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9th Asian Film Awards Preview: The Nominated Films

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Since 2007, filmmakers and actors from across Asia have gathered every March for the Asian Film Awards (AFA). Now organized by the Asian Film Awards Academy – which was founded in 2013 by the Busan, Hong Kong and Tokyo Film Festivals – the AFA aims to celebrate and promote excellence in Asian cinema. This year's awards will be held soon on March 25, 2015 in Macau.

With the 9th AFA ceremony only one week away, we take a closer look at the major films in contention this year.

Nominations: Best Film, Best Actor, Best Screenwriter, Best Cinematographer

Diao Yinan's third directorial effort deftly combines film noir and social realism into a gritty and haunting urban detective drama. Black Coal, Thin Ice won the Golden Bear at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival, where frontrunner leading man Liao Fan was also named Best Actor for his portrayal of a hard-boiled disgraced detective who finds himself sucked into a gruesome murder mystery that recalls an unsolved case from his past.

Nominations: Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematographer

Dubbed by some as director Lou Ye's most humanistic film, the winner of Best Picture at the Golden Horse Awards and Best Cinematography at the Berlin Film Festival is a masterfully made drama about the joys and sorrows in the lives of blind masseurs working at a massage center. An intimate, emotional film pierced by shocking moments of violence, Blind Massage is a powerful cinematic experience by one of China's finest independent filmmakers.

HAIDER (India)
Nominations: Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Production Designer

Completing director Vishal Bhardwaj's trilogy of Shakespeare adaptations, Haider transports Hamlet from Denmark to war-plagued Kashmir. The basic story remains the same, but Bhardwaj has injected contemporary political intrigue and visually striking musical numbers into the proceedings. As controversial as it was praised by film critics and audiences in India, Haider is a dark, gripping thriller that is refreshingly different from the usual Indian masala blockbusters.

Nominations: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor

A perennial favorite with critics, Hong Sang Soo's latest wry examination of the human condition via non-chronological vignettes of talking, reading, strolling and drinking was shot in a matter of days and runs a breezy 66 minutes, but it came up surprisingly big with three nominations. Kase Ryo receives his third AFA nod – second Best Actor – for his role as a Japanese man who travels to Seoul to see the woman he loves but ends up fruitlessly wandering the streets of Bukchon and starting a relationship with another woman. The disarming ditty is very characteristic of the indie auteur, with the added benefit of being almost completely in English.

Nominations: Best Film

Blockbuster director Yoon Je Kyun pays tribute to his parents and the sacrifices of their generation with an epic melodrama charting the ups and downs of one family against the tumult of modern Korean history. Spanning from the Korean War to the present day, the film follows a simple man (Hwang Jung Min) who becomes head of the household at a young age and travels as far as the coal mines of Germany and wartorn Vietnam in order to support his family. Marrying populist nostalgia with strong production values, the unabashed tearjerker struck an emphatic chord with audiences, turning it into the second biggest Korean film of all time.

Nominations: Best Film, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenwriter

Japan's representative at the 2015 Academy Awards' Best Foreign Film competition, Oh Mipo's drama brings viewers to the frail edge of society through the dire lives of two fractured souls who find a glimmer of hope and solace in each other. Sparingly efficient with words and story, the film is relentlessly dour and devastating, while highlighting the longing and loathing of its broke and broken protagonists. Best Supporting Actress nominee Ikewaki Chizuru shines the brightest in dark circumstances as a tired, resilient woman who sells herself to support her ailing deadbeat family.

THE GOLDEN ERA (Hong Kong/China)
Nominations: Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenwriter, Best Editor

Ann Hui and her star Tang Wei receive Best Director and Best Actress nods for The Golden Era, a biopic that chronicles the life of maverick Republican Era writer Xiao Hong, expounding on the pursuit of freedom, dreams and stability in a tumultuous period in Chinese history and referencing notable literary figures such as Lu Xun (Supporting Actor nominee Wang Zhiwen), Mao Dun and Ding Ling along the way. Hui has already taken home a Best Director Golden Horse Award for the film.

