Surprisingly, the 2013 Golden Horse Award for Best Picture was given to 29-year-old Singaporean director Anthony Chen's feature film debut Ilo Ilo at a ceremony held Saturday night, November 23, in Taipei. Four rounds of voting were needed for jury members to reach their decision. (Golden Horse Awards 2013 winners and nominees.)
"Singapore is a very little country and we made this film with a small budget," said the London-based Chen in his acceptance speech, "so we never dreamed of winning a Best Picture prize. The other nominees are the masters I learned from when I was in film school, so I'm very honored and thankful to them too."
The directors of Ilo Ilo's fellow Best Picture contenders – and Anthony Chen's "masters" – were Johnnie To, for Drug War; Wong Kar Wai, for The Grandmaster; Tsai Ming-liang, for Stray Dogs; and absentee Jia Zhangke, for A Touch of Sin – which has yet to open in China, apparently due to government foot-dragging.
Besides its Best Picture win, Ilo Ilo also took home Golden Horse Awards for Best Debut Director Chen, Best Original Screenplay (also Anthony Chen), and Best Supporting Actress (Yeo Yann Yann).
Set in Singapore during Asia's 1997 financial crisis, Ilo Ilo portrays the deepening bond between a 10-year-old Singaporean boy (Koh Jia Ler) and his Filipino caretaker (Angeli Bayani). Meanwhile, the boy's parents (Chen Tianwen and Yeo Yann Yann) attempt to save both their marriage and their finances. Chen's screenplay was inspired by his own experiences as a little boy.
A mere two years ago, flat broke and with no career prospects, Anthony Chen considered abandoning his dream of becoming a filmmaker to take up either a teaching position or a government job. His wife came to the rescue. "She used to say that Ang Lee's wife supported him for seven years," he told China's Central News Agency, "but we have only been married for four. That means you still have three years."
The Camera d'Or winner at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival – in fact, the first Singaporean film to win any award at Cannes – Ilo Ilo is also Singapore's entry for the 2014 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
More Golden Horse Awards 2013 winners
Among the other 2013 Golden Horse Award winners were Best Actor Lee Kang-sheng and Best Director Tsai Ming-liang for the drama Stray Dogs, the deliberately paced story of an alcoholic man and his two children in the streets of Taipei. A few months ago, Stray Dogs received the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. Also: Li Xuejian was the Best Supporting Actor for Back to 1942, Kuo Shu-yau was the Best New Performer for Step Back to Glory, and Jackie Chan walked away with the Golden Horse for Best Action Choreography for the blockbuster CZ12.
The Golden Horse for Best Adapted Screenplay was handed to Li Qiang for So Young, Chi Po-lin's popular Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above was the Best Documentary, while the Lifetime Achievement Award went to Taiwanese actress Chen Chen (aka Zhen Zhen), who was featured in more than 60 films – including Everlasting Glory, Love in Hawaii, and Women in Love – between 1966 and her retirement from films in 1984.
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Angeli Bayani and Koh Jia Ler Ilo Ilo photo: Memento Films International.