Singaporean Drama 'Ilo Ilo' Takes Best Picture at Taiwan Golden Horse Awards

Taiwan Golden Horse Awards
Anthony Chen and his producers and cast.

Debut director Anthony Chen was presented with the prize by two-time Oscar winner Ang Lee, who chaired the jury for the 50th edition of the film honors, considered the most prestigious in Chinese-language cinema.

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Singaporean director Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo was the surprise Best Picture winner at Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards Saturday night in Taipei.

The 29-year-old director's debut feature beat out titles from some of the most established names in Chinese-language cinema, including Johnnie To's Drug War, Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster, A Touch of Sin from Jia Zhangke and Tsai Ming-liang's Stray Dogs.

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"Singapore is a very little country and we made this film with a small budget, so we never dreamed of winning a best picture prize," said Chen in his acceptance speech.

"The other nominees are the masters I learned from when I was in film school, so I'm very honored and thankful to them too," he added.

It's been an impressive year for Chen, beginning with his Camera d'Or win for Ilo Ilo at the Cannes Film Festival in May. His film is Singapore's official entry for the foreign language film category Oscar and last month he signed with Hollywood talent agency UTA.

The Golden Horse Awards, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is the longest running films honors program in Chinese cinema. Unlike the Oscars or France's Cesars, the Golden Horse winners are decided by jury. This year's jury was chaired by two-time Oscar winner Ang Lee, who presented the best picture trophy to Chen and his team, saying the jurors spent two hours deliberating the winner and conducted four rounds of voting to reach their decision.

Earlier in the night Chen also won Best Debut Director and Best Original Screenplay, while Ilo Ilo's Yeo Yann Yann was named best supporting actress.

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Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster took the greatest number of trophies, winning in six of the 11 categories in which it was nominated, including a best actress statue for Chinese star Zhang Ziyi.

It was Zhang's fourth nomination for best actress at the Golden Horse awards and her first win.

"It was a very long and suffering journey making The Grandmaster, but now I'm very happy," she said. Zhang also thanked her co-star Tony Leung saying, "you are always the best actor in my heart and in my mind."

Leung lost out in the Best Actor category, however, to Lee Kang-sheng from Malaysian director Tsai Ming-liang's mediative drama about underclass hardship, Stray Dogs. Tsai won Best Director for the effort. Stray Dogs had previously won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. 

The broader growth of the Chinese-language film industry was registered in a record of 265 films submitted for consideration to the 2013 edition of the Golden Horse Awards.

"In terms of influence and credibility, as well as the areas our categories cover, the Golden Horse Awards indeed are "the Oscars of the Chinese film world," the event's executive director Wen Tien-Hsiang told The Hollywood Reporter in a pre-show interview. "There is no convincing alternative in Mainland China or Hong Kong as of yet." 

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Wen also argued that the Taiwanese awards show's independence from political influence and censorship give it an edge in terms of legitimacy – something that isn't currently possible in Mainland China.

Jackie Chan walked the red carpet Saturday night and won the award for Best Action Choreography with his latest vehicle, CZ12, which grossed $138 million at the Chinese box office earlier this year. Chan dedicated his win to "stuntmen all over the world," while his support staff praised Chan's endurance, noting that he established his action troupe over 40 years ago.

The sole territory to represent the Western world, France did well in behind-the-camera categories, with Frenchmen nabbing three trophies: Best Film Editing (A Touch of Sin), Best Cinematography (The Grandmaster), and Best Visual Effects (The Grandmaster).

Chiense auteur Jia Zhangke, nominated for Best Director, was a notable absence at the awards show. He had previously agreed to attend, but canceled shortly before the event, according to organizers. The buzz among insiders in Taipei has it that Jia is busy in Beijing, pushing for the delayed Mainland Chinese release of A Touch of Sin, which was originally expected in early November but has yet to appear in Chinese cinemas (recent reports that Chinese authorities have ordered the state press to avoid reporting on the film augurs ominously for an officially sanctioned wide release there).

