Some of Taiwan's top movie stars. The industry has been on the upsurge in recent times.
TAIPEI: As a long career devoted to Taiwan's technology sector draws to a close, Max Fang has turned to an entirely new task -- helping to build a globally competitive film industry on the island.
To this end, 60-year-old Fang has launched a venture capital fund, much as he would do if he were to pour money into new IT start-ups, but with the crucial difference that the fund is solely meant for movie and TV projects.
"Our eventual goal is to build a Chinese Hollywood," said Fang, the chairman of Maxima Capital Investment which runs the TC-1 Culture Fund.
The fund is bolstered not just by Tw$270 million (RM28.35 million) of risk-loving cash, but also by a comprehensive vision for where Taiwan's economy should be heading in the coming years.
Taiwan has been very successful in the IT industry, but as competition from other tech-savvy societies heats up, it is time to start thinking about new ways to prosper, according to Fang. And he has some ideas how.
"Taiwan has become the hub of the Chinese-language entertainment industry. That position is entrenched and hard to challenge," Fang said.
"And as China gradually becomes richer, there will be rapid growth in the demand for films, televisions and musical programmes. That's already a clear trend emerging on the mainland."
Fang's idea has caught on, and investors in his fund include John Hsuan, former chairman of the world's second-largest contract chip maker United Microelectronics Corp, and Stan Shih, the founder of computer vendor Acer.
The fund reflects long-term changes in Taiwan's economy, as the island, which left agriculture behind decades ago to take up manufacturing and then moved to technological innovation, may become a centre for creative industries.
Taiwan is especially strong in the field of popular music and has massive influence in China and various Chinese-speaking communities in Southeast Asia.
Heartthrob Jay Chou, to mention just one example, is as hot in the region as Justin Bieber is in the west.
Another growth industry is TV programming, but it is in the movies -- where the island is experiencing a renaissance with titles such as history epic "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale" -- that Fang hopes for the big breakthrough.
The fund, which was launched in late 2010, has invested an approximate total of Tw$40 million in two Taiwanese-Chinese co-productions premiering in January -- "The Soul of Bread" and "Perfect Two".
Fang said he has especially high hopes for "The Soul of Bread", starring rising star Michelle Chen as a Taiwanese woman pursued simultaneously by a local baker and a French gourmet.
"We did not expect Michelle Chen to become so popular before shooting the film," he said.
Fang's venture is part of a broader trend, with about 20 similar Taiwanese funds earmarked for investment in the culture industry, each capitalised at Tw$200 million or more.
Liang Liang, a senior movie analyst, said Taiwan's movie industry has never been in a better position to win over the mainland market, now one of the top five markets in the world.
"Hong Kong's movie makers have switched their focus to the mainland in the past few years and while they jointly produced movies with Chinese partners, they have chosen to set certain restrictions on themselves," he said.
"On the contrary, Taiwan-produced movies are taking their own distinctive route, describing the free lifestyle of the people on the island."
Despite the optimism, the fate of Fang's fund, and the 20 others like it, remains to be seen.
"Next year will be crucial not only to us, but to all venture capitalists investing in the sector. Should the results fail to meet the targets, many of them would be phased out," Fang said.
So far, at least, Taiwan's film industry is no match for its technology sector.
In the 11 months to November, box office revenues for 32 Taiwan-produced films totalled around Tw$700 million ($23.17 million), according to statistics from the Government Information Office.
The revenues of Taiwan's IT industry, by contrast, came in at $121.2 billion in 2010, according to the Market Intelligence Centre, a quasi-official IT market and research firm.
Li Ya-mei, an independent movie producer, pointed out that Taiwan and China are facing a cultural divide, as a result of the island's self-rule, in place since the end of a civil war in 1949.
"I don't know how long it may take to overcome the barrier, but I know it's not likely to be done within a short period of time," she said.