For most awards observers, the Asian Oscars race narrative in the international feature category begins and ends with Bong Joon Ho’s South Korean contender “Parasite.” That said, there are other notable submissions from around the continent that might spring a surprise or two.
The deliciously surgical dissection of Korean society that is “Parasite” has rightly won acclaim and awards around the planet, beginning with its unanimous Palme d’Or victory at Cannes. Neon is distributing the film in the U.S. and its impressive box office will do the film’s prospects no harm. A nom seems certain.
Tiny Singapore has been punching well above its weight in recent years and this year’s submission from the country, Yeo Siew Hua’s “A Land Imagined,” has been garlanded with awards since it exploded onto the global festival circuit with three trophies at Locarno, including the Golden Leopard, in 2018. The investigation of insomnia and identity at a construction site in the city-state has since won gongs at El Gouna, Pingyao, Rotterdam and Valladolid, among many others. The other Asian film to be lauded at a major European festival is Raymund Ribay Gutierrez’s battered wife drama “Verdict,” which won the special jury prize at Venice’s Horizons strand, and is the Philippines entry.
Malaysia is taking a punt with political doc “M for Malaysia” in which Ineza Roussille, with Dian Lee, provides a personal and intimate look at the historic elections of 2018 when her 92-year-old grandfather, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, returned to power, overthrowing a long ruling government.
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Politically, Hong Kong has been in the news the past several months for its political upheaval, and voters will have the territory in their minds front and center. However, political disruption is not the theme of Hong Kong’s entry Herman Yau’s “The White Storm 2 — Drug Lords,” which seems unlikely to be headed for Oscar glory, unless voters choose to reward a hugely entertaining high-octane action film. If action, of the martial-arts variety, is what voters are after, they need look no further than Vietnam’s entry, Le Van Kiet’s “Furie,” in which Veronica Ngo Thanh Van cuts a swathe across gangsters, after her daughter is kidnapped.
Indonesian vet Garin Nugroho has made a career of exploring diverse themes, and “Memories of My Body,” the country’s submission, conforms to that, following as it does a male dancer specializing in female appearances, juxtaposed against social and political upheaval.
From Australia, Rodd Rathjen’s powerful “Buoyancy,” which casts a harsh spotlight on modern slavery, has been wrenching hearts and winning awards since its debut in Berlin, where it picked up the Ecumenical Jury Prize.
China appears to have taken a break from submitting jingoistic films, and this year’s entry, Jiaozi’s “Ne Zha,” the country’s highest-grossing animated film of all time, could wow voters with its combination of cutting-edge Hollywood style animation and the lovable scamp that is the lead character. Also submitting animation is Japan, with Makoto Shinkai’s anime “Weathering With You,” in which a teenage boy runs away to Tokyo and befriends a girl who appears to be able to manipulate the weather. The director previously helmed “Your Name,” one of the highest-grossing anime films of all time. It is worth noting the region’s previous win in the category formerly came from Japan a decade ago — Yojiro Takita’s “Departures.”
Mag Hsu and Hsu Chih-yen’s “Dear Ex,” in which a son’s relationship with his mother is strained after it emerges that his late father’s insurance payout is to go to his lover, is Taiwan’s submission. The film won big locally at the Golden Horse Awards and at the Taipei film kudos, and voter visibility will be via Netflix, where it is streaming. Sitisiri Mongkolsiri’s horror “Krasue: Inhuman Kiss,” Thailand’s entry, also was a local success and is also dependent on Netflix for voter eyeballs.
From South Asia, all the entries deal with characters from the fringes of society. Zoya Akhtar’s Indian entry “Gully Boy,” a smash hit at the Berlin festival, is the most likely contender if only because voters will be familiar with the theme of a rapper from the wrong side of the tracks, aiming to make it big. Amazon has U.S. distribution.
Pakistan’s entry, Kamal Khan’s “Laal Kabootar,” is concerned with a petty criminal who aims to escape his circumstances, while from Nepal, Binod Paudel’s “Bulbul” follows the travails of a woman who drives a tempo truck in Kathmandu. Bangladesh’s submission, Nasiruddin Yousuff’s “Alpha,” centers on an impoverished painter who lives in the middle of a polluted lake on the outskirts of Dhaka. While these films are thematically remarkable, their campaigns will depend on the level of funds available.