze Niu’s ensemble romantic comedy Love, she gives a memorable performance as a girl betrayed by an indiscretion between her boyfriend and her best friend.
2009 was a big year for Ivy Chen, as she played a daughter of the Triad boss in the Golden Bell Award-winning cop series Black & White and gave a memorable turn as the protagonist in Hear Me, a film predominantly told in sign language, for which she won the Best Actress award at the Taipei Film Festival. In 2012, she was in the romantic comedy Love — co-starring actresses Amber Kuo and Shu Qi – playing a young girl who makes a detrimental mistake that might cost her her relationship with her best friend.
Sonia Sui’s claim to fame is The Fierce Wife, which was labeled “the most talked about show in Taiwan” in 2011 and was so popular that it was re-aired in Japan later that year and was adapted into a feature film The Fierce Wife: The Final Episode in 2012. Sui plays a young mother whose husband cheats on her with her cousin. Much of the comedy — and tragedy — comes from the ensuing divorce and her attempt to move on, and Sui’s performance has been praised for her balance of strength and fragility.
The Fierce Wife
The quintessential Taiwanese idol drama actress, Rainie Yang has been acting and singing since her debut role in 2001′s Meteor Garden. Though prolific, she’s had to work to be taken seriously as an actress, earning respect with her role in 2007′s Spider Lilies, a Zero Chou-directed lesbian drama that won the Teddy Award for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival. She’s often paired with Mike He, and she recently starred opposite Joseph Chang in Drunken to Love You.
Although she got her start in the 2002 film Blue Gate Crossing, Gwen Lun-Mei may be most known for her role opposite Jay Chou in his directorial debut Secret. Gwei earned critical recognition this past year with her performance in Yang Ya-che’s Girlfriend Boyfriend, alongside Joseph Chang and Rhydian Vaughan, and she was the most recent recipient of the Best Actress trophy at the Golden Horse Awards.
Who are your favorite Taiwanese actresses?