Nominations: Best Director

Based on the same Ooka Shohei novel that Ichikawa Kon adapted for his 1959 classic, Tsukamoto Shinya's latest film is the realization of the filmmaker's longtime dream. More like a blood-soaked nightmare filled with bowels and body parts than a big-budget war spectacle, the film refuses to turn the horrors of war into big-screen entertainment. The result is one of the most intense and unrelenting cinematic depictions of war in recent memory.

Nominations: Best Director

This 338-minute black-and-white saga – about mysterious happenings in a Filipino town just before it is overrun by soldiers when President Marcos declared martial law in 1972 – earned acclaimed auteur Lav Diaz his first Best Director nomination at the AFA. Like his previous epics (his longest film runs over eleven hours), this Golden Leopard winner at the Locarno Film Festival is a dreamy, haunting and gorgeous made drama that more than deserves its audiences' patience.

Nominations: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress

Set in the late 60s/early 70s on Taiwan's military outpost closest to Mainland China, Doze Niu's controversial film tells a colorful coming-of-age story in a uniquely Taiwanese context that recalls both a youth's loss of innocence and a generation's loss of homeland. Previously nominated for Monga, Ethan Ruan scores his second Best Actor nod playing a greenhorn conscript who witnesses love, lust and tragedy at his military brothel station. Best Supporting Actor and Actress nominees Chen Jianbin and Wan Qian won at the Golden Horse Awards for their respective roles as a gruff sergeant and a military prostitute.

OVERHEARD 3 (Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Actor

With their top-shelf cast in tow, Alan Mak and Felix Chong's blockbuster surveillance thriller trilogy returned for a concluding chapter. This time around, the writer-directors took on the timely topic of real estate in Hong Kong's New Territories, where land is an all-important currency people live and die for. Best Actor nominee Lau Ching Wan gives a characteristically intense performance as a thug looking for what he believes to be his share of profits from a massive land deal.

Nominations: Best Actor

Breaking Korea's all-time box office record, Kim Han Min's naval war epic revolves around 16th century admiral Yi Sun Shin, one of the most revered national heroes of Korean history. Fittingly, Choi Min Sik, one of Korean cinema's most esteemed actors of all time, solemnly fills out the larger-than-life role of the battered admiral who employs 12 warships to stem off an invading fleet of over 100 ships. Roaring Currents received only one AFA nomination for Choi, but it has won many awards at home including Best Film and Best Actor at the Daejong Film Awards and Best Director at the Blue Dragon Film Awards.

Nominations: Best Actor

Adapted from the classic manga series, Otomo Keishi's saga of the samurai who's sworn not to kill again reaches its explosive conclusion in this box office-dominating blockbuster, the second part of the two-part action adventure pitting former Meiji government assassin Kenshin against bandaged terrorist Shishio. As the title character, Sato Takeru is a long shot to win, but the Best Actor nomination offers an affirmation for the young actor and for a film franchise that raised the bar of commercial live-action manga adaptations.

Nominations: Best Actress, Best Newcomer

Zhang Yimou and his original muse Gong Li reunite for this patient, poignant drama that garnered the latter her second Best Actress nomination after Curse of the Golden Flower. Eschewing any hints of glamor, Gong delivers one of her finest performances as a woman who suffers great trauma while waiting for her husband (Chen Daoming), a professor jailed during the Cultural Revolution. When he finally comes home years later, she no longer recognizes him. As their burdened daughter, first-time actress Zhang Huiwen, plucked out of the Beijing Dance Academy, holds her own as the newest "Mou Girl" discovered by the legendary director.

DEAREST (China/Hong Kong)
Nominations: Best Actress

As a widow who doesn't know that her adopted daughter might have been the victim of a kidnapping until the police knocks on her door, Vicki Zhao doesn't appear in Dearest until its second half. However, Zhao's remarkable transformation into a desperate woman standing in the face of a cold bureaucratic system is a career breakthrough for the Chinese actress and undoubtedly one of the most memorable things about Peter Chan's acclaimed child abduction drama.

Nominations: Best Actress, Best Composer

The talented Kalki Koechlin tackles her most challenging role yet in Shonali Bose's romance drama, playing an aspiring writer with cerebral palsy who leaves India to attend New York University and falls for a female activist. Injecting a strong-willed, confident persona that never begs for pity, Koechlin's winning performance is a huge part of the film's critical success. Though she remains an unknown to audiences outside India, Kalki has a strong chance of being the unlikely winner in this year's highly competitive Best Actress race.

