TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) - The Chinese comedy "If You Are the One" has earned $50 million at the box office so far, the second highest grossing in China's film history, but it's showing for free this week in ethnically Chinese Taiwan.
Taiwan and China have been separated for decades over political friction but as relations improve under Taiwan's Beijing-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, each side is suddenly scoping out the other's films this summer to learn a bit more.
"Some China films show modern life while some are shot way out in the countryside, so lots of angles and the Taiwan audience can get to know China better," said Ma Kuo-chun, project manager with the private Chinese Cross-Strait Film Association in Taipei.
"But there's still no formal platform for showing films."
The association, backed by Taiwan government money, will test reactions by holding its first annual China film festival this week, offering seven movies and the chance to see three Chinese directors for about 4,000 people. Tickets are free.
"I would welcome this chance as we get closer politically," said Chang Tung-yuan, a film student at Shih Hsin University in Taiwan. "At least our films are in the same language."
The festival headliner "If You Are the One," from director Feng Xiaogang, reveals quirks in China's social modernization, a trend lost on many in Taiwan, by following a middle-aged man seeking love but too picky to tolerate even a hint of incompatibility.
Chinese directors made 406 films in 2008, setting a record, with urban box office revenues worth hundreds of millions of dollars, state-run media in Beijing have reported.
Feng suggested at a packed pre-festival conference in Taipei on Wednesday that the two sides sign a film pact. "I wonder if we could appeal to Taiwan...to let mainland China help," he said.
Studios from Taiwan, where the government often puts up seed money for arthouse-style releases that turn off local Hollywood-fixated audiences, released only 36 movies last year, generating $9.3 million in box office income.
In the same year, 382 films from overseas showed locally and generated total revenues of $67 million.
Chinese movies have gone mainstream recently, covering battles and historical scandals, after decades of three-hour-long dramas or releases that follow the Communist line.
Next week a Taiwan film festival, starring director Yang Ya-che's 2008 drama "Orz Boys," which looks at the darker side of growing up in Taipei, will take place in the Chinese cities of Beijing and Tianjin.
Chinese viewers often see Taiwan entertainment as more fashionable and less politically restricted than their own.
China has claimed self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists (KMT) fled to Taiwan. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.
But since President Ma took office in May 2008, his government has eased tension by discussing trade deals with Beijing.
Editing by Miral Fahmy