HK-Asia film forum high on five


Five films won awards valued at $97,000 on Thursday at the closing ceremony of the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum, where one local winner found additional funding on his own.

Chosen from a field of 25 projects, the five films were led by director Clara Law's "The Messenger," which won a $13,000 HAF Award for a Hong Kong project as well as the Technicolor Thailand Postproduction Service Award.

Law, an Australian-Chinese known for her films "Goddess of 1967" and "Floating Life," said that while the award will not complete the financing she and producer Sue Maslin need to finish the $6 million mystery love story — about a psychic who helps a policeman on a missing persons case — it's still a positive sign.

"Oh, no, this won't finish the film, but the award is good encouragement and hopefully will arouse greater interest," said Law, noting that Maslin's next stop is Cannes in May.

The HAF Award of $13,000 for a project outside Hong Kong went to Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda for his "Night-fragrant Flower," based on the true story of 1930s Chinese actress Li Xiangian, who was sentenced to death for treason.

The Rome Film Festival Award and $15,000 went to South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon's "The Good, the Bad and the Weird," an Asian twist on the spaghetti Westerns popularized by Italian cinema icon Sergio Leone. The film is set to begin shooting this year in China.

Hong Kong director Pang Ho Cheung's "Now Showing" secured financing on its own, drawing funds of an undisclosed amount from Hong Kong-based Sundream Motion Pictures and Beijing-based Huayi Brothers Film Investment Ltd.

"Showing," a black comedy about class and racial tension in Hong Kong, also won a $13,000 value-in-kind award presented by the Hong Kong Cyperport for projects showing narrative imagination and technical excellence.

A second Cyperport award went to Chinese director Jia Zhangke for his project "Shuang Xiong Hui," an epic romance set in politically tumultuous 1950s Hong Kong, where many Chinese from the mainland landed after fleeing the new communist government.

Fellowships were awarded to cinematographers Nghiem-Min Nguyen-Vo ("Point of Reference") and Francis Ng ("Bema's Tear") by Sony Corp. of Hong Kong. The winners receive air tickets, hotel accommodation and free admission to the CineAlta high-definition cinematography workshop in Thailand.

HAF was organized by the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the Hong Kong Kowloon & New Territories Motion Picture Industry Assn.

First-time HAF visitors expressed pleasure with the market overall, saying that after having initial troubles with badges and registration, they met everyone they wanted to.

"The market was well administered and increased the chances of our doing all kinds of deals," said Lewis Kim, head of international business at Barunson, the up-and-coming South Korean film production house behind "Good, the Bad and the Weird."

Kim said he hopes to have a finance deal stemming from meetings taken at HAF ready to announce by Cannes.

"We've had 20 appointments in three days and are hopeful this trip will pay off," said Leah Churchill Brown, executive producer of Australian director Rachel Ward's "Beautiful Kate," the first film with no Asian content accepted at HAF.

HAF director Jacob Wong said this year's match-making market had pleased him for its diversity, adding that additional expansion might be in the cards for 2008.

"A lot of Asians with roots in North America are asking if their projects would qualify for HAF, and I have to say we are thinking about it," Wong said.