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‘Close-Knit’ Wins Top Prize at Udine Far East Fest

ROME — Japanese director Ogigami Naoko’s tender drama “Close-Knit” in which a transgender woman becomes a mother figure to a young girl won the Audience Award, the top prize, at the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, which is Europe’s biggest showcase of genre and mainstream Asian cinema.

South Korean director Choi Kook-hee’s offbeat bowling thriller “Split” came in second in the audience vote at the nine-day fest which wrapped its 19th edition April 29.

Prior to scooping top Udine honors “Close Knit” had premiered in February in the Panorama section of Berlin fest where Variety critic Guy Lodge praised the pic as a “sweet-souled celebration of alternative family structures,” noting that it “further demonstrates the growing prominence and broader acceptance of transgender narratives in the arthouse.” “Knit” also scooped Udine’s Black Dragon Award decided by special pass holders.

“Split,” in which a washed-up former bowling champ teams up with an autistic boy who is an amazing bowler to hustle up some cash, bowed at Hong Kong’s Filmart last month.

Third place honors went another Korean film, the cross-generational melodrama “Canola” by mono-monikered Korean director Chang.

The My Movies Audience Award decided by Internet voters went to Hong Kong helmer Wong Chun’s mental illness drama “Mad World.”

Despite torrential rains the Udine fest really shined this year thanks to a strong selection of films and a steady stream of Asian heavyweights on hand including hitmaking helmer Feng Xiaogang (“I Am Not Madame Bovary”), who is known as “China’s Spielberg,” and Hong Kong multi-hyphenate Eric Tsang, both honored with Udine’s Golden Mulberry Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Veteran Hong Kong-based director and producer Fruit Chan, a longtime friend of the fest, also made the trek for the international premiere of the restored version of his cult film “Made in Hong Kong.” The restoration was financed by the Udine fest which will be acting as international sales agent of this revived version of the pic in most international territories.

Udine this year stepped up efforts to become a bona fide market and conduit for genre movie co-productions between Asian and European film producers with a curated co-production platform, Focus Asia, where genre projects in early stages from 13 countries on the two continents were presented to some 100 sales agents and other industry execs.

Petri Kemppinen, CEO of Nordisk Film & TV Fond, praised the platform “because it opens the door to Asia.” Companies attending included XYZ, Media Asia, M-Line, Showbox, Wild Bunch, Reel Suspects, M-Appeal and Singapore’s Aurora Media content fund which inked a deal for two Southeast Asian projects being produced in collaboration with Europe, Indonesian black comedy “Abracadabra” and supernatural drama “The Long Walk” by Laos’ Mattie Do.

Launched in 1999 with a program of Hong Kong action films, Udine has grown steadily over the years while keeping a constant focus on East and South East Asian mainstream films which it has also been distributing in Italy through its Tucker Film offshoot.

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