"Lucy," which stars Scarlett Johansson, was shot on location in Taipei.

Story highlights

Taipei is attracting more international film crews

Martin Scorsese is shooting his latest movie in the city

Taiwan often acts as a stand in for China and Japan

Hong Kong CNN  — 

Taipei is fast becoming the go-to Asian city for some of Hollywood’s biggest hitters.

Martin Scorsese is filming his latest opus “Silence” there, and French director Luc Besson chose Taipei over seven other Asian cities for his sci-fi thriller “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson.

And this May “The Walking Dead” star Andrew Lincoln will begin filming in the city for a movie project.

Tasked with attracting international film makers, Jennifer Jao, head of the Taipei Film Commission, said that 92 foreign film crews shot in the city last year, up from 56 in 2013.

“We hope the whole island can be like a big studio,” she told CNN while in Hong Kong Thursday.

It wasn’t always this way.

Mission impossible?

For years, Taiwan, while home to acclaimed filmmakers like Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien, was overlooked in favor of its ritzier neighbors Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo.

And even when Hollywood came knocking, the city didn’t always have its act together.

The producers of “Mission Impossible III,” released in 2006, had wanted to film at Taipei 101, at that time the world’s tallest skyscraper.

But faced with red tape and reluctance, they ended up choosing the 53-story Shanghai Bank of China Tower for Tom Cruise’s memorable bungee jump.

“We lost an opportunity for the world to get to know Taipei,” says Jao.

Jao’s commission was set up in 2008 to court international film makers but it wasn’t until director Ang Lee, who was born in Taiwan, filmed the Oscar-winning hit “Life of Pi” on the island that it began to earn a reputation as an accommodating and affordable place to shoot.

Ang Lee's film was filmed  in Taiwan.

Lee filmed the memorable and technically difficult scenes of a shipwrecked boy and a tiger at a purpose-built facility at abandoned airport in the Taiwanese city of Taichung.

Asian backdrop

With its relatively unknown cityscape, Taiwan can also function as a generic Asian backdrop. The island, which was a Japanese colony, is already being used as a stand-in for Japan.

Japanese director Takashi Miike used Taiwan’s high-speed rail system in a bullet-strewn action sequence for crime drama “Shield of Straw,” which competed at the Cannes International Film Festival. Japanese rail authorities turned him away.

And Scorsese’s “Silence,” due to release in 2016, is a historic drama about two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan.

Taiwan is also a popular alternative to China, where there are many restrictions on filmmakers – authorities can censor scripts considered politically sensitive or obscene.

Hong Kong director John Woo used both Taiwan and China as locations in “The Crossing.”

Dubbed China’s “Titanic,” it focuses on a ship that sank when the Nationalist government fled China for Taiwan in 1949 as the Communists took over – a sensitive period in Chinese history. Taiwan and China are still governed separately.

Chinese authorities asked Woo to tone down the heroics of a Nationalist soldier, according to the South China Morning Post – not something that Taiwan would ever require, says Jao.


The commission offers incentives for international film crews. Up to $2 million is available per movie – half of that as a cash subsidy.

But just as important is the island’s versatility as a location, says Jao.

While many of the film crews are from neighboring Asian countries, the city has hosted crews from Latvia and Germany, while the BBC shot some of its newly released drama “X+Y” in the city.

“It’s a small island. Within half an hour, you can go from the streets to the mountains to the sea.”