Inside Asia's Oscar submissions
"Beyond the Circle"
Overshadowed by its Indian neighbor, Bangladesh has never seen one of its films nominated for the foreign-language shortlist. But the Bangladesh Federation of Film Societies certainly seems to believe that director-screenwriter and sometimes actor Golam Rabbany Biplob represents its best shot at changing that. "Beyond the Circle" is his second feature and his second time representing Bangladesh, after "On the Wings of Dreams" two years ago.
Director Chen Kaige is one of the most recognized names in contemporary Chinese cinema, having notably won a Palme d'Or and earned an Oscar nomination with "Farewell My Concubine." "Enthralled" treads on similar ground and has been a yearlong fixture at festivals from Berlin to Seattle.
"Prince of Tears"
A misty melodrama about the 1950s anti-Communist witch hunt in Taiwan, "Tears" has been roughed up. Having been proposed as the Oscar contender for Hong Kong, Taiwan furiously informed director Yonfan that he would be required to refund a subsidy he received from its state funding authority, no matter that it is a co-production and could be nominated by either. Hong Kong's selectors said they deliberately chose a more artistic, less commercial film than their previous picks in order to suit the Academy taste.
Nothing in Indian film goes without its naysayers and "Factory" has been criticized as naive and ignoring historical social context. But Paresh Mokashi's crowdpleaser about the making of India's first film has quieted most critics. Distributor UTV will give it a healthy theatrical push in January around the time of the nominations announcement.
"Jamila and the President"
Politically sensitive and socially significant, "Jamila" represents an unusual choice for Indonesia, especially as the original stage play on which it is based was banned in many parts of the country. The material -- politics, prostitution, child trafficking and an underdog's fight for justice -- make it fine Oscar material, but it is only recently gaining momentum with an appearance at the Bangkok festival and a NETPAC jury win at a small festival in Rome.
"Nobody to Watch Over Me"
After last year's Oscar win for "Departures," expectations for Japanese cinema are high. "Nobody" comes from the FujiTV stable and lead actor Koichi Sato is a four-time winner of the Japanese Academy Award.
Kazakhstan has become one of the favorite "discovery" countries for festival selectors around the world, with such titles as "Tulpan" and "A Gift to Stalin" winning prizes. "Kelin," a lavish, second-century story of love under impossible conditions, bowed at Toronto and has been picked up for international sales by L.A.-based CMG.
Arguably the strongest film among the Asian hopefuls, "Mother" debuted at Cannes and has found itself invited to more than a dozen festivals. A $15 million gross in Korea and a string of international sales cannot have harmed its prospects.
"Grandpa Is Dead"
The Philippines has seen a revival of its indie scene but the country has never secured a nomination in the foreign-language race. That may explain why the local selectors changed course this year and picked a small-scale comedy.
"The Road From Elephant Pass"
Based on a well-known novel by Nihal de Silva about love between a Tamil Tiger soldier and an officer from the official Sri Lankan army, "Elephant Pass" was made by producer-director Chandran Rutnam. It premiered in Colombia in October after a two-minute silence to mark the death of de Silva, who was killed in 2006 by a landmine.
"Not Without You"
Taiwan's Government Information Office appeared to hesitate in its Oscar choice. Having picked "Not Without You," a low-budget, black-and-white drama about a vagrant threatened with the loss of his daughter, the GIO then lashed out as Hong Kong picked the flashier co-production "Prince of Tears."
"Best of Times"
Director Youngyoot Thongkongtoon has a strong track record with titles including "4bia," "Maid," "Iron Ladies" and its sequel. The new film, a drama about two different love stories, was released this year and is only now getting heat with a string of festival outings.
"Don't Burn It"
The story of a heroic wartime doctor told through diaries kept at the time, "Don't Burn It" was made by one of the few Vietnamese directors (Dang Nhat Minh) to be well-known outside their home country. That and a mixed Vietnamese-American cast may have helped it to a tour of 14 U.S. universities last month, culminating in a well-attended screening at New York's Cantor Film Center.