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Korean Horror Thriller Tops Asian Film Awards

Asian Film Awards nominations

The nominees for the 1st Asian Film Awards were unveiled on Jan. 29. The awards ceremony, to be held on March 20, will open the 31st Hong Kong Film Festival.

According to the Asian Film Academy’s mission statement, the awards were created to “to acknowledge the finest of Asian Cinema, and bestow honor in various categories to film artists from across Asia, in the company of distinguished celebrities from around the world as guests and presenters.”

“From across Asia”?

The vast majority of the nominated films hail from East Asia. India received only one nomination, while apart from Iran’s two nods, West Asia was completely ignored and so was Central Asia. (Not to mention northern Asia, though I’m not sure if a Siberian movie would officially qualify as “Asian.”)

South Korean cinema, for its part, was particularly well represented. The local blockbuster (and top Korean Film Awards winner) The Host, a comedy-horror-thriller about a mutant monster, garnered five nods, including best film and best actor (Song Kang-ho), while the psychological drama Woman on the Beach received three, including best director and best screenplay nods for Hong Sang-soo.

Among the other best film nominees are Venice Film Festival winner Still Life, a social drama directed by Jia Zhang-Ke; Garin Nugroho’s Indonesian-Austrian drama with music Opera Jawa, the tale of a tragic love triangle; Yôji Yamada’s Love and Honor, the story of a blind Samurai and his devoted wife; Johnnie To’s crime thriller Exiled; and Zhang Yimou’s highly successful period drama Curse of the Golden Flower, which also received nominations for best actress (Gong Li) and best visual effects.

Other nominees include Zhang Ziyi, vying for the best actress prize for The Banquet, and Ken Watanabe, competing in the best actor category for his performance as a man diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in Memories of Tomorrow. Chang Chen, at one point the favorite to win last year’s Best Actor Golden Horse for The Go Master – until Chinese authorities decided to withdraw the film from competition – is also in the running.

The 2007 Hong Kong Film Festival runs March 20–April 11.

Asian Film Awards: Monster Movie Tops

“It’s almost strange that it’s the first ceremony,” remarked French director Luc Besson at the 1st Asian Film Awards presentation held this evening at Hong Kong’s Convention and Exhibition Centre, as part of the 31st Hong Kong International Film Festival which kicked off last night.

“Good films come from everywhere,” added Besson. “Artists are like mushrooms, a little sun, a little water and they grow, they don’t need passports, visas to create.”

The South Korean sci-fi-horror, political suspense thriller, and comedy-drama (yup, it’s all that) The Host came out as the big winner of the evening, with a total of four awards: best film, best actor (Song Kang-ho, left, as the film’s ditzy blond), best cinematographer (Kim Hyung-goo), and best visual effects (The Orphanage).

Directed by Bong Joon-ho, who somehow failed to get a nomination, The Host tells the story of a Seoul family whose life is turned upside down when a human-eating mutant creature flees with their little girl to one of the city’s many sewers.

Dripping with anti-American sentiment – the insatiable creature is the result of an American scientist’s disregard for the local environment, while the ensuing hysteria is the result of the American government and military’s ineptitude – and with utter contempt for South Korean authorities – who are portrayed as imbecile vassals to the Americans, The Host is a subversive action thriller – peppered with humor and drama – that is reminiscent of the Hollywood and Japanese sci-fi-cum-horror movies (Them!, Gojira / Godzilla) of the 1950s.

The Host is “not only about anti-Americanism but about problems in Korea,” said executive producer Choi Yong-bae. “For example, asking for help from the police who don’t return any help.” The Host, by the way, has become the biggest box office hit in Korean history.

The Asian Film Award film award for best director went to Jia Zhangke (above, top) for the Chinese production Still Life (above), about the social impact of the Three Gorges Dam on a small Sichuan town. Still Life was the surprise Golden Lion winner at last year’s Venice Film Festival.

Japanese performer Miki Nakatani was chosen best actress for her portrayal of a woman with a turbulent history – from school teacher to Yakuza moll to demented bag lady – in Tetsuya Nakashima’s Memories of Matsuko, described by Variety‘s Russell Edwards as a “musical parody of Japanese melodramas about fallen women.”

The best screenplay award went to writer-director Mani Haghighi for the Iranian comedy-drama Men at Work, inspired by an original story by Abbas Kiarostami. Men at Work revolves around four men determined to make a protruding rock roll down a mountainside. The rock, however, won’t budge.

Other winners were composer Rahayu Supanggah for Garin Nugroho’s Austrian-Indonesian musical Opera Jawa; editor Lee Chatametikool for Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Thai-Austrian-French drama Syndromes and a Century; and production designer Tim Yip for Feng Xiaogang’s Hong Kong-Chinese epic The Banquet.

An honorary award for “outstanding contribution to Asian cinema” was given to Hong Kong screen veteran Josephine Siao (a.k.a. Josephine Siao Fong-fong), while U.S. film academic David Bordwell, who has written on Hong Kong cinema and has helped save prints of Chinese films, received the award for “excellence in scholarship in Asian cinema”. (Bordwell’s Hong Kong diary can be found here.)

“I really don’t think I deserve this honor,” said Siao, who turned 60 last March 13, upon receiving her award from Luc Besson. “There are so many wonderful filmmakers, actors and actresses who deserve this much more than I do, but this is such a marvelous gift for my 60th birthday that I must zap it home as quickly as I can before the organizers change their mind.” The actress then performed a little magic trick – of the sort she used to do in her films in her days as a child star – to send her statuette home.

Siao, who is reportedly deaf, has avoided public appearances. Her last film was Kei Shu’s enjoyable comedy-drama Hu Du Men / Stage Door, released in 1996.