Nominations: Best Actress

After working on the stage for several years to hone her acting craft, Miyazawa Rie made an explosive return to film acting with this noir drama from Kirishima Thing director Yoshida Daihachi. Starring as a bank employee who steals from her bank to fund her lavish extramarital affair with a younger lover, Miyazawa's performance has already earned multiple accolades in Japan (including a Best Actress award at the Japan Academy Awards), making her a frontrunner in the Best Actress category.

Nominations: Best Actress

Bae Doo Na may be busily building an international resume in recent years, but she does her best work at home in July Jung's remarkable directorial debut, which was selected for the Un Certain Regard section of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Bae brings the right amount of wary dignity and vulnerability to the role of a police officer who, following a scandal at her previous post, is transferred to a backwaters rural town where she reaches out to protect a precocious teenage girl (Kim Sae Ron) from her abusive family.

A HARD DAY (Korea)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenwriter, Best Editor

A sleeper hit both critically and commercially, Kim Seong Hoon's unrepentant crime action thriller is a paragon of genre done right, thanks in no small part to a smart script and tightly paced editing. As the crooked cop antagonist, Jo Jin Woong has already won Best Supporting Actor at the Blue Dragon Awards.

WOOD JOB! (Japan)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actor

Ito Hideaki receives a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role as a tough logger in Yaguchi Shinobu's charming comedy about the transformation of one young man from city slacker to man of the woods.

HAEMOO (Korea)
Nominations: Best Supporting Actress

Shim Sung Bo's harrowing thriller on the tragedy and terror that unfold on a fishing boat engaged in human smuggling has an overwhelmingly male cast. As one of only two actresses onboard, Han Ye Ri plays a key role as a stowaway who emboldens Park Yoo Chun's young fisherman to challenge the captain's ruthless actions.

Nominations: Best Supporting Actress

In the past year, Kuroki Haru has appeared in everything from NHK's 2014 Morning Drama to director Iwai Shunji's first animated film. Her award-winning performances in The Great Passage and in this elegant period melodrama by Yamada Yoji started it all.

CART (Korea)
Nominations: Best Newcomer

A member of the top K-pop group EXO, Do Kyung Soo, or D.O, is no stranger to awards, and he's drawn praise that usually eludes idol-turned-actors for his debut outing. In Boo Ji Young's drama about female contract workers protesting unfair termination, he plays a disgruntled teen who learns a hard lesson in labor rights and matures in the course of his mother's fight.

Nominations: Best Newcomer

After setting a record with three Best New Performer nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards, songstress Ivana Wong is nominated at the AFA as well for her sassy performance in the latest installment of Sandra Ng and Chow Hoi Kwong's hilarious comedy series about a prostitute with a heart of gold.

HOT ROAD (Japan)
Nominations: Best Newcomer

Adapted from manga, Miki Takahiro's coming-of-age romance tells of a lonely girl who falls for a boy in a motorcycle gang. Yet another singer making a successful jump to acting, leading man Tosaka Hiroomi of J Soul Brothers receives a Best Newcomer nod for his work.

Nominations: Best Newcomer

Youngster Zhan Huai Yun gets a Best Newcomer nom for his portrayal of a poor student with a devious plan in this hilarious high school-set heist comedy from Yee Chih Yen of Blue Gate Crossing fame.

Nominations: Best Production Designer, Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Designer, Best Composer

Jiang Wen's manic satire about a decadent pageant that triggers a confounding series of events in 1920s Shanghai got four tech nods for its bold visual and audio panache. Shortlisted yet again, William Chang won Costume Design the last time he worked with Jiang (Let the Bullets Fly) and also last year (Grandmaster).

Nominations: Best Production Designer, Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Designer

A rip-roaring adventure about soldiers battling armed bandits in the snowy mountains of northeast China, Tiger Mountain is one of Tsui Hark's biggest productions. The highly entertaining action spectacle is also one of the director's most accomplished films.

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Published March 16, 2015

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