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Taiwan's first female director passes away at age 103

Chen Wen-min took up writing, directing films to support family’s theater business

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A newspaper advertisement of Chen's film, "The Enchantress Steals the Husband." (Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute photo)

A newspaper advertisement of Chen's film, "The Enchantress Steals the Husband." (Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Chen Wen-min (陳文敏), Taiwan’s first female film director, passed away in Hawaii on Friday (Feb. 11).

Chen’s son told CNA that in the final years of her life, Chen had settled in Hawaii and relied on hospice care provided by three of her grandchildren who worked as physicians. He recalled his mother taking up writing and directing to support the family’s theater, “Da Ming Theater” (大明戲院), as well as providing for the family when her husband suffered an injury.

He recalled his family having to travel throughout Taiwan in his childhood, as it was the only way to show films at local outdoor theaters where there were no cinemas. “My older brothers and sisters had to chase after trains carrying their luggage. My mother was not a quitter; she provided for the family like this,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Culture (MOC), Chen was born to a prosperous family in today’s Sanchong District, New Taipei City. She took over the construction management of the Da Ming Theater immediately after giving birth to her seventh child; when the theater struggled to make money after opening in 1954, she joined film productions and selected popular films to screen at the theater, introducing hits such as “Gone with the Wind,” “Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto,” and “Knights of the Round Table.”

Chen was famous for making “tearjerker” family drama films in the 1950s; her films discussed family and relationship issues and were loved by female audiences for denouncing cold-hearted men, conflicts between the wife and mother-in-law, and polygynists. The MOC dubbed her a notable figure of feminism in an age when women’s rights were still overlooked.