Author Archives: Dean Napolitano

Asian in Focus as Berlin International Film Festival Opens


The 67th Berlin International Film Festival jury, from left:
Wang Quan’an (China), Olafur Eliasson (Iceland), Maggie Gyllenhaal (U.S.),
Paul Verhoeven (Netherlands), Julia Jentsch (Germany), Diego Luna (Mexico),
Dora Bouchoucha Fourati (Tunisia); and moderator Anatol Weber.
PHOTO: Dean Napolitano

BERLIN — The 67th Berlin International Film Festival opened on Thursday with the premiere of the French film “Django,” set in 1943 during the German occupation of France, from director-writer Etienne Comar.

Four films from Asia will appear in the festival’s main Competition section: The animated film “Have a Nice Day” from director Liu Jian of China; “Mr. Long” from the singularly named director Sabu of Japan; “On the Beach at Night Alone” from director Hong Sang-soo of South Korea; and the Indian film “Viceroy’s House,” which will screen out of competition, from director Gurinder Chadha.

Several Asian films will screen in the Panorama section, including three from Chinese directors: “Ciao Ciao” by Song Chuan; “Ghost in the Mountains” by Yang Heng; and “The Taste of Betel Nut” by Hu Jia. Also in the Panorama section is “Close-Knit” from director Naoko Ogigami of Japan.

Asian films in the Forum section include two from Japanese directors: “Three Lights” by Kohki Yoshida and “The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue” by Yuya Ishii. Also in the Forum section: “Autumn, Autumn” from Jang Woo-jin of South Korea and the Indian film “Newton” from Amit V. Masurkar.

This year’s international jury lineup: Dutch director and screenwriter Paul Verhoeven, jury president; Tunisian producer Dora Bouchoucha Fourati; Danish-born Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson; American actress Maggie Gyllenhaal; German actress Julia Jentsch; Mexican actor Diego Luna; and Chinese director-screenwriter Wang Quan’an.

At the jury press conference, Mr. Wang noted his long association with the Berlin festival. After reaping multiple screenings and awards in Berlin over the past 15 years, Mr. Wang said he was looking forward to handing out awards this year. His film “Lunar Eclipse” (1999) was shown in 2002; “Tuya’s Marriage” won the Golden Bear award in 2007; “Apart Together” opened the festival in 2010 and won the Silver Bear award for best script (with co-screenwriter Jin Na); and White Deer Plain won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution in 2012 for Lutz Reitemeier, Mr. Wang’s director of photography on the film.

Mr. Wang said that while this is a good time for Chinese films because of financing, money also has had a “somewhat of a destructive effect” when it comes to art-house films in China. But he said that was part of the process and that he expected that eventually there would be “more space” for art-house cinema in the country.

The festival runs until Feb. 19.

Hong Kong Producer Nansun Shi to Be Honored by Berlin Festival


Nansun Shi, center, with the other members of the international jury for the Berlin International Film Festival in 2007, from left: Molly Malene Stensgaard, Willem Dafoe, Paul Schrader, Ms. Shi, Mario Adorf, Hiam Abbass and Gael García Bernal.
PHOTO: Ali Ghandtschi © Berlinale

BERLIN — Hong Kong producer Nansun Shi will be awarded the Berlinale Camera at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival this week.

Ms. Shi is one of Asia’s most prominent and successful film producers and film distributors, with a career spanning more than three decades. Her many credits include director John Woo’s “A Better Tomorrow” (1986) starring Chow Yun-fat; director Tsui Hark’s “Once Upon a Time in China” (1991) starring Jet Li; and “Infernal Affairs” (2002) from directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, which Martin Scorsese adapted into his Oscar-winning 2006 film “The Departed.”

Ms. Shi has served on the juries of multiple international film festivals, including the Berlin International Film Festival in 2007 (photo above) and the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. “If you’re lucky enough to find something you actually like and enjoy, then you’re very lucky,” Ms. Shi told me in an interview in 2011 prior to Cannes.

This year, Ms. Shi is one of three recipients of the Berlinale Camera, along with Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, and film critic and author Samir Farid of Egypt.

The Berlinale Camera, according to the festival, is given to “film personalities or institutions to which it feels particularly indebted and wishes to express its thanks.”

Hong Kong’s ‘Port of Call’ Selected as Foreign-Language Oscar Entry


Aaron Kwok in a scene from ‘Port of Call.’
PHOTO: The Hong Kong International Film Festival Society

Hong Kong’s Motion Picture Industry Association has submitted “Port of Call” by director Philip Yung to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as it entry in the foreign-language film category.

The gritty psychological thriller – inspired by a grisly real-life murder in Hong Kong of a teenage girl from mainland China – premiered at the 39th Hong Kong International Film Festival in 2015 as the closing film and has since been showered with awards.

At the Hong Kong Film Awards in April, it won best actor for Aaron Kwok, best actress for Jessie Li, best supporting actor and best new performer for Michael Ning, best supporting actress for Elaine Jin, best cinematography for Christopher Doyle and best screenplay for Mr. Yung. The Hong Kong Film Critics Society named “Port of Call” as best film of 2015, and it also picked up additional honors at the Asian Film Awards, the Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan and South Korea’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival.

