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Close Calls in Race for Asian Film Awards

Now backed by a trio of Asian film festivals — Busan, Hong Kong and Tokyo — the Asian Film Awards can claim a genuine degree of diversity and representation across the vast Asian region.

Korean, Japanese, South East Asian and Indian films feature prominently. But the top prizes at the ninth edition of the AFAs seem most likely to go to Chinese-language titles.

The best-film race is a tussle between Chinese thriller “Black Coal Thin Ice,” which won the Berlin festival’s Golden Bear a year ago, and Chinese drama “Blind Massage,” which lost out in Berlin but scooped six wins at the Golden Horse Awards in November, including the best picture prize. Both have been widely seen in the region and are the strong favorites.

Minor places go to “Haider” and a Korean film pair.

“Haider” was a big hit with audiences and critics in India, but the film has not yet gathered momentum in the wider Asian region. The two Korean titles could scarcely be more different – minimalist arthouse entry “Hill of Freedom,” by well-known auteur Hong Sang-soo, and JK Youn’s “Ode to My Father,” a colossal commercial hit whose nostalgia may appeal, but its sense of nationalism may not.

Two directors from Greater China, Ann Hui and Lou Ye, lead the best director nominations.

Quiet, yet dedicated, Hong Kong auteur Ann Hui has the strongest track record. Representing the Hong Kong “New Wave” cinema, Hui has been active since 1978, has been nominated several times for major awards at leading film festivals, and has collected more a large handful of awards both in and outside Hong Kong. By far her biggest-budget film, “The Golden Era,” closed the Venice festival last year. It also earned her the best director award at the Golden Horse Awards last year, and Hui was recently named best director at the Hong Kong Directors Guild awards.

Another tight race is the best actress award. Three strong Chinese nominees, Gong Li (“Coming Home”), Zhao Wei (“Dearest”) and Tang Wei (“The Golden Era”), have each received praise for their recent works under the direction of critically and commercially successful directors.

Zhao won the best actress award at the Hong Kong Directors’ Guild, and Tang scooped the same prize at the Hong Kong Film Critics’ Society Awards. The two nominees will again take on each other at next month’s upcoming Hong Kong Film Awards.

The recipients are chosen by a 14-person jury headed by Hong Kong film director Mabel Cheung.

Relocated since last year from its original base Hong Kong to Macau, the awards presentation ceremony will take place Wednesday, March 25.

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