In the Best Documentary category, local areal photography feature Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above, from Chi Po-lin, triumphed. Beyond Beauty was undoubtedly the most widely seen doc among the contenders: still on release, it has set a new box office record for a documentary on the island, pulling in an estimated $2 million (62 million New Taiwanese Dollars) since its Nov.  1 release.

The night was punctuated by three live musical performances, from Hong Kong singer-actress Denise Ho, mainland Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang, and Taiwanese singer Tsai Chin.

Midway through the show, Ang Lee said directing films is something he does for himself out of love for the craft, but "taking part in the Golden Horse jury was about giving back to this community." 

Another example of the expanding reach of the Chinese entertainment industry, this year's Golden Horse Awards show was broadcast live for the first time in the U.S. and six other English-speaking territories by Fox International's Star Chinese Movies channel.

The 2013 Golden Horse winners in key categories are listed below.

Best Picture
Drug War (China/Hong Kong)

The Grandmaster (Hong Kong/China)

Ilo Ilo (Singapore)*

Stray Dogs (Taiwan)
A Touch of Sin (China/Japan)

Best Director
Chung Mong-hong, Soul

Jia Zhangke, Touch of Sin

Johnnie To, Drug War

Tsai Ming-liang, Stray Dogs*
Wong Kar-wai, The Grandmaster

Best Debut Director
Anthony Chen, Ilo Ilo*

Hsu Chao-jen, Together

Longman Leung, Sunny Luk, Cold War

Juno Mak, Rigor Mortis

Zhao Wei, So Young

Best Leading Actor
Nick Cheung, Unbeatable

Lee Kang-sheng, Stray Dogs*
Tony Leung Chiu-wai, The Grandmaster

Tony Leung Ka-fai, Cold War

Jimmy Wang, Soul

Best Leading Actress
Sammi Cheng, Blind Detective

Gwei Lun-mei, Christmas Rose

Cherry Ngan, The Way We Dance

Shu Qi, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

Zhang Ziyi, The Grandmaster*

Best Supporting Actor
Chen Tian Wen, Ilo Ilo

Huang Bo, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

LI Xuejian, Back to 1942*

Eddie Peng, Unbeatable

Tong Dawei, American Dreams in China

Best Supporting Actress
Crystal Lee, Unbeatable

Lin Mei-hsiu, To My Dear Granny

Susan Shaw, Tales from the Dark Part 1

Xue Hong, Longing for the Rain
Yeo Yann Yann, Ilo Ilo*

Best New Performer
Dong Zijian, Young Style

Huang Shao-yang, Together

Koh Jia Ler, Ilo Ilo

Kuo Shu-yau, Step Back to Glory*

Yang Liang-yu, A Time in Quchi

Best Original Screenplay
Anthony Chen, Ilo Ilo*

Robert Chou, Zhang Ji, Aubrey Lam, American Dreams in China

Arthur Chu, To My Dear Granny

Jia Zhangke, A Touch of Sin

Wai Ka-fai, Yau Nai-hoi, Ryker Chan, Yu Xi, Drug War

Best Adapted Screenplay
Stephen Chow, Derek Kwok, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

Li Qiang, So Young*

Liu Zhenyun, Back to 1942

Best Cinematography
Nagao Nakashima, Soul
Lu Yue, Back to 1942
Yu Like Wai, A Touch of Sin
Philippe Le Sourd, The Grandmaster*
Liao Pen Jung, Shong Won Chong, Lu Qing Xin, Stray Dogs

Best Documentary
Boundary Revelation, Ibak Image Studio
Pusu Qhuni, ARS Film Production
Bridge Over Troubled Water, Backstage Studio Co.
Beyond Beauty, Taiwan From Above, Taiwan Aerial Imaging*

Audience Choice Award
The Grand Master

Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year
Yeh Ju-Feng*
Liao Ching-Song

Tsai Ming-Hsiu

Lifetime Achievement Award
Chen Chen