The Academy’s foreign-language film nominees are decided in two phases, eginning with a shortlist of nine films selected by a committee. That list is later narrowed to five nominated films, which are voted on by all Academy members who have screened them.

The Oscar ceremony will be held in Hollywood on Feb. 26.

Singapore Submits ‘Apprentice’ for Foreign-Language Film Oscar


A scene from Singapore director Boo Junfeng’s “Apprentice.”
PHOTO: Festival de Cannes

The Singapore Film Commission has selected director Boo Junfeng’s film “Apprentice” as the country’s official submission to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the best foreign-language film category.

Mr. Boo’s film is a psychological drama about a young correctional officer who is transferred to Singapore’s top prison, where he develops a friendship with the chief executioner.

“It’s a huge honor, and I am very thankful that the Singapore Film Commission has selected “Apprentice” as Singapore’s entry to the Oscars,” Mr. Boo said in a statement. “We have been very encouraged by the response to the film in Singapore and around the world, and this news comes as another big boost for us,” he said.

“Apprentice” received strong reviews at its premiere in May in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival. The film had a successful run this summer in Singapore, where it played for more than eight weeks. The film currently is screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it will have its Asian festival premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in October.

The Singapore Film Commission’s director, Joachim Ng, praised the film. “Apprentice” was selected because “it explores complex and sensitive themes while preserving an honest insight to the characters’ internal conflict and emotions,” Mr. Ng said in the same statement. “We believe the film will resonate with international audiences,” he added. “Films like ‘Apprentice’ continue to showcase the quality works by Singaporean filmmakers.”

“Apprentice” is the second feature film by Mr. Boo, following “Sandcastle,” which held its premiere at the International Critics’ Week in Cannes in 2010.

The Academy’s foreign-language film nominees are decided in two phases, beginning with a shortlist of nine films selected by a committee. That list is later narrowed to five nominated films, which are voted on by all Academy members who have screened them.

A Singaporean film has never been nominated for an Academy Award in the foreign-language film category. The Oscar ceremony will be held in Hollywood on Feb. 26.

Kaori Momoi: The Art of Playing a Prostitute


Kaori Momoi at the screening of ‘Hee’ in Hong Kong on March 31.
PHOTO: Hong Kong International Film Festival Society

Japanese actress Kaori Momoi is in Hong Kong this week to present her film “Hee” at the 40th Hong Kong International Film Festival. “Hee” had its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February, and the Hong Kong screening marks the film’s Asian premiere.

Ms. Momoi both directed the film and took the lead role of an ageing prostitute who has been accused of murdering her family and is now seeing a psychiatrist.

As part of my work for the HKIFF , I attended the film’s screening and wrote up an article based on the Q&A that Ms. Momoi conducted with the audience. It can be read here.

‘The Assassin’ Wins Big at Asian Film Awards


South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun and Taiwanese actress Shu Qi celebrate
their acting honors at Thursday’s Asian Film Awards in Macau.
PHOTO: Asian Film Awards

The martial-arts drama “The Assassin” took top honors at the 10th Asian Film Awards on Thursday, winning eight prizes including best film, director and actress.

Taiwan director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s sword-play art-house film stars actress Shu Qi as an expert assassin in 9th-century China. The film also won awards for best supporting actress (Zhou Yun), cinematography (Mark Lee Ping-bing), production design, original music and sound.

South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun won best actor for the political thriller “Inside Men,” while Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke won best screenplay for “Mountains May Depart,” a striking drama looking at societal changes in modern China over 25 years.

The AFA also presented lifetime achievement awards to Hong Kong action choreographer-director Yuen Wo-ping and Japanese actress Kirin Kiki. 

Hong Kong director Johnnie To was president of this year’s jury, which included two celebrity jurors — actor Sean Lau Ching-wan from Hong Kong and actress Gao Yuanyuan from mainland China — 12 film industry professionals, festival programmers and critics from around the world.

The Asian Film Awards are organized Asia’s major film festivals: The Hong Kong International Film Festival, the Busan International Film Festival and the Tokyo International Film Festival.

This year’s total 77 nominees among 36 films from nine countries competed in 15 categories. The awards ceremony was held at the Venetian hotel in Macau.

The full list of nominees and winners:

Best Film

  • “Mountains May Depart” (France/Japan/Mainland China)
  • “The Assassin” (Hong Kong/Mainland China/Taiwan)  – WINNER
  • “Bajirao Mastani” (India)
  • “The Lunchbox” (India)
  • “Three Stories of Love” (Japan)
  • “Mr. Six ” (Mainland China)
  • “Veteran” (South Korea)

Best Director

  • Jia Zhangke, “Mountains May Depart” (France/Japan/Mainland China)
  • Hou Hsiao-hsien, “The Assassin” (Hong Kong/Mainland China/Taiwan)  – WINNER
  • Hirokazu Koreeda, “Our Little Sister” (Japan)
  • Guan Hu, “Mr. Six ” (Mainland China)
  • Ryoo Seung-wan, “Veteran” (South Korea)

Best Actor

  • Donnie Yen, “Ip Man 3” (Hong Kong)
  • Masatoshi Nagase, “An” (France/Germany/Japan)
  • Feng Xiaogang, “Mr. Six” