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16th Asian Film Awards Preview: The Nominated Films

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The Asian Film Awards (AFA), which was postponed in 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, returns in 2023 with its 16th edition. The Asian Film Awards ceremony also returns to Hong Kong this year after being held in Busan for the past two editions.

Launched in 2007 as a joint initiative of the Busan, Hong Kong and Tokyo International Film Festivals, the Asian Film Awards celebrates excellence in Asian cinema. This year, 30 films from 22 regions are nominated in 16 award categories. Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou, the winner of Best Director at the 15th AFA, serves as the Jury President. Japanese actor Abe Hiroshi has been announced as the recipient of the Excellence in Asian Cinema Award, and Hong Kong action legend Sammo Hung will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The 16th Asian Film Awards ceremony will be held on March 12, 2023, at the Hong Kong Palace Museum for the first time. Read on for a quick primer on all the nominated films!

Updated March 13, 2023: * indicates winner.

Decision To Leave

Decision to Leave (South Korea)

Nominations: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress*, Best Screenplay*, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Music, Best Production Design*, Best Sound

Leading the race with ten nominations, Park Chan Wook's Decision to Leave unfolds an intoxicating romantic mystery through a noir lens. Indulging in the cinematic allure of ambiguity, the film employs bold visual language to capture subtle emotions and elusive characters entangled in a disorienting fatal attraction. Park Hae Il plays an obsessive police detective who becomes increasingly drawn to a charming and enigmatic murder suspect, portrayed by Tang Wei. Decision to Leave has dominated the Korean awards circuit by sweeping top prizes from the Blue Dragon, Daejong and Buil Film Awards.

Drive My Car

Drive My Car (Japan)

Nominations: Best Film*, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Editing*, Best Original Music*, Best Sound

Based on a short story by Murakami Haruki, Drive My Car has already swept the Japan Academy Prize and picked up a slew of accolades around the world, including Best International and Foreign Language Film awards from the Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs and numerous film critics associations. The Asian Film Awards may be the last stop for Hamaguchi Ryusuke's acclaimed 2021 feature starring Nishijima Hidetoshi as a widowed theater director coming to terms with the passing of his wife. The slow-burning yet intense drama patiently explores love, loss and self amid slow drives on the road and the staging of a multilingual Uncle Vanya production.


Poet (Kazakhstan)

Nominations: Best Film, Best Director

Inspired by German writer Hermann Hesse's short story "The Author's Evening," Kazakh filmmaker Darezhan Omirbayev contemplates the lives of two poets, past and present, in Poet, which won him Best Director at the 34th Tokyo International Film Festival. Didar (Yerdos Kanayev) is a poet who works as an editor for a small newspaper, and he's well aware that writing is a dying art. He begins to reconsider the meaning and life of a poet while thinking about Makhambet Otemisuly, a 19th-century rebel poet who was killed for revolting against Russian colonialism.

Ponniyin Selvan

Ponniyin Selvan: Part I (India)

Nominations: Best Film, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Music, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design

Directed by Mani Ratnam, Ponniyin Selvan is based on Kalki Krishnamurthy's 1955 novel about turmoil during the reign of Chola Emperor Sundara Chozhar. Set in Thanjavur in the tenth century, the action-adventure is the second biggest Tamil-language film of all time. Beginning with the omen of a comet in the skies, the film unfurls a rich tale of royal intrigue, war and treachery. The first of two films, Ponniyin Selvan: Part 1 stages epic struggle and spectacle with Chiyaan Vikram as crown prince Aditha Karikalan, Jayam Ravi as prince Arulmozhi Varman, and Karthi as Vandiyathevan who discovers a conspiracy for the throne.

