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Godfather of Taiwanese Cinema | Li Hsing

  • Date:2021-09-22
Godfather of Taiwanese Cinema | Li Hsing

Chinese Name: 李行 (李子達)

Date of Birth: May 20, 1930

Place of Birth: Shanghai, China

Did You Know:

Li Hsing, whose real name is Li Tse Tah, was part of the film industry for more than 70 years. He was named Best Director at the Golden Horse Awards three times, received the Best Feature Film award seven times, and had a profound influence on Taiwanese cinema. He is thus known as the "Godfather of Taiwanese cinema." Li's films included Taiwanese-language films, "healthy realism," and adaptations of the work of Chiung Yao. Particularly iconic films of his include "The Young Ones," "The Heart with a Million Knots," "Where the Seagull Flies," "He Never Gives Up," and "The Story of a Small Town."

Li Hsing studied drama in the Department of Art Education at the National Institute of Social Education in Suzhou, China, in 1948. He devoted himself to theater and film after being exposed to Fei Mu's film "Spring in a Small Town." That same year, the Chinese Civil War drove him to move to Taiwan, where he enrolled in Taiwan Normal College (now National Taiwan Normal University). During this period, he not only participated in and directed drama club performances, but also took part in professional theater and film company performances outside school. Among other things, he worked as a film and theater journalist for the Independence Evening Post, as well as acting in films like "Never Separated" and "Poppies."

In 1958, Li Hsing's directorial debut, "Brother Liu and Brother Wang on the Roads in Taiwan," co-directed with Zhang Fangxia and Tian Feng, became a huge hit, sparking a trend for Taiwanese-language comedies. From then through 1962, Li went on to make several more Taiwanese-language films.

In 1961, he got together with some family members to establish a film company "Independence Films," and the following year, he produced the outstanding Mandarin film "Our Neighbor," which marked a turning point for Li as he ended his career in Taiwanese-language film, as well as becoming the first peak of his directing career. Due to the success of this film, he was hired as a director for the Central Film Company, spearheading a 15-year-long trend for "healthy realism" in cinema.

In 1963, Li co-directed Taiwan's first locally-produced color feature film "Oyster Girl" with director Li Jiahe, winning Best Film at the 11th Asian Film Festival. After that, his films would go on to win a number of other awards. In addition, "Oyster Girl" and "Beautiful Duckling," which he directed himself in 1964, have become classics of healthy realism.

In 1965, Li Hsing turned his hand to adaptations of Chiung Yao's works, including "Four Loves," "The Young Ones," and "The Heart with a Million Knots," setting off a wave of adaptations of Chiung Yao novels.

Li won the Golden Horse Award for Best Director for his films "Beautiful Duckling," "Execution in Autumn," and "He Never Gives Up" in 1965, 1972, and 1978 respectively, setting a record in Taiwan's film history that remains unbroken, marking the pinnacle of Li Hsing's directing career.

Li Hsing himself was a walking history of Taiwanese cinema, having made over 50 films in his lifetime and spared no effort to promote cross-strait film exchanges, film restoration, and film preservation. With the establishment of the Directors’ Guild of the Republic of China in 1989, Li was elected as the first chairman of the Board of Directors, and the following year, he became the chairman of the Golden Horse International Film Festival Executive Committee.

Li also organized a delegation to participate in the Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Awards in China. He was the first person from Taiwan’s film industry to participate in a Chinese film festival. He also facilitated an official delegation of Chinese filmmakers participating in the Golden Horse Awards when he was chairman of the Golden Horse Executive Committee in 1990.

After receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 32nd Golden Horse Awards in 1995, Li established the Li Hsing Workshop and dedicated himself to volunteering for the film industry.

In 2009, he received the Taipei Film Festival’s Film Industry Award in honor of those who have dedicated their lives to Taiwanese cinema. The same year, he also founded the Cross-Strait Film Festival to continue promoting exchanges between filmmakers from both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

In 2021, Li Hsing died of heart failure in Taipei at the age of 91. In a career spanning more than 40 years, all of his films were at the head of new trends, whether healthy realism, Chiung Yao romances, or Taiwanese epics, and in all of them, he created masterpieces. The works of Li Hsing have a special cultural and artistic value and occupy a place of great importance in the history of Taiwanese cinema.