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TAICHUNG, Taiwan — Peter Chan’s $40 million epic about three Chinese mercenaries in 19th century China won best film at the Chinese-language equivalent of the Oscars on Saturday, dashing hopes of a home triumph for the surprise Taiwanese hit “Cape No. 7.”
“The Warlords” also won Chan the best director prize at the Golden Horse Awards in the central Taiwanese city of Taichung, marking his successful transition from subtle love stories to historical epic.
Best known for his 1996 romance “Comrades: Almost a Love Story,” Chan said ‘Warlords,’ which describes the breakdown of the relationship between the mercenaries, shares the same attention to human emotions as his other movies.
“The movie is also about human nature. There are just more larger-scaled, battle scenes. But we had a very good cinematographer and a very good action director. So I just had to take care of the dramatic scenes. It wasn’t a big change,” Chan told reporters backstage.
China’s Zhang Hanyu won best actor for his role in the war movie “Assembly,” about the heroics of a People’s Liberation Army unit in the Chinese civil war in the 1940s, beating action star Jet Li, who was nominated for “The Warlords.”
Zhang recalled the film’s tough winter shooting conditions in China’s northeast.
“We toiled with director Feng Xiaogang and more than 300 crew members every day in the snow,” he said.
Veteran Hong Kong singer Prudence Liew was named best actress for playing a struggling sex worker and drug addict in “True Women for Sale.”
Liew said he prepared for her role by meeting with real sex workers and imitating their mannerisms.
“I discovered they have an innocent side to them. So I thought I could portray an innocent, adorable sex worker,” she said.
Much of the attention had been focused on “Cape No. 7,” a surprise hit on Taiwan that went on to become the island’s most successful movie in years and its second top box officer earner of all time behind the Hollywood film “Titanic.”
The story of a failed rock singer who returns to his small coastal hometown and reluctantly joins a hastily assembled amateur band won over audiences with its quirky cast of characters and down-to-earth portrayal of Taiwanese culture.
But the movie failed to clinch any of the top awards on Saturday, although winning best supporting actor for Ma Ju-lung, best original song, best score and the audience favorite award.
Led by “Cape No. 7,” Taiwanese films had a strong showing, winning in half of the 22 categories that were open to all Chinese-language movies, signaling a renaissance in the local industry known for producing top-notch art-house directors but few commercial successes in recent years.
The island’s most famous filmmaker, Oscar winner Ang Lee, said he was excited to see the resurgence of the movie industry in his homeland.
“To see the revival of Taiwanese film this year, many new directors … They give us new hope. They gave us very fresh, very vibrant Taiwanese movies. We want to congratulate them. We’re very, very happy,” said Lee, who presented two awards for Taiwanese filmmakers.
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