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14th Asian Film Awards Preview: The Nominated Films

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Held annually since 2007, the Asian Film Awards celebrate the best of Asian cinema, from indie favorites to acclaimed blockbusters. This year's Asian Film Awards were always going to be a bit different from the start, because the award ceremony was set to be held in Busan for the first time in alignment with the Busan International Film Festival. Those plans have since been dashed due to COVID-19, but the awards will go on, if not the show itself in its traditional format.

Winners of the 14th Asian Film Awards will be announced on the Asian Film Awards Academy's official YouTube channel on October 28, 2020. This year, 39 films were nominated in 16 categories. Read on for quick takes on all the nominated films!

Parasite (Korea)
Nominations: Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Original Music, Best Production Design

By now, everyone knows about Parasite. Following its global success and historic wins at the Oscars, there's no question that Bong Joon Ho's dark comedy thriller is the forerunner for the top prizes, not to mention Production Design – that house has inspired its own cult following. Bong has already won Best Film twice at the AFA before for The Host and Mother, and he's sure to be adding more hardware to his mantle. Though the film got overlooked in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories, Choi Woo Sik and Lee Jung Eun scored Supporting nominations.

So Long, My Son (Mainland China)
Nominations: Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Editing, Best Production Design

Clocking in at over three hours, Wang Xiaoshuai's sensitive, quietly epic drama spans three decades in the lives of two families linked by friendship, loss, remorse and the social and economic changes of contemporary China. Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei play a married couple who lose their son to a drowning accident partially caused by their friends' son. The grief and guilt follow both families for years on, casting a shadow over even the protagonists' rebellious adopted son. Wang and Yong won Silver Bears for Best Actor and Actress at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival.

A Sun (Taiwan)
Nominations: Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Editing

Writer-director Chung Mong Hong's masterful family drama A Sun emerged as the biggest winner at the 56th Golden Horse Film Awards, sweeping Best Film, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Actor for Chen Yi Wen, and Best Supporting Actor for Liu Kuan Ting. Chen Yi Wen and Samantha Ko play the parents of two sons – one (Wu Chien Ho) a rebellious teen who gets sent to juvie for assault, and the other (Greg Hsu) a gentle soul bound for med school. A sudden tragedy upends the already-torn family and forces everyone to reassess what they thought they knew about themselves and the brothers.

Listen to the Universe (Japan)
Nominations: Best Film, Best Sound

Gukoroku: Traces of Sin director Ishikawa Kei goes in a different direction for his second feature, an adaptation of Onda Riku's award-winning novel Mitsubachi to Renai. The film revolves around four musicians of different ages and backgrounds – played by Matsuoka Mayu, Matsuzaka Tori, Morisaki Win and Suzuka Oji – and their experiences and encounters after joining the same piano competition. The film's rich sound recording has already picked up a technical prize at the 43rd Japan Academy Prize.

Thappad (India)
Nominations: Best Film, Best Editing

Amrita Sabharwal (Taapsee Pannu) thought she was happily married until the moment her husband slaps her while she's trying to defuse an argument between him and his superior. Shaken awake by reality, she leaves home. When her husband tries to compel her to return, she resolutely chooses divorce, much to the shock of family and relatives who think she's overreacting. Versatile filmmaker Anubhav Sinha previously touched on domestic violence and misogyny in the exaggerated action drama Gulaab Gang. He explores the issue in far more realistic and resounding manner in this social drama that stands up against the everyday abuse that women face in India.

There is No Evil (Iran)
Nominations: Best Film

In 2019, Mohammad Rasoulof was convicted of spreading propaganda against the Iranian government in his film A Man of Integrity. Threatened with prison time and a filmmaking ban, the director refused to be silenced and made this powerful film speaking out against the death penalty in Iran. Awarded the Golden Bear for Best Film at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival, the anthology connects four stories about military officers tasked to carry out executions, and the decisions and emotions they go through.

