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Thursday, March 24, 2011

ENTERTAINMENT SPOTLIGHT

Asian stars lend their support to quake relief at film awards


By MIN LEE
The Associated Press

HONG KONG — T he Thai film "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" was named best picture at the fifth Asian Film Awards on Monday in a ceremony overshadowed by the absence of Japanese filmmakers who stayed home in the wake of the deadly earthquake and tsunami of March 11.

News photo
Helping hand: Chinese actress Xu Fan, after winning in the best actress category at the Asian Film Awards for her role in "Aftershock." The film's investors have pledged $76,000 for Japanese earthquake relief efforts. AP PHOTO

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's mystical drama follows a dying man from Thailand's rural northeast who explores his past and the idea of reincarnation in his final days. Apichatpong said it was especially sweet to win in his home region, a year after he took the top Palme d'Or award at France's Cannes Film Festival.

The director, whose earlier credits include "Tropical Malady" and "Syndromes and a Century," said the critical acclaim his contemplative work received signaled displeasure with the growing influence of western commercial cinema.

"When you see many Asian films, sometimes the vocabulary of filmmaking is totally American, which is not bad, but somehow we need something different, some variety for more fresh air," he said.

Veteran South Korean director Lee Chang Dong took home best director and best screenplay for "Poetry," about an elderly woman who discovers a passion for writing poems. Lee also won best screenplay for the same movie at Cannes last year.

Another South Korean, Ha Jung Woo, won best actor for his role in "The Yellow Sea." While China's Xu Fan was best actress for playing a grieving widow in her husband Feng Xiaogang's earthquake epic "Aftershock," which also won for best visual effects. Feng's picture, set against the deadly 1976 earthquake in the northeastern Chinese city Tangshan, was also honored for box office performance after its massive domestic take of $100 million last year.

But as the cream of Asian cinema celebrated their past year, they also remembered the suffering in Japan, highlighted by the sparse attendance from the country's film industry. Nominated stars, like actor Koji Yakusho ("13 Assassins") and actresses Rinko Kikuchi ("Norwegian Wood") and Takako Matsu ("Confessions"), missed Monday's ceremony. The lone Japanese winner of the night, "13 Assassins" production designer Yuji Hayashida, also was absent.

The hosts, presenters and winners sent best wishes to the Japanese people. Famed American producer Harvey Weinstein delivered a public greeting to his friend, Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, before handing out the best actor award with Hong Kong actress Carina Lau.

Addressing the Japanese public, Weinstein said, "We hope you're safe and we hope things turn very well very quickly."

Accepting his box office award, Feng announced that two of the investors in "Aftershock," Hong Kong studio Media Asia and mainland counterpart Huayi Brothers, have pledged 500,000 Chinese yuan ($76,000) for relief efforts. Champagne maker Moet & Chandon chipped in another HK$180,000 ($23,000) to the Japanese Red Cross — HK$10,000 ($1,300) for each of the 18 awards handed out Monday.

In other awards, retired Hong Kong producer Raymond Chow, who guided the careers of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, was honored for lifetime achievement. Kim Dong Ho, who built South Korea's Busan International Film Festival into one of the region's best, received a prize for outstanding contribution to Asian cinema. Organizers also paid tribute to Hong Kong-based Fortissimo Films, which specializes in marketing and distributing Asian movies.



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