Cape No. 7 is the little movie that could.
It was made by an unknown director, Wei Te-sheng, who had one previously unreleased feature to his credit. He took out loans and mortgaged his house and it has paid off in a monster hit.
The movie was made on a scrapedtogether budget of NT$50 million (S$2.3 million), but it has broken box-office records in its native Taiwan with takings of over NT$450 million since its release on Aug 22 this year.
Cape No. 7 is the second-highest grossing movie of all time there, after James Cameron's sweeping drama Titanic (1997). It opens in Singapore next Thursday.
Here to promote the movie, the 40-year-old writer/director is casually dressed in a brown sleeveless zip-up vest over T-shirt and jeans at the press conference at Marina Square.
Asked how he feels about the success of his film, he says: 'It's not something I think about. Our greatest satisfaction is that audiences love this movie.'
The soft-spoken man is the same tenacious film-maker who clung on to his film, which is about a no-hope amateur music band in the seaside town of Hengchun, even when things looked grim.
The story weaves in a romance between a Japanese teacher and a Taiwanese woman which took place 60 years ago when Taiwan was a Japanese colony. Cape No. 7 refers to the woman's address.
The never-say-die spirit of the characters struck a chord with Taiwanese audiences and the film has turned into a cultural phenomenon, a bright spark amid political scandals in the country and gloomy economic news.
The film has created a tourism boom in Hengchun, as fans visit the locations featured in the film.
Wei says: 'There is a reason for this. Everyone has been waiting for something good to happen and this film happened to fulfil those expectations. Hence, everyone wants to be part of this event.'
The movie grew by word of mouth and by the fifth week of its release, the takings reached NT$20 million a day, 10 times more than what most Taiwanese films earn in their entire run.
He describes Cape No. 7 as an experiment, made at a time when the Taiwanese film industry was in the doldrums because it seemed that audiences were not interested in local movies.
He says: 'The film industry here was at its nadir. No money, no stars, so I thought let's try making a film with no stars, and we had to borrow money.'
Filming started in September last year and he says: 'It was a financial crisis, but it was a project I wanted to realise.'
There was no question of giving up. He says: 'Only by completing the film was there the possibility of recouping costs.'
He borrowed NT$15 million from banks and friends.
In addition to money woes, he also had to deal with bad weather as a typhoon tore through the seaside town of Hengchun on the third day of filming. 'Every three hours, we would brave the wind and rain to check whether the beach was still there to film,' he recalls.
'Not only did it not disappear, the grass was covered by sand and gave us an even bigger expanse of beach to film on.'
The beach was crucial to the film as it was the setting for the finale concert.
He can finally breathe a sigh of relief now that Cape No. 7 has proven to be a champ at the local box office.
'I received in one fell swoop all that was not given to me previously. My only worry is whether it includes my future rewards as well, then what would I do?'
It has been a long journey to get to where he is today.
He started out with a small production company, became an assistant director for the late Edward Yang's satirical drama Mahjong (1996) and was the associate producer for Chen Kuo-fu's horror thriller Double Vision (2002).
Yang was named Best Director at Cannes for A One And A Two (2000), an epic family drama. Chen was a film critic turned film-maker who did the acclaimed romantic drama The Personals (1998).
From Yang, Wei learnt to 'persist and not give up'. From Chen, he learnt 'when to relax and not be too insistent'.
He has superceded his teachers by making a film that is both critically well-received and a huge money-spinner.
He took on menial jobs from 1995 to 1998 in order to shoot a number of short films, which were well received. He has worked as a waiter and warehouse manager and even distributed flyers.
He says: 'I've asked why I fell in love with film-making, but that's something that can't be changed. This industry is too captivating.
'You tell stories to others and turn stories into images. That's really fun and it gives me a sense of accomplishment.'
He is married and the father of a six-year-old boy. His first feature was the coming-of-age film About July (1999). It did not get a commercial release though he rented a cinema hall to have it screened for about a week.
Cape No. 7 has been selected to represent Taiwan for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category and has nine nominations for the Golden Horse awards, including for Best Film and Best Director. Only Peter Chan's period epic The Warlords had more nominations at 12.
Wei is excited about the film travelling to foreign screens. 'Hong Kong and Singapore are our first stops. I'm hoping for a good showing but I'm also worried about whether it can get as big a response outside Taiwan.'
His next project is titled Seediq Bale, about the battle for freedom fought by an indigenous Taiwanese tribe against the Japanese in 1930. He hopes to start filming later next year.
With the benefit of hindsight, given all that he had to go through, would he still have made Cape No. 7?
The answer is an unequivocal yes.
He says: 'If I don't do it now, then when? I wanted a beginning and when people don't give you that opportunity, you create one for yourself.'
» Cape No. 7 opens here next Thursday.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 19, 2008.