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11th Asian Film Awards Preview: The Nominated Films
With the ceremony less than two weeks away, we take a closer look at this year's major nominated titles.
The Wailing (South Korea)
Nominations: Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Sound
Na Hong Jin collected awards and scared audiences with a serial killer in 2008's The Chaser and a brutal assassin in 2010's The Yellow Sea. He goes full horror with his third feature, an occult thriller that won him Best Director at the Blue Dragon Film Awards. Starring Kwak Do Won as a police officer, Hwang Jung Min as a shamanistic priest, and the nominated Kunimura Jun as a mysterious Japanese outsider, The Wailing begins with a series of mysterious violent deaths in a rural village and simmers into a terrifying epic in which all things gruesome come to a head.
The Age of Shadows (South Korea)
Nominations: Best Film, Best Cinematographer, Best Composer
After a lukewarm venture into Hollywood, genre master Kim Jee Woon takes the gloves back off with his first Korean feature-length film since 2010's I Saw the Devil. Warner Brother's first Korean-language production, period espionage thriller The Age of Shadows is set during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and filled with the elaborate set pieces and eye-popping action that Kim is known for. Song Kang Ho and Gong Yoo bring both star power and screen presence as two men of opposing loyalties who form a tense friendship amid an increasingly violent tangle of contending spies, freedom fighters and Japanese villains.
Nominations: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor
Fukada Koji has been making a name for himself in the festival circuit the past few years with unexpectedly subversive works like Sayonara and Au revoir l' ete. The rising filmmaker delivers his sharpest yet in the anything-but-harmonious dark family drama Harmonium, which won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard sidebar of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Asano Tadanobu both impresses and shocks as a mysterious and aggressive ex-convict whose arrival gradually disrupts and destroys a suburban family of three.
Nominations: Best Film, Best Actor, Best Composer
Two comedians of different generations, Hong Kong legend Michael Hui and Taiwan variety program staple Na Dow are the unlikely travel mates of Soul director Chung Mong Hong's black comedy, crime thriller and buddy road film all rolled into one. In a welcome return to the silver screen, Hui applies his wry and witty comedic delivery to the role of a struggling taxi driver who picks up Na Dow's drug mule for a long-haul ride in which many, many things go wrong.
I Am Not Madame Bovary (China)
Nominations: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematographer
Golden Horse Best Director winner Feng Xiaogang pulls a fast one yet again with this offbeat satirical fable that's inexplicably presented in circular image format for most of the film. The famously glamorous Fan Bingbing, who won Best Actress at the San Sebastian Film Festival, plays against type as a rural woman who takes her ex-husband to court for tricking her into divorce. After losing the case locally, she stubbornly takes her grievances up the bureaucratic ladder all the way to Beijing, but gets snubbed at every level by evasive officials. Funnyman Da Peng, a blockbuster filmmaker himself, gets an acting nod for his sympathetic role as the first judge to rule against the protagonist.
Soul Mate (China/Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Director, Best Composer
Derek Tsang is very unlikely to win Best Director, but just getting nominated is an important validation for the Hong Kong actor-turned-director whose talents had long been overshadowed by his association with his more famous father, Eric Tsang. Produced by Peter Chan, Tsang's engaging drama about the evolving friendship of two women (Zhou Dongyu and Ma Sichun) through the years has already collected numerous accolades and leads with 12 nominations for the upcoming 36th Hong Kong Film Awards.
The Woman Who Left (Philippines)
Nominations: Best Director, Best Actress, Best Screenwriter
Winner of the Golden Lion at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival, Lav Diaz's The Woman Who Left sees the comeback of Charo Santos-Conci in the leading role of a falsely imprisoned woman who regains her freedom after 30 years. Faced with a shattered family and a vastly changed, yet just-as-unjust world, she plots revenge against the former lover – now a rich mob boss – who framed her for murder. Per usual for the Filipino auteur, The Woman Who Left is shot in B&W and generous in runtime, though relatively short by his standards at only 228 minutes. The slow-moving, far-reaching opus uses a personal narrative to reflect on the contemporary state of the director's homeland.