When the Waves Are Gone

When the Waves Are Gone (Philippines)

Nominations: Best Film, Best Screenplay

Lav Diaz has twice been nominated for Best Director at the AFA, but this is the first time his work has been nominated for Best Film. Clocking in at a relatively lean length of 187 minutes, When the Waves Are Gone embodies the auteur's unmistakable style and themes while portraying the moral corrosion and corruption of Filipino society and institutions. John Lloyd Cruz from History of Ha and The Woman Who Left plays a top lieutenant who is troubled by the police's brutal anti-drug campaign as well as his own violent behavior. As he seeks truth and reckoning, a threat from his past closes in. When the Waves Are Gone premiered out of competition at the 79th Venice International Film Festival.


Broker (South Korea)

Nominations: Best Director*, Best Newcomer

A regular of the Asian Film Awards, Kore-eda Hirokazu is nominated for Best Director once again, this time for his first Korean film Broker. The Japanese auteur brings his signature naturalistic touch and humanistic themes to the unexpected road journey of two black-market adoption brokers, a young mother, a chatty boy and a baby. While looking for the right parents to adopt the infant, the five form an unlikely found family that is as hopeful as it is fragile. Popular singer-actor Lee Ji Eun, better known as IU, adds another feather in her cap with her performance as the young woman who determinedly joins the brokers to find new parents for her baby.

Return to Seoul

Return to Seoul (Cambodia)

Nominations: Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Newcomer, Best Editing, Best Original Music, Best Sound

A chaotic young woman who was adopted from South Korea and raised in France impulsively returns to Seoul to find her identity in Cambodian-French director Davy Chou's second narrative feature. Captured in a magnetic performance by newcomer Park Ji Min, the free-spirited Freddie is both drawn to and put off by her familial roots, as she ponders the lives she never led and the people she'll never be. Character actor Oh Kwang Rok portrays Freddie's biological father in this riveting journey of self-exploration. Return to Seoul was selected for the Un Certain Regard sidebar of the 75th Cannes Film Festival, and won Best Director and Best New Performance at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.


Egoist (Japan)

Nominations: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor*, Best Costume Design

Pieta in the Toilet director Matsunaga Daishi presents a poignant character study and relationship drama about two gay men in Egoist. Suzuki Ryohei is fashion magazine editor Kosuke, whose current success and suave exterior belie the loneliness and repression he experienced in his adolescent years as a closeted youth from a rural village. He strikes up an intimate relationship with his personal trainer Ryota (Miyazawa Hio), and begins to financially support him. Kosuke forms a comfortable bond with both Ryota and Ryota's mother, but the pain of loss is never far away.

Home Coming

Home Coming (Mainland China)

Nominations: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Production Design

When civil unrest breaks out in the fictional Republic of Numia, two Chinese diplomats navigate great dangers to evacuate Chinese citizens out of the war-torn nation in Rao Xiaozhi's rousing blockbuster Home Coming, which is inspired by true events. Scoring his second Best Actor nomination after One Second, Zhang Yi plays the senior diplomat determined to bring his compatriots home. Yin Tao garnered a Best Supporting Actress nom for her performance as the leader of a group of Chinese nationals waiting for rescue in a rebel-controlled war zone.

World War III

World War III (Iran)

Nominations: Best Actor

Co-written, directed and produced by Houman Seyyedi, World War III won Best Film and Best Actor for Mohsen Tanabandeh in the Orizzonti section of the 79th Venice Film Festival. Mohsen Tanabandeh plays homeless day laborer Shakib who's suddenly given the chance to star as Hitler in a film about WWII. Though Shakib is reluctant to take the role at first, the situation changes when he's allowed to live on the house set. However, his life-changing opportunity is at risk when he breaks set rules to secretly help his girlfriend. Mohsen Tanabandeh's performance transforms with the unpredictable narrative that daringly twists and turns through satire, tragedy and thriller.

Where the Wind Blows

Where the Wind Blows (Hong Kong)

Nominations: Best Actor*, Best Supporting Actor, Best Production Design

Philip Yung's Where the Wind Blows depicts the crime, corruption and romanticism of 1960s Hong Kong through the rise and fall of the city's two most notorious corrupt cops, portrayed by Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Aaron Kwok. Leung receives his fourth AFA nomination for his portrayal of chief detective sergeant Nam Kong in the decades-spanning crime thriller. Nam Kong and fellow chief detective Lui Lok build a powerful crime empire by dominating both sides of the law, but cracks begin to show in their partnership over time. Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Michael Hui plays an investigator from the ICAC, the law enforcement agency founded to combat endemic corruption in the police force.

A Light Never Goes Out

A Light Never Goes Out (Hong Kong)

Nominations: Best Actress

Hong Kong's iconic neon light signs become a symbol of loss and remembrance in Anastasia Tsang's directorial debut feature. In a performance that won her Best Actress at the 59th Golden Horse Film Awards, the legendary Sylvia Chang plays Mei Heung who is grieving the loss of her husband (Simon Yam), who was a neon sign maker. She often thinks back fondly to their times together under the neon lights. One day, she discovers the key to her late husband's secret workshop and his unfinished dream of rebuilding a dismantled neon sign. Mei Heung begins to learn about the stories and craft behind neon signs in hopes of preserving the workshop and fulfilling his last wish.

American Girl

American Girl (Taiwan)

Nominations: Best Actress

Director Fiona Roan's semi-autobiographical drama follows the rocky adjustment process for a family of four after Lily (Karena Lam) and her two daughters move from America back to Taiwan in the early 2000s during the SARS outbreak. While Lily battles cancer and her husband regularly shuttles to Shenzhen for work, their two America-raised girls must adjust to life in Taiwan. Teenaged Fen (Caitlin Fang), in particular, struggles in school and at home. Her fears, anxieties and anger are all channelled into a strained love-hate relationship with her mother who speaks constantly of death. Also nominated for Best Actress at the 51st Golden Horse Film Awards, Karena Lam is superb as a headstrong yet vulnerable woman trying to do the best for her family.

Before, Now & Then

Before, Now & Then (Indonesia)

Nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design

Based on the novel Jais Darga Namaku by Ahda Imran, Kamila Andini's beguiling period drama Before, Now & Then follows the life of a remarried woman in rural West Java from the 1940s to the 1960s. Happy Salma plays Nana, who loses her husband during the violent strife of the 1940s. To survive, she marries her second husband. In the 1960s, Nana has settled into a comfortable but unfulfilling existence. While struggling to find meaning in her life, she meets an unlikely kindred soul in her husband's mistress, played by Laura Basuki who won the Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance at the 72nd Berlin Film Festival.

Plan 75

Plan 75 (Japan)

Nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best New Director, Best Cinematography

Building on the premise of her short in Ten Years Japan, director Hayakawa Chie gently devastates with a gut-wrenching, dystopian vision of a near-future Japan that has introduced a calmly chilling plan to deal with the challenges of an aging population: voluntary euthanasia. Legendary actress Baisho Chieko plays a senior citizen who begins to consider "Plan 75" after losing her job. She is assisted every step of the way by helpful government workers who must also come to terms with their roles in this callous process, including Kawai Yumi as a staff who provides counseling support. Plan 75 was selected for the Un Certain Regard sidebar of the 75th Cannes Film Festival.

A Man
A Man (Japan)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actress

In Ishikawa Kei's suspense thriller, Ando Sakura plays a widow trying to uncover the identity of her late husband, who may not be who she thought he was. This is the actress's third Asian Film Awards nomination.

Emergency Declaration
Emergency Declaration (South Korea)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress*

Han Jae Rim's nail-biting disaster thriller gathers an all-star ensemble to portray what happens in the skies and on ground when a flight encounters a terrorist attack. The film earned noms for Im Si Wan as the inscrutable antagonist and Kim So Jin as the head flight attendant.

Autobiography (Indonesia)
Nominations: Best New Director, Best Screenplay

Writer-director Makbul Mubarak reflects on the trauma of a nation through the story of a young housekeeper who views his employer, a retired general, like a father figure. When the general runs for mayor, the quiet young man turns into his enforcer. Autobiography won the FIPRESCI prize in the Orrizonti section of the 79th Venice International Film Festival.

Joyland (Pakistan)
Nominations: Best New Director

Winning the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and Queer Palm at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, Saim Sadiq's poignant feature debut explores suppressed yearnings and pushes boundaries with a family saga in which a conservative patriarch demands a grandson, but his married son falls in love with a transgender dancer.

One and Four
One and Four (Mainland China)
Nominations: Best New Director*, Best Cinematography*

Tibetan filmmaker Jigme Trinley recalls the tone and themes of his father Pema Tseden's works in his thrilling debut feature about a forest ranger whose solitary life and natural environs are disrupted by sudden visitors who may be poachers. The film's rich cinematography comes courtesy of Pema Tseden's usual DP Lu Songye.

The Apartment with Two Women
The Apartment with Two Women (South Korea)
Nominations: Best New Director

A mother hits her daughter with a car after an escalating argument in Kim Se In's incisive debut feature about the years-brewing resentment and frustrations between a mother and daughter trying to free themselves of each other.

Anita (Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Newcomer, Best Costume Design*, Best Sound*

Louise Wong makes her debut splash in the title role of Longman Leung's biopic about the life and legacy of Hong Kong superstar Anita Mui. The late diva's famously bold fashion and stage costumes are a key visual element of the nostalgia-laced film.

Lighting Up the Stars
Lighting Up the Stars (Mainland China)
Nominations: Best Newcomer, Best Screenplay, Best Editing

Writer-director Liu Jiangjiang's heartwarming blockbuster, which won two prizes at the 35th Golden Rooster Awards, stars Zhu Yilong as a mortician and ex-convict whose life and mindset change after meeting an orphan girl, played by child star Yang Enyou.

The Sparring Partner
The Sparring Partner (Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Newcomer*

Nominated in 15 categories at the Hong Kong Film Awards, Tin Ho's courtroom crime thriller is based on a grisly real-life family murder case. Stage actor Mak Pui Tung receives a Best Newcomer nod for his performance as one of the killers who flummoxes the prosecution and jury in court.

The Four Walls
The Four Walls (Turkey)
Nominations: Best Original Music

Director Bahman Ghobadi's jauntily scored tale depicts the tragic yet farcical circumstances surrounding a grieving musician who tries to take back what's his after the ocean view of his home gets obstructed by a new building.

Alienoid (South Korea)
Nominations: Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects

Choi Dong Hun's sci-fi actioner unleashes multiple timelines in the present day and the 14th century connected by time travel, aliens and a divine blade. There's a lot happening in this genre-bender, and the visuals duly deliver with costume designs ranging from traditional to futuristic, and special effects manifesting ancient magic and alien attacks.

Moon Man
Moon Man (Mainland China)
Nominations: Best Visual Effects

Shen Teng gets stranded on the moon in this blockbuster sci-fi comedy from the Mahua Fun Age crew. Moon Man is packed with special effects to visualize outer space, lunar life and the hero's only companion on the moon, an expressive kangaroo.

RRR (India)
Nominations: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound

Not only a blockbuster in India, S. S. Rajamouli's crowd-pleasing action epic RRR went viral internationally thanks to its utter visual overload of spectacular effects to mythologize the larger-than-life exploits of two revolutionary heroes who fought against British rule.

Shin Ultraman
Shin Ultraman (Japan)
Nominations: Best Visual Effects

The team behind Shin Godzilla, including writer Anno Hideaki, director Higuchi Shinji and VFX supervisor Saito Atsuki, reassemble to reboot Ultraman. The special effects of this superhero origin story are scaled for blockbuster entertainment while retaining an old-school tokusatsu vibe.

Warriors of Future
Warriors of Future (Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Visual Effects*

Produced by and starring Louis Koo, Hong Kong's biggest sci-fi spectacle ever is set in a post-apocalyptic future that pits humanity against environmental disaster, extraterrestrial invasion and the military-industrial complex. Extensive special effects are rolled out to create robots, monsters, mecha and a giant alien plant that's consuming the city.

Visit YesAsia's Facebook page to see photos from the 16th Asian Film Awards red carpet and winner interviews.

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Published March 3, 2023

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