'Host' most honored guest at Asian awards

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HONG KONG -- South Korean monster movie "The Host" swept the inaugural Asian Film Awards here Tuesday, taking prizes for best film, actor, cinematographer and visual effects.

The awards opened the third annual Hong Kong Entertainment Expo, bringing international attention to 10 films made east of Egypt and giving prestige to the biggest film festival between Berlin and Cannes.

Organized by the concurrent Hong Kong International Film Festival, the winners were chosen from a field of 65 nominees drawn from 700 entries made in countries from Iran to Indonesia and Japan to Singapore.

" 'The Host' is showing in China right now, and this award will help it get more of an audience," producer Choi Yong Bae said in accepting the best film award. Director Bong Joon-Ho's film has topped China's boxoffice for the past two weekends and earned about $90 million worldwide.

Mainland Chinese helmer Jia Zhangke thanked his mother in accepting the best director award for "Still Life." "I love you, mom," said Jia, whose film about changes brought on by China's Three Gorges Dam project won the Golden Lion last year at Venice.

In presenting the best film award, Raphael Hui, Hong Kong's chief secretary for administration said: "For Asian cinema, the past year has been an embarrassment -- an embarrassment of riches. Asian films are now a major force of filmmaking in the world."

Winners were chosen by a jury of 17 film professionals that included the directors or programrs of the Berlin, Cannes, Hong Kong, Pusan, Tokyo and Venice film festivals; the managing director of CAA in China; critics from India, Thailand and the U.S.; a producer from Taiwan; and officials from government film agencies in South Korea and China.

Despite a lively, multilingual hosting job by Taiwanese-American actor and TV host David Wu, an audience of about 5,000 guests and the excitement generated by a television broadcast, the awards failed to attract some of its own nominees.

Conspicuously absent were a few Asian actors best known in the West, including Chinese actresses Gong Li and Ziyi Zhang. Neither won, with the best actress award going to Japan's Miki Nakatani for her performance in "Memories of Matsuko."

Fans in the back of the hall at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center went wild mostly for Rain (aka Jung Ji-hoon), the South Korean singer-turned-actor and star of "I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK." At regular intervals, wild screaming ensued at the mere mention of his name.

Though nominated for best actor, Jung lost to "Host" star Song Kang-Ho, who received his award from Michelle Yeoh and Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu.

French director and Asian film fan Luc Besson gave the award for outstanding contribution to Asian cinema to Hong Kong legend Josephine Siao Fong Fong, the star of more than 230 films from the '60s through 1997, when she gave up acting for academia.

Appearing to receive the award on her 60th birthday, Fong Fong, as the local audience knows her fondly, drew the only standing ovation of the evening.

The parent company of The Hollywood Reporter presented the Nielsen Co. Boxoffice Star of Asia Award to Andy Lau, whose 130-plus films have earned HK$1.7 billion ($217 million). "We're not honoring the money, but honoring the man who makes the money," said Eric Mika, Nielsen's managing director for international.

For his part, Lau, who is finishing shooting Hong Kong director Peter Chan's "The Warlords" (HR 3/13), dedicated the award to his fans. "No matter if the industry is up or down, I promise I will be here," he said.

In English and Cantonese, a prevalent South China dialect, the awards were set to broadcast on TVB's English-language Pearl channel after an hour delay, marketing manager Esther Cheung said. The Pearl channel regularly reaches about 384,000 viewers in Hong Kong and can be received by as many as 70 million people in neighboring Guangdong province, Cheung said.

A list of Asian Film Awards winners follows:

Best film -- "The Host," produced by Choi Yong Bae (South Korea)

Best director -- Jia Zhangke, "Still Life" (China)

Best actor -- Song Kang-ho, "The Host" (South Korea)

Best actress -- Miki Nakatani, "Memories of Matsuko" (Japan)

Best cinematographer -- Kim Hyung-goo, "The Host" (South Korea)

Best screenwriter -- Mani Haghighi, "Men at Work" (Iran)

Best editor -- Lee Chatametikool, "Syndromes and a Century" (Thailand/France/Austria)

Best composer -- Rahayu Supanggah, "Opera Jawa" (Indonesia)

Best production designer -- Tim Yip "The Banquet" (Hong Kong/China)

Best visual effects -- The Orphanage, "The Host"
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