Train to Busan (South Korea)
Nominations: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Editor, Best Costume Designer, Best Visual Effects
Arthouse animator Yeon Sang Ho announced himself as a commercial force with the zombie blockbuster Train to Busan. An impeccably balanced high-speed ride of gory action thrills and teary sacrifices, the film not only pulled in over 11 million admissions locally, but also set Korean cinema records around Asia. In Hong Kong, Train to Busan surpassed all Chinese-language films to become the city's highest-grossing Asian film of all time. As the hero of the story, Gong Yoo might not win Best Actor, but he's already won all the fans with back-to-back successes on both the big and small screens. Ma Dong Seok is pitch-perfect, as always, as the gruff guy with hard fists and a soft heart.
Mr. No Problem (China)
Nominations: Best Actor, Best Cinematographer
Best known for his work on Lou Ye films including Summer Palace and Mystery, screenwriter-turned-director Mei Feng adapts a story by Lao She into a black-and-white wartime-set political satire about the many problems caused by Mr. No Problem. Fan Wei, who won Best Actor at the Golden Horse Awards, plays a shameless yet affable farm manager who is remarkably inefficient in production but an expert at currying favor. Try as they might, the farm owners can't seem to get rid of this slippery old hand who applies Machiavellian schemes to preserve his cushy position.
Trivisa (Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenwriter
Deliberately paced and deceptively intelligent, the Johnnie To-produced Trivisa continues Milkyway Image's calling card of tense crime dramas, but instead of delivering action thrills, the film ponders the allegorical conflict between action and inaction. Symbolism and subtext abound in the story of three notorious criminals struggling to make livelihood decisions and compromises on the eve of Hong Kong's Handover back to China. Helmed by a trio of new directors, the film netted seven Hong Kong Film Awards nominations and won Best Film and Best Actor for Gordon Lam from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society. It's Richie Jen who gets the AFA nod for his role as a brazen robber who trades in his gun for cross-border smuggling.
The Last Princess (South Korea)
Nominations: Best Actress
Reuniting with director Hur Jin Ho a decade after April Snow, Son Ye Jin earned her first AFA nomination – and Best Actress at the Daejong Film Awards – for her portrayal of Princess Deokhye, the Joseon Dynasty's ill-fated last princess who spent a lifetime trying to return to Korea. Gracefully depicting the protagonist from youth to old age, she essays the tragic life of a fallen royal born during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Unable to reign freely, Deokhye was forced to move to Japan and marry a Japanese man. Even after Korea's liberation, she was barred for years from returning to her homeland by a Korean government whose leadership feared the reinstatement of royal rule.
A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Japan) Nominations: Best Actress, Best Production Designer
Kuroki Haru has racked up numerous awards at home and abroad in her fairly short time as an actress. Previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2015, she lands her first AFA Best Actress nomination as the heroine of Iwai Shunji's meanderingly meaningful exploration of a young woman's awakening. Though surrounded by louder characters, Kuroki holds the film's focus as a soft-spoken woman whose yearning to make a connection leads her into a short-lived marriage, and then a curious, rapturous journey of odd jobs, friendships and true love.
Happiness (Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Actress
Kara Hui elevates a simple story to extraordinary in screenwriter Andy Lo's directorial debut about an aged, absentminded woman and the rebellious young man she takes in as a tenant. Though Happiness is less well-known than other films in the Best Actress category, the veteran could well pull ahead of the pack. Hui, who previously won Best Supporting Actress at the 4th Asian Film Awards, is natural and nuanced as an outspoken yet vulnerable woman who forms a makeshift family with Carlos Chan's angry youth as they both come to terms with the implications of her dementia diagnosis.
Nominations: Best Supporting Actor, Best Newcomer, Best Composer, Best Editor
Lee Sang Il gathers a staggering all-star cast for an uncommon human suspense drama based on a Yoshida Shuichi novel. The case of a murderer-on-the-run launches three story threads in which three men of mysterious origins suddenly appear and gain the trust of new friends and lovers. As news of the vaguely familiar-looking fugitive killer spreads, however, the seeds of doubt and suspicion are planted in the minds of the three men's acquaintances and the audience. Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Ayano Go plays one of the suspects, a brooding gay man who takes up with Tsumabuki Satoshi's slick ad executive.
The Handmaiden (South Korea)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actress, Best Newcomer, Best Screenwriter, Best Production Designer, Best Editor, Best Costume Designer
Park Chan Wook's provocative period erotic drama was shut out of the top categories, but nonetheless came up with a leading six nominations, including a writing nod for the director. Best Newcomer nominee Kim Tae Ri impresses in a daring debut as a pickpocket who falls in love with the heiress she's supposed to be swindling, while Moon So Ri is memorable in the brief but important supporting role of the aunt whose suicide traumatizes Kim Min Hee's protagonist character.
