Taiwan Filmmaker Profile: Aileen Li Is Sticking With the Local Focus That Hatched Horror Hit ‘Detention’

Local stories will play an increasingly important role amid the accelerating globalization and exponential growth in OTT platforms, says Aileen Li, winning produce at the Golden Horse Film Project Promotion.

“There have been lots of talks about co-production in the past, but I feel that local stories will take on a leading role. Characteristics of local culture have become more distinctive amid globalization. And if you seize the right topic that resonates with the local audience, foreign audiences will be interested,” the Taiwan-based Li told Variety.

Li’s latest project “SARStorm” won the $35,000 (NT$1 million) grand prize at the Golden Horse FPP on Wednesday. The project, on which Li serves as executive producer and co-director with Li Chun-yang, also won the Catchplay Development Award and the Central Picture Corporation Award, making it the biggest winner of this year’s FPP. “We didn’t expect this. We are very excited,” she said.

“SARStorm” revolves around the battle against SARS at a hospital. The FPP jury praised the project’s “creative ambition to confront current issues head-on through a genre film structure.”

Li said the team spent three years working on the script. A story set against the backdrop of Taiwan’s painful memories of SARS resonated well with potential local investors that the team met during the three-day FPP meetings. SARS infected 346 people in Taiwan in 2003, killing 73, where 35 of them came from the same hospital. (In contrast to those epidemic times, Taiwan has coped with the COVID-19 pandemic with minimal casualties.)

Although the story might draw attention from a global audience because of the ongoing pandemic, Li has no plan to raise funds abroad for the time being. The project’s budget is expected to be around $2 million.

She wants to preserve the original spirit of the project without distractions from foreign influences, she says. That is an approach similar to that of her acclaimed horror film “Detention,” which was based on a popular locally-developed video game and was set in the period of ‘White Terror’ martial law in Taiwan.

The film went on to be a box office hit not only locally last year but also in Hong Kong and Singapore.

“Most companies we have encountered are mainly Taiwan companies. If my film were about some kind of (global) virus or disease, it might travel better. But I want to focus on the Taiwan experience first,” said Li.

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