Even though there were a lot of new cases in Taiwan at the beginning of the summer of 2021, COVID was not as common there as it was in Korea and Japan, which are also in East Asia. So, Taiwan's film industry kept putting out movies in theatres all the way through 2021.
Since this is the case, you might be wondering what the best Taiwanese movies of 2021 were. The editors of New Bloom and Cinema Escapist worked together to make this list of the top 10 Taiwanese movies of 2021. We chose these 10 Taiwanese movies because of how they told their stories, how well they were made, and how important they were to society.
There are both small-budget and big-budget movies on our list, including horror, romance, drama, comedy, documentaries, and more. When possible, we've also added links to sites like Netflix where you can watch movies online.
Let's Take a Look at the Best Taiwanese Movies Coming Out in 2021.
10. GATAO – The Last Stray
GATAO: The Last Stray is a prequel to the other two films in the GATAO trilogy of Taiwanese gangster movies. It follows the supporting character Ah-Qing as he grows up. Like other movies in this genre, GATAO makes the lives of Taiwanese gangsters seem like something out of a movie.
It shows Ah-Qing and his friends as old-fashioned law enforcers who are up against newer gangsters who don't feel bad about selling drugs or doing other obviously wrong things.
GATAO – The Last Stray focuses on Ah-doomed Qing's relationship with Xiao Qi, a strong-willed photographer he meets at a wedding. Even though they live very different lives, the two of them end up falling in love in the end. But Ah-dangerous Qing's stunts may be too much for Xiao Qi to handle.
GATAO is a good movie, but its story and setting are not very original. It's still fun to watch, and even though it has some cliches, the way it's made makes up for some of that. The story of GATAO is a bit like that of Man in Love (see later on this list), which shows that both movies use the same tropes. But the second one is more stylized, has better acting, and is more original overall.
9. As We Like It
After the same-sex marriage law went into effect in 2019, Taiwan has become a popular place for LGBTQ+ stories in East Asia. As We Like It is a great example of this trend because it mixes Shakespeare and Taiwanese opera in a way that blurs gender roles.
This 2021 Taiwanese movie is a retelling of Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It, which takes place in a small town. The main character of the movie is a young woman named Rosalind who needs to find her missing father. In order to do this, she dresses up as a man named Roosevelt and falls in love with a different man named Orlando.
As We Like It is fun and silly, and it's also based on the traditions of Taiwanese opera, where it's not that unusual for women to play men. The movie is a fun way to remember that gender roles change over time and depend on culture. It also shows an exciting vision of a more progressive future for Taiwan.
8. Man In Love
Man in Love is a remake of a South Korean movie with the same name. It is about a small-time gangster named Ah-Cheng, who is a debt collector with a good heart. Ah-life Cheng's small-time crime takes a sudden turn when he meets Hao Ting, a woman who went into debt to pay for her dying father's medical bills, and falls instantly in love with her.
Most of the comedy in the movie comes from Ah-awkward Cheng's attempts to get Hao Ting to like him. When Ah-Cheng finally gets what he wants, he has trouble leaving the gangster life and other problems that keep him from living happily ever after with Hao Ting.
Even though the movie is a romantic comedy, it doesn't add anything new to the genre. However, it does hit all the important points. Roy Chiu and Ann Hsu are playing Ah-Cheng and Hao Ting at their best. You could say that their strong performances made a movie that could have been boring stand out. The costumes and sets of the movie are also good.
7. The Sadness
COVID-19 may not have hurt Taiwan as much as it did other places, but that doesn't mean Taiwan didn't have any movies about pandemics in 2021. Just look at the movie The Sadness. It's about a couple who live in Taiwan during an outbreak of a virus that turns people into UV zombies.
If you like scary movies with a lot of blood, you'll like The Sadness. The movie has a level of ambition and technical skill that few other Taiwanese movies can match. It also has a lot of blood and guts. Local critics have also said that The Sadness shows Taiwanese life as it really is. Scenes take place in places like the Taipei MRT and local breakfast shops.
If you watch a lot of Taiwanese movies, you might have heard of Terrorizers. This Taiwanese movie from 2021 has the same English title as the classic film Terrorizers from 1986, but its Mandarin name is different.
It's likely that the names are supposed to be the same. The 2021 Terrorizers, like the 1986 movie of the same name, is about the connections that happen between three groups of lonely young people in Taipei.
People in Taiwan liked the 2021 Terrorizers because the acting was good and because it took a bold and sharp look into the dark minds of troubled teens. The film was shown at both the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival in 2021. Terrorizers is one of the most exciting Taiwanese movies of 2021, even if it isn't as epic as the original by Edward Yang.
