The Thai film "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" was named best picture at the fifth Asian Film Awards on Monday in a ceremony overshadowed by the absence of Japanese filmmakers who stayed home in the wake of a deadly earthquake and tsunami.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s mystical drama follows a dying man from Thailand’s rural northeast who explores his past and the idea of reincarnation in his final days. Apichatpong said it was especially sweet to win in his home region, a year after he took the top Palme d’Or award at France’s Cannes Film Festival.
The director, whose earlier credits include "Tropical Malady" and "Syndromes and a Century," said the critical acclaim his contemplative work received signaled displeasure with the growing influence of western commercial cinema.
"I think maybe that shows that’s what some people need, because the films that are being made now are so universal in terms of style and storytelling. That means maybe we need something different and some diversity," he said.
"When you see many Asian films, sometimes the vocabulary of filmmaking is totally American, which is not bad but somehow we need something different, some variety for more fresh air," he said.
Veteran South Korean director Lee Chang-dong took home best director and best screenplay for "Poetry," about an elderly woman who discovers a passion for writing poems. Lee also won best screenplay for the same movie at Cannes last year.
Another South Korean, Ha Jung-woo, won best actor for his role as a minority Korean in China who becomes a contract killer in his ethnic homeland to pay off his debts in "The Yellow Sea."
China’s Xu Fan was best actress for playing a grieving widow in her husband Feng Xiaogang’s earthquake epic "Aftershock," which also won for best visual effects. Feng’s picture, set against the deadly 1976 earthquake in the northeastern Chinese city Tangshan, was also honored for box office performance after its massive domestic take of $100 million last year.
But as the cream of Asian cinema celebrated their best works from the past year, they also remembered the suffering in Japan, highlighted by the sparse attendance from the country’s film industry. Nominated stars, like actor Koji Yakusho ("13 Assassins") and actresses Rinko Kikuchi ("Norwegian Wood") and Takako Matsu ("Confessions"), missed Monday’s ceremony. The lone Japanese winner of the night, "13 Assassins" production designer Yuji Hayashida, also was absent.
The hosts, presenters and winners sent best wishes to the Japanese people. Famed American producer Harvey Weinstein delivered a public greeting to his friend, Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, before handing out the best actor award with Hong Kong actress Carina Lau.
Addressing the Japanese public, Weinstein said, "We hope you’re safe and we hope things turn very well very quickly."
Accepting his box office award, Feng announced that two of the investors in "Aftershock," Hong Kong studio Media Asia and mainland counterpart Huayi Brothers, have pledged 500,000 Chinese yuan ($76,000) for relief efforts. Champagne maker Moet & Chandon chipped in another 180,000 Hong Kong dollars ($23,000) to the Japanese Red Cross — HK$10,000 ($1,300) for each of the 18 awards handed out Monday.
In other awards, veteran Hong Kong action star Sammo Hung was named best supporting actor for portraying a rival kung fu master "Ip Man 2," the biopic of Bruce Lee’s kung fu teacher by the same name. South Korea’s Yoon Yeo-jeong won for her supporting role in "The Housemaid" as a housekeeper whose new assistant unleashes disaster by having an affair with her employer.
Retired Hong Kong producer Raymond Chow, who guided the careers of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, was honored for lifetime achievement. Kim Dong-ho, who built South Korea’s Busan International Film Festival into one of the region’s best, received a prize for outstanding contribution to Asian cinema. Organizers also paid tribute to Hong Kong-based Fortissimo Films, a company that specializes in marketing and distributing Asian movies.
South Korean director Lee Chang-dong poses with the trophy after winning the best director for the movie "Poetry.” (AP Photo/Kin Cheung).