Balloon (Mainland China)
Nominations: Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography

Pema Tseden matches the four AFA nominations he received last year for Jinpa with this year's Balloon. The Tibetan filmmaker's poetic family drama premiered in the Horizons section of the 76th Venice International Film Festival and made the festival rounds at Toronto and Busan. Balloon follows a shepherding family through various vignettes involving family planning, love lost, spirituality and sudden tragedy – all while sheep fill the sweeping landscape lensed by Jinpa DP Lu Songye. Jinpa, who also starred in Pema Tseden's last film, garners a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance as the father of the family.

Days (Taiwan)
Nominations: Best Director, Best Newcomer

Arthouse favorite Tsai Ming Liang's latest slow-burning, minimalist drama was in competition at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival and received the Teddy Award. It has also earned Best Film and Best Director nominations at the 57th Golden Horse Film Awards. The film follows the disparate daily lives of two solitary souls – a middle-aged man played by Tsai's regular muse, Lee Kang Sheng, and a younger Laotian immigrant who works at a massage parlor, played by newcomer Anong Houngheuangsy. The two cross paths in a fleeting moment of intimacy and healing.

Voices in the Wind (Japan)
Nominations: Best Director

Suwa Nobuhiro writes and directs this moving drama inspired by an unconnected phone in a garden that became a pilgrimage spot for those hoping to speak to departed love ones. Screened in the Generation 14plus sidebar of this year's Berlinale, the film follows a teenage girl who lost her family during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. She decides to make the long trip back to her hometown where the phone is, along the way meeting a fellow survivor and other weathered souls who have experienced loss and hardships.

Better Days (Hong Kong, Mainland China)
Nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Newcomer, Best Editing, Best Costume Design

Derek Tsang's youth drama swept eight prizes at the 39th Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress for Zhou Dongyu, and Best New Performer for Jackson Yee. Garnering her second AFA nomination after This Is Not What I Expected, Zhou Dongyu plays a bullied high school girl with no one to rely on until she meets a silent protector, a rebellious boy who is similarly alone in this world. Better Days captures both the light and shadow of youth with its depiction of the pure bond that transcends the cruelty of crime and bullying.

Suk Suk (Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress

Ray Yeung's gentle gay drama stars veterans Tai Bo and Ben Yuen as retirees who meet each other in their twilight years. The film is remarkable for its measured portrayal of both the sincere connection and the realistic considerations that shape the relationship of the protagonists, who each have families of their own. Tai Bo has swept acting prizes from the Hong Kong Film Awards, the Hong Kong Film Critics Society, the Hong Kong Directors' Guild and the Hong Kong Screenwriters' Guild.

First Love (Japan)
Nominations: Best Actor, Best Newcomer, Best Visual Effects

Miike Takashi turns a boy-meets-girl romance into a violent, bonkers and strangely enthralling crime caper in the way only he can with First Love. Known for embodying quirky heroes, Kubota Masataka plays a terminally ill boxer who impulsively decides to use his lethal skills to save a girl fleeing from the yakuza. Newcomer Konishi Sakurako makes a high-profile debut as the girl who draws him into an unpredictable spiral of crime and bloodshed.

Castle of Dreams (Iran)
Nominations: Best Screenplay, Best Actor

Winning the Golden Goblet for Best Film and Best Director at the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival, writer-director Reza Mirkarimi's road film explores family, fatherhood and redemption with subtle yet heartbreaking acuity. Hamed Behdad plays the reluctant deadbeat dad with a checkered past who shows up one day solely to pick up his hospitalized ex-wife's car, which he intends to sell. However, he is forced to take his two young kids as well.

Happy Old Year (Thailand)
Nominations: Best Actress, Best Costume Design

Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying made a splash three years ago with her debut in the blockbuster Bad Genius, which won her Best Newcomer at the 2018 Asian Film Awards. She becomes a Best Actress contender with only her second film leading role in Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's perceptive urban drama about a young woman trying to declutter her life and unresolved emotions.

