'Exiled,' 'Band's Visit' prep Oscar runs

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HONG KONG -- Johnnie To's "Exiled" will represent Hong Kong and Cannes favorite "The Band's Visit" will carry Israel's flag in the 2008 foreign-language category at the Oscars.

Starring Simon Yam, Suet Lam and Anthony Wong, the crime drama "Exiled" is set in Macau against the backdrop of the Portuguese colony's handover to China. It marks the first time To has represented Hong Kong at the Academy Awards.

Eran Kolirin's "Visit," which swept the Israeli Film Academy's Awards on Sunday, follows the comic plight of an Egyptian band stranded in a small Israeli town. The film, which played at Telluride and Toronto in addition to Cannes, will be released by Sony Pictures Classics in Los Angeles and New York on Dec. 7 before going wider in February. It stars Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri and Khalifa Natour.

"Exiled," which Magnolia will distribute in North America, screened in competition at the 2006 Venice Film Festival and has earned awards at the Golden Horse Film Festival, the Sitges-Catalonian Film Festival and the Hong Kong Film Awards, where To earned both best film and director.

"I think this time I am even more confident than a few years ago when we represented Hong Kong ... with our film 'Infernal Affairs,' " said John Chong, CEO of Media Asia, which produced the film together with Milkyway Image.

The film's choice was announced late Monday by Crucindo Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Assn.

Meanwhile, the Film Federation of India has unveiled "Eklavya: The Royal Guard" as that nation's contender in the foreign-language category. Directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, "Eklavya" stars Amitabh Bachchan as a the dedicated guard of a royal dynasty.

And Estonia has submitted Ilmar Raag's "The Class," about a bullied 16-year-old who teams up with a friend to get back at their classmates.

Nyay Bhushan in New Delhi contributed to this report.
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