S. Korea's 'Host' a monster at first Asian Film Awards

Pics from region 'now a major force'

South Korean monster movie "The Host" swept the inaugural Asian Film Awards on 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 on the calendar between Berlin and Cannes.

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 event was organized by the concurrent Hong Kong International Film Festival.

" '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 grossed 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 programmers 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.

Fans in the back of the hall at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre 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, screaming ensued at the mere mention of his name.

Although nominated for best actor, Jung lost to "Host" star Song Kang-ho, who received his award from Michelle Yeoh and Japanese director Koreeda Hirokazu.

French director and Asian film fan Luc Besson presented 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 1960s through 1997, when she gave up acting for academia.

Here 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.

A complete list of Asian Film Awards winners can be found at www.hollywoodreporter.com.