5. City of Lost Things
The 3D animated movie City of Lost Things isn't the most exciting thing you'll ever see. It uses simple visual elements and character designs. Still, the movie does the best it can with what it has. The film is very dynamic because it has a good script and a story that makes sense.
In this animated movie, Leaf is a boy who thinks of himself as an outcast, kind of like the trash of society. A leaf floats into a strange city of living trash, where trash like plastic bags, refrigerators, and even temple palanquins have made their own society. Leaf seems to have finally found a place where he feels like he belongs. The only problem is that his new friends are trying to leave the city and go back to the human world.
City of Lost Things is easy to overlook. But its interesting plot and interesting characters make it more than the sum of its parts. The movie doesn't land well because it seems to go on longer than it needs to and goes into some strange, but memorable, territory. At the same time, the movie is one of the best Taiwanese animated films from the last few years.
4. Green Jail
Hashima Yoshiko was the last Taiwanese person to live on Okinawa's Iriomote Island. Green Jail tells the story of her last years there. During the time that Japan was a colony, Taiwanese miners lived on Iriomote Island. After the mine closed, Hashima's family was the last Taiwanese family to stay.
In this way, Green Jail can be seen as one of the many recent Taiwanese documentaries that focus on the time when Japan ruled Taiwan. But while some of these documentaries romanticize Japanese colonialism, Green Jail looks at how Hashima's family was shunned in both Taiwan and Japan without flinching.
In the same way, the documentary shows how hard life was for Taiwanese miners when they were ruled by the Japanese. Seven out of ten miners were hooked on opium. Aside from the interesting subject, the documentary is also very well made. Parts of the film include interviews with Hashima, historical photos, and historical reenactments. The story of Hashima is told in a quiet way, but the documentary is very moving.
3. The Soul
In The Soul, a prosecutor named Liang Wen-Chao looks into the death of a wealthy businessman named Wang Shicong. Wang works with his coworker and wife, Bao. This is complicated by the fact that the couple is expecting a child and Liang has cancer.
What could be just another crime mystery turns out to be better than average thanks to its mix of science fiction and the supernatural and its unique setting in a near-future Taipei. The setting works out well.
The Soul shows a future Taipei that isn't so different from now that it's unrecognizable, but where digital technology is becoming more and more common. In the same way, the movie doesn't make it clear at first if its main mystery has supernatural elements, giving its science fiction city a horror vibe.
Chang Chen does a good job as Liang, making a man with cancer seem like a real person. The last review said that The Soul is not a very good movie because it has a weak ending and some of the plot twists don't make sense. Still, it is better than average for its type.
2. American Girl
People in the Taiwanese diaspora may like American Girl the most. The main character of this movie is a 13-year-old girl named Fen. When her mother gets breast cancer, Fen and her family move from Los Angeles to Taiwan.
American Girl tells about the problems Fen faces when she moves back to Taiwan. She has to get used to a new school, get back in touch with her estranged father, and deal with the spread of SARS, all while her relationship with her mother is already tense.
American Girl has gotten a lot of praise from audiences and critics in Taiwan. They say that it's easy to see their own lives and families in the movie, even if they're not part of the diaspora. Some critics have likened it to well-known family dramas like Lady Bird from the U.S. and Ilo Ilo from Singapore.
It's rare to see a movie like American Girl that shows how Taiwanese diaspora families work in a way that's as complex and meaningful to Taiwanese as it is. This is why the movie is so high on our list.
1. The Falls
A Sun, which was made in 2019, was the last film by Taiwanese director Chung Mong-hong to top our list of the best Taiwanese movies. Now, in 2021, he's back with The Falls.
The Falls is about a mother and her daughter, just like American Girl. In the movie, Pin-wen is a woman who is divorced and lives with her teenage daughter, Xiao Jing. When COVID-19 makes them stay at home for a while, their already tense relationship starts to get worse and worse.
In 2021, the Falls got a lot of attention from people all over the world. It made its debut at the Venice International Film Festival, was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, was chosen as Taiwan's Oscar entry for 2022, and won a lot of awards at the Golden Horse Awards in 2021.
It was really hard to choose between The Falls and American Girl for #1, but the fact that The Falls came out during the COVID-19 pandemic and was praised by critics made it the winner.
Taking this into consideration, you are probably curious about the titles of the top Taiwanese films that were released in 2021. This list of the best 10 Taiwanese films of 2021 was compiled thanks to a collaborative effort between the editors of New Bloom and Cinema Escapist.