HONG KONG – At the launch of Yang Teng-kuei’s Polyface Entertainment Media Group in March 2011, the guest-list read like a who’s who of Taiwanese politics and showbusiness: among those present at the ceremony were political heavyweights such as the parliamentary speaker Wang Jin-pyng and Taichung mayor Jason Hu, and regional showbiz A-listers like Shu Qi and Carina Lau.
It was a stellar crowd and spoke volumes about Yang’s pedigree in the island’s entertainment industry: he announced Polyface was a company built on funds amounting to roughly $172 million (NT$5 billion), and his return to producing films was welcomed with much fanfare. Among Polyface’s first financed films is Andrew Lau’s The Guillotines, which has just been released on mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan during the Christmas/New Year break.
With this comeback, Yang – who has died, aged 74, of a stroke in Taipei on Dec. 31 – has brought about the latest and last twist in a life dogged by controversy. Having made his name with a successful concert hall in the southern port city of Kaohsiung in the early 1980s, he would diversify into movies and had a hand in financing movies as varied as Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness, which won the Venice Film Festival’s top prize in 1989, and Jet Li’s Hong Kong martial arts comedy Fong Sai-yuk.
While Yang was revered for his contribution in placing Taiwanese cinema on the map, he was also a marked man in the authorities’ eyes: having been linked with local mobs since his youth, he was arrested in 1985 and spent three years at Green Island – the far-flung prison off Taiwan’s southeastern coast. A year after A City of Sadness’ triumph at Venice, Yang was again jailed in a crackdown on organized crime. Yang has since received roughly $16,000 (NT$480,000) from the government in compensation for what he claimed to be his imprisonment without a proper legal trial.
Yang spent the 1990s investing in Taiwan’s fledging television industry, but he was mired in controversy again during this time, as one of his station’s channels was implicated in a baseball gambling scandal – an incident which led to him living years in self-exile. But his connections and charisma have led him to progress to prosperity: his company has announced a charity concert to be held in his name later, an act which showed Yang’s legacy in Taiwan’s entertainment industry.