Read Editor's Pick of Happy Old Year here.

The Man Standing Next (Korea)
Nominations: Best Actor

Lee Byung Hun won Best Actor at the 10th Asian Film Awards for his role as an underworld fixer in Woo Min Ho's political thriller Inside Men. He's nominated again this year for their latest collaboration, the political thriller The Man Standing Next about the man who assassinated South Korean President Park Chung Hee in 1979. Lee's performance as the increasingly pressured intelligence agency director who's driven to a fateful decision has already won him Best Actor at the 56th Baeksang Arts Awards.

Read Film Review of The Man Standing Next here.

Kim Ji Young, Born 1982 (Korea)
Nominations: Best Actress

Actor-director Kim Do Young adapts Cho Nam Joo's best-selling feminist novel about an ordinary Korean woman in her 30s. From childhood to motherhood, her ordinary life has been filled with all the ordinary misogyny and biased treatment that women face at home and in society. In a performance that won her Best Actress at the 56th Daejong Film Awards, Jung Yoo Mi essays this troubled everyday woman whose mental health begins to suffer as she struggles to find her identity and self-worth amid her many other roles as mother, wife, daughter and daughter-in-law.

A Girl Missing (Japan)
Nominations: Best Actress

Working again with Harmonium director Fukada Koji, Tsutsui Mariko stands at the core of a complex vengeance drama that unfolds in parallel timelines. The actress gives a strong, multi-layered performance as a woman with dual identities, a caring nurse and a shifty stalker. The film gradually connects the two identities via a traumatic episode that was only collaterally related to her, but suddenly unraveled her life.

Wet Season (Singapore)
Nominations: Best Actress

Six years after Ilo Ilo, Yeo Yann Yann reteams with director Anthony Chen and young actor Koh Jia Ler in Wet Season. In a role that won her Best Actress at the Golden Horse Film Awards, the Malaysian thesp plays a middle-aged teacher who has been trying unsuccessfully to have a child while dealing with the daily challenges of an unfulfilling job and an ill father-in-law. As her stagnant yet stressful marriage and life increasingly weigh down on her shoulders, her relationship with a student also begins to cross the line.

To the Ends of the Earth (Japan, Uzbekistan)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actor. Best Cinematography

Kurosawa Kiyoshi's co-production follows a Japanese TV show's search for a mythical fish in Uzbekistan, whose natural beauty is stunningly captured through Ashizawa Akiko’s cinematography. Best Supporting Actor nominee Kase Ryo plays the experienced cameraman of the skeleton crew.

One Night (Japan)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actress

In Shiraishi Kazuya's human drama about a fractured family, legendary veteran actress Tanaka Yuko plays a mother who reunites with her estranged adult children many years after she killed their father.

Detention (Taiwan)
Nominations: Best New Director, Best Visual Effects

Based on a survival game, John Hsu's eerie directorial debut about students trapped in a haunted high school manifests the real horrors of Taiwan's repressive White Terror period as spine-chilling supernatural horrors.

Exit (South Korea)
Nominations: Best New Director

Lee Sang Geun, who won Best New Director at the Blue Dragon Film Awards, keeps things moving on all counts in his action-charged debut about two people climbing and sprinting over buildings to escape a toxic gas spreading through the city.

Mariam (Kazakhstan, Germany)
Nominations: Best New Director

Inspired by lead actress Meruert Sabbusinova's true experiences, Sharipa Urazbayeva's stunning feature debut depicts a mother of four's fight for survival on the remote steppes after her husband mysteriously disappears.

My Prince Edward (Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best New Director

Winner of Best New Director at the Hong Kong Film Awards, Norris Wong captures a slice of Hong Kong life in her directorial debut about a typical longtime couple going through relationship changes and challenges as they prepare for marriage.