See You Tomorrow (China/Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actress, Best Production Designer, Best Costume Designer, Best Visual Effects
The Wong Kar Wai-produced comedy-drama See You Tomorrow by writer-turned-director Zhang Jiajia divided audiences and critics with its offbeat humor and story, but when it comes to the art direction and visuals, there's not much to complain about with WKW regulars Alfred Yau on Production Design and William Chang on Costume Design. Lynn Xiong also earned her first Best Supporting Actress nod for her role as the ex-girlfriend of Eason Chan's struggling singer.
The Salesman (Iran/France)
Nominations: Best Screenwriter
Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi and his Oscar-winning The Salesman became the sudden center of a political conversation earlier in the year due to the U.S. travel ban that affected his ability to attend the 89th Academy Awards (he opted to not attend regardless). Besides the Best Foreign Language Film win, the drama about the leads of a Death of a Salesman play, and how their relationship devolves after moving into an apartment formerly occupied by a prostitute, has won Best Screenplay and Best Actor at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Asghar Farhadi previously won Best Film and Best Director in 2012 with A Separation.
Your Name (Japan)
Nominations: Best Screenwriter
Shinkai Makoto's animated crowd-pleaser was Japanese cinema's miracle story of 2016, topping the box office for nine consecutive weeks on its way to becoming Japan's second biggest film of all time. The visionary filmmaker has long been lauded for his stunningly beautiful animation but criticized for his muddled storytelling, so it's no small achievement that his nomination comes in the writing category. With Your Name, Shinkai has produced his tautest script while still keeping his favored sci-fi, fantasy, coming-of-age and romance elements in a warm, vivacious story about a high school boy and girl who swap bodies. Your Name won Best Screenplay at the 40th Japan Academy Prize, and it is the first animated film since Ponyo in 2009 to get an AFA nomination.
The Mohican Comes Home (Japan)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actress
Maeda Atsuko has come a long way since her days as the face of J-pop supergroup AKB48. The former idol offers a calm, straight-talking voice of reason as the unfazed pregnant girlfriend of Matsuda Ryuhei's irresponsible rocker during their trip back to his remote island hometown in Okita Shuichi's comedy drama.
Mad World (Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actress
Wong Chun's praised debut feature takes on the sensitive topic of mental illness. Veteran Elaine Jin won Best Supporting Actress at the 53rd Golden Horse Awards for her portrayal of a physically ill and mentally unstable mother who lashes out at her increasingly tired and anguished son.
Nominations: Best Supporting Actress
Sweeping six prizes at the 62nd Filmfare Awards, the nerve-wracking and emotionally piercing Neerja relays the events of the 1986 Pan Am Flight 73 hijacking and the courage of the flight attendant who gave her life saving passengers. The legendary Shabana Azmi adds to her accolades in the heartbreaking role of the eponymous heroine's mother.
Nominations: Best Newcomer, Best Editor
Boo Junfeng's Un Certain Regard entry follows the heavy footsteps of a conflicted young correctional officer – played by television star Firdaus Rahman in his feature debut – who transfers to a maximum security prison and begins working under the chief executioner.
Weeds on Fire (Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Newcomer
An infielder on Hong Kong's national baseball team, Tony Wu Tsz Tung brings baseball credibility and raw acting chops to his screen debut as a rebellious high schooler in Steve Chan's coming-of-age sports drama, which garnered eight nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
Mermaid (China/Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Newcomer
Stephen Chow is known for launching the careers of young actresses, and his latest discovery, Jelly Lin, charmingly headlines China's biggest film of all time in her debut role as a bumbling, waddling mermaid who falls in love with the cocky businessman she was tasked to kill.
The Wasted Times (China)
Nominations: Best Cinematographer, Best Costume Designer
Yee Chung Man has more awards than he can shake a stick at, including Production Designer and Costume Designer trophies from the 6th Asian Film Awards. This year, he's nominated again for Cheng Er's sprawling crime drama set during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Cinematographer Du Jie, best known for his work with Ning Hao, also scores his first nomination.
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Published March 8, 2017