Though the Asian Film Award ceremony is clearly modeled after the Oscars – among the presenters were stars Michelle Yeoh, Johnnie To, and Maggie Q – the winners are not chosen by members of an Asian Film Academy. Instead, a jury comprised of 17 film industry professionals, festival organizers, and critics picked this year’s winners.

“If you look at the world today, it’s mainly dominated by the Oscars in the U.S. and other film festivals in Europe,” said Hong Kong Film Festival chairman Wilfred Wong. “We are definitely following in the footsteps of what the Oscars [are] doing.”

The Hong Kong festival, which runs until April 11, will screen approximately 300 films, including 16 world premieres. The festival’s opening gala presentations were Yau Nai-hoi’s Eye in the Sky, starring Tony Leung Ka-fai and Simon Yam, and Berlinale contender I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK, directed by Park Chan-wook, and starring Lim Su-jeong and pop singer Rain.

Josephine Siao quote: Monsters & Critics

Asian Film Award nominations: Jan. 29. Winners: Grand Hall, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, March 20.

Best Film
Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia / Curse of the Golden Flower, Hong Kong / China
Fong juk / Exiled, Hong Kong
* Gwoemul / The Host, South Korea
Bushi no ichibun / Love and Honor, Japan
Opera Jawa, Indonesia / Austria
Sanxia Haoren / Still Life, China

Best Director
HONG Sang-soo, Haebyonui yoin / Woman on the Beach, South Korea
* JIA Zhangke, Sanxia Haoren / Still Life, China
Jafar PANAHI, Offside, Iran
Johnnie TO, Exiled, Hong Kong
TSAI Ming-liang, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, Taiwan / France / Austria
Apichatpong WEERASETHAKUL, Sang sattawat / Syndromes and a Century, Thailand / Austria / France

Best Actor
CHANG Chen, Wu Qingyuan / The Go Master, China
RAIN (JUNG Ji-hoon), Saibogujiman kwenchana / I’m A Cybord, But That’s OK, South Korea
Shahrukh KHAN, DON, India
Andy LAU, A Battle of Wits, Japan / Hong Kong / China / South Korea
* SONG Kang-ho, Gwoemul / The Host, South Korea
Ken WATANABE, Ashita no kioku / Memories of Tomorrow, Japan

Best Actress
GONG Li, Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia / Curse of the Golden Flower, Hong Kong / China
KIM Hye-soo, Tazza: The High Rollers, South Korea
LIM Soo-jung, Saibogujiman kwenchana / I’m A Cybord, But That’s OK, South Korea
Rie MIYAZAWA, Hana, Japan
* Miki NAKATANI, Kiraware Matsuko no isshô / Memories of Matsuko, Japan
ZHANG Ziyi, Ye yan / The Banquet, Hong Kong / China

Best Screenwriter
* Mani HAGHIGHI, Kargaran mashghoole karand / Men at Work, Iran
HONG Sang-soo, Haebyonui yoin / Woman on the Beach, South Korea
Tetsuya OISHI, Shusuke KANEKO, Desu nôto: The last name / Death Note: The Last Name, Japan
SOHN Jae-gon, My Scary Girl, South Korea
Prabda YOON, Invisible Waves, Thailand / The Netherlands / South Korea / Hong Kong
ZHANG Cheng, YUE Xiaojun, NING Hao, Crazy Stone, Hong Kong / China

Best Cinematographer
* KIM Hyung-goo, Gwoemul / The Host, South Korea
Andrew LAU, LAI Yiu-fai, Confession of Pain, Hong Kong
LIAO Pen-jung, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, Taiwan / France / Austria
Sayombhu MUKDEEPROM, Sang sattawat / Syndromes and a Century, Thailand / Austria / France
WANG Yu, Wu Qingyuan / The Go Master, China

Best Editor
* Lee CHATAMETIKOOL, Sang sattawat / Syndromes and a Century, Thailand / Austria / France
KIM Sun-min, Gwoemul / The Host, South Korea
Angie LAM, Dog Bite Dog, Japan / Hong Kong
PARK Gok-ji, JEONG Jin-hee, Biyeolhan geori / A Dirty Carnival, South Korea
Patrick TAM, Fu zi / After This Our Exile, Hong Kong

Best Composer
JEONG Yong-jin, Haebyonui yoin / Woman on the Beach, South Korea
Peter KAM, Isabella, Hong Kong
LIM Giong, Sanxia Haoren / Still Life, China
* Rahayu SUPANGGAH, Opera Jawa, Indonesia / Austria
Tamiya TERASHIMA, Tales from Earthsea, Japan

Best Production Designer
CHO Keun-hyun, Forbidden Quest, South Korea
Towako KUWAJIMA, Kiraware Matsuko no isshô / Memories of Matsuko, Japan
Patrick TAM, Cyurs HO, Fu zi / After This Our Exile, Hong Kong
WADA Emi, Wu Qingyuan / The Go Master, China
* Tim YIP, Ye yan / The Banquet, Hong Kong / China

Best Visual Effects
Angela BARSON, CHUNG Chi-hang, Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia / Curse of the Golden Flower, Hong Kong / China
DTI (Digital Tetra Inc.) ETRI, The Restless, South Korea
Tetsuo OHYA, Makoto KAMIYA, Katsuro ONOUE, The Sinking of Japan, Japan
* The Orphanage, Gwoemul / The Host, South Korea
YANAGAWASE Masahide, Kiraware Matsuko no isshô / Memories of Matsuko, Japan

Honary Award for outstanding contribution to Asian cinema: Actress Josephine Siao Fong-fong (Hong Kong)

Honary Award for excellence in scholarship in Asian cinema: Film academic David Bordwell (United States)

Nielsen Box Office Star of Asia Award: Actor Andy Lau

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