The much-decorated Japanese drama “Drive My Car” was named the best film Sunday at the Asian Film Awards, defeating hot favorite “Decision to Leave.”
Other notable awards went to Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda whose “Broker” debuted at Cannes, but which was largely shunned in his home country.
“Decision to Leave,” which started the evening with ten nominations, was nevertheless rewarded with three awards, best screenplay, best production design and best actress for China’s Tang Wei.
While nominations were geographically diverse, the awards on Sunday skewed heavily towards North East Asia –Japan, Korea and Greater China – to the total exclusion of films from India, Indonesia and The Philippines. Snubs included the exclusion of Indonesia’s “Autobiography” and Happy Salma (“Before, Now & Then”), both of which have been widely lauded on the festival circuit.
The awards ceremony returned to Hong Kong after detours to Macau and Busan and a COVID hiatus in previous years. The ceremony was held at the sparkling new Palace Museum in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District.
As a result, proceedings took on a very Hong Kong flavor in terms of presenters and special prize winners. Reclusive star Carina Lau even got to present the best actor award to her real-life husband superstar Tony Leung Chiu-wai.
Mabel Cheung, director of the recently controversial documentary “To My Nineteen Year-Old Self,” received a rousing cheer as she took the stage as presenter with veteran martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo Ping. They handed the lifetime achievement award to another Hong Konger, veteran martial artist Sammo Hung. He thanked Hong Kong audiences for continuing to support local films.
The evening’s first prize-winner was especially popular, going to local Hong Kong breakthrough performer Mak Pui-tun in “The Sparring Partner.” In an emotional and barely-controlled speech, he thanked the producer and director for not having watched his previous films before casting him.
The presentations avoided almost all mentions of politics and glossed over potential controversies. Instead, it focused on happy reunions, Asian filmmaking solidarity and reminiscences about hard times past.
Outside, crowds were unusually large, numbering in their hundreds in the humid evening air, with fandom swelled by the attendance of four members of Hong Kong boy band sensation Mirror.
Filmmaker and industry attendance was also robust. Those spotted on the red carpet and pre-event cocktails included:
Carina Lau, actor; Lee Yong-Kwan, chairman of the Busan International Film Festival; Ando Hiroyasu, chairman of the HKIFF; Davy Chou, director of “Return to Seoul”; Wilfred Wong, head of the Hong Kong International Film festival Society; Sabrina Baracetti and Thomas Bertacche, co-heads of the Festival of Far Eastern Film in Udine; Keiko Dan, producer and festival programmer from Japan; Kiki Fung, festival programmer; Shan Dongbing, Chinese producer; Feng-I Fiona Roan, Taiwanese director of “American Girl”; Janet Wu, director of the Wu Tianming Film Foundation; Roger Garcia, former director of the Hong Kong IFF; Yasushi Shiina, former head of TIFFCOM; and Ivy Ho, producer; director and producer Anthony Chen (“Wet Season”), director Lav Diaz, Makbul Mubarak and Mohsen Tanabandeh, and “Joyland” producer Apoorva Guru Charan.
There was a sizeable contingent from India’s “Ponniyin Selvan: 1,” including producer Siva Ananth, cinematographer Ravi Varman and costume designer Eka Lakhani. Indian special effects guru Srinivas Mohan was present, representing “RRR.”