37 Seconds (Japan)
Nominations: Best New Director

Hikari's affecting feature-length debut, which is about the struggles, dreams and awakening of a young manga artist with cerebral palsy, won the Panorama Audience Award and the CICAE Art Cinema Award at the 69th Berlin Film Festival.

Wisdom Tooth (Mainland China)
Nominations: Best New Director

Garnering praise on the festival circuit, including the Jury Prize and Best Director at the Pingyao Film Festival, Liang Ming's debut feature depicts the changing relationship of a pair of siblings as they come of age and struggle to survive in a fishing town in northern China.

We Are Champions (Taiwan)
Nominations: Best Newcomer

Fandy Fan plays a hearing-impaired high school basketball athlete who must compete against his own brother in Chang Jung Chi's young and dynamic sports drama.

Another Child (South Korea)
Nominations: Best Newcomer

In Kim Yoon Seok's directorial debut, Kim Hye Jun plays a high school girl who discovers her father is having an affair with her classmate's mother. The performance has already won her Best New Actress at the Blue Dragon Film Awards.

Ashfall (South Korea)
Nominations: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound

Featuring special effects from Dexter Studios, Lee Hae Joon's disaster thriller portrays South and North Korean agents racing against time to stop an erupting volcano that's wreaking havoc in both Koreas. And they enter the volcano. 'nuff said.

The Wandering Earth (Mainland China)
Nominations: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Production Design

Frant Gwo's eye-popping interstellar blockbuster is set on an ice-covered Earth that's being propelled through space. With rocket thrusters. And Earth is on a collision course with Jupiter. 'nuff said.

The Wild Goose Lake (Mainland China)
Nominations: Best Sound, Best Cinematography

With the help of his regular cinematographer Dong Jinsong and Jia Zhangke's regular sound engineer Zhang Yang, Diao Yinan crafts a gritty yet ravishing crime tale in a noirish, neon-washed corner of China.

Jallikattu (India)
Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Original Music

It takes a village to catch a bull in Lijo Jose Pellissery's kinetic Malayalam-language independent film about the conflicts that ensue after the animal escapes the slaughterhouse of a remote village.

Time to Hunt (South Korea)
Nominations: Best Cinematography

Yoon Sung Hyun's survival action thriller about four young thieves being hunted by a hitman benefits greatly from the fluid camerawork and atmospheric cinematography of Lim Won Geun to establish its dystopian, ultraviolent world.

Gully Boy (India)
Nominations: Best Original Music, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design

Zoya Akhtar's vibrant and rousing story about a struggling rapper from the slums of Mumbai premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and swept a record 13 prizes at the Filmfare Awards.

On-Gaku: Our Sound (Japan)
Nominations: Best Original Music

Banse Tomohiko, Sawabe Wataru and Grandfunk created the all-important music for Iwaisawa Kenji's oddball animated comedy about a super-deadpan trio of high school boys who start a band.

Svaha: The Sixth Finger (South Korea)
Nominations: Best Original Music

Prolific score composer Kim Tae Sung's music adds to the eerie and tragic atmosphere of Jang Jae Hyun's thriller surrounding the mystery of an elusive cult and a cursed girl.

Forbidden Dream (South Korea)
Nominations: Best Costume Design

Dignified yet down-to-earth, Hur Jin Ho's historical drama is about the relationship between King Sejong and Jang Yeong Sil, a commoner who became the greatest scientist and engineer of Joseon.

Kingdom (Japan)
Nominations: Best Costume Design

Miyamoto Masae's costume design for Sato Shinsuke's period epic reinterprets China's Warring States-period clothing and armor through Japanese live-action manga aesthetics.

Gundala (Indonesia)
Nominations: Best Production Design

Genre master Joko Anwar's origin story about the eponymous lightning-charged comic-book superhero, who fights crime and corruption in a dreary city, sets the right look and tone as the first film of the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe.

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Published October 8, 2020

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