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IFFAM-Variety’s Asian Stars: Up Next Program is Helping Talent Cross Over

Eight young stars accepted the “Asian Stars: Up Next” award on Tuesday intended to recognize and promote Asian on-screen talent who have established themselves in their home market but have the potential to cross borders onto the global stage. The awards are issued by the International Film Festival & Awards Macao and Variety, and were presented on-stage at the festival’s closing ceremony. 

This year’s honorees included Korea’s Lim Yoona, the singer-actress aka Yoona who shot to stardom in the K-pop group Girls’ Generation; Japan’s Ryota Katayose, singer-actor from J-pop boy band Generations from Exile Tribe; Indian actress Bhumi Pednekar; actress Bea Alonzo of the Philippines; Indonesian actress Asmara Abigail; Thailand’s Praewa Suthampong and Jennis Oprasert, both members of the Thai girl group BNK48, a sister group of the Japanese group AKB48; and Vietnamese actor Lien Binh Phat.

Last year, honorees included Xana Tang (New Zealand), Ann Curtis (The Philippines), Zheng Kai (China), Zaira Wasim (India), and Iqbaal Ramadhan (Indonesia). In 2017, the selected stars were Celina Jade, Ludi Lin, Rajkummar Rao, Shioli Kutsuna, Piolo Pascual, and Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying.

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Yoona said that the award was “encouragement for her future” at a press conference before the evening award ceremony, and included a thank you in excellent Mandarin Chinese.

She explained transitioning from singing to acting had been easy because “I was always prepared to be both both a singer and an actress.” Asked about the recent spate of high-profile K-pop industry suicides, she said: “I don’t expect that everyone love me. Of course there are people who are critical. I hope fans and haters can respect each other and get along.”

Katayose said he hoped to be in his career a “bridge between Japan and the world.”

Pednekar said, “There’s a representation of what Asian people are in the West, and I want to break that.”

She realized the power of film as a medium after her 2017 satirical comedy about open defecation “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” had a measurable impact on reducing the problem in India. Having recently taken on roles that ranged from a 20-year-old girl to a woman over the age of 70, she finds herself drawn to roles with social commentary about “the power of patriarchy” in India. “It’s such a wonderful time for a female actor in India because there’s this awakening in my society. We’re all trying to turn the country into a better place,” she said of the diversity of available roles. Three of her films are currently running in India.

“Ten years ago, our culture really worshipped actors, but now we’re concentrating more now on our stories and scripts, because there’s been a real shift in the power dynamic so that directors and writers are the real captains of the ship. That’s why we now have these stories that can reach people globally,” she said.

Oprasert said that although her girl group BNK48 was all about presenting an image of “lively, cute young girls,” she wanted to show the world that “we can do other things too. We are improving ourselves every day.” The girls all sign strict six-year contracts at age 15 that prohibit them from dating for the duration, as well as taking unauthorized photos or even shaking hands with fans outside of official events.

“We were really young when we signed,” admits Suthampong, who said she’s nevertheless never looked back. “The company tries to give every member a chance to try different kind of jobs and try to find what they are good at and what they prefer.”

Alonzo summed up the spirit of the awards in her remarks. “My hope is for Filipinos to be able to cross borders and be known worldwide, because I feel there is so much talent in the Philippines and I want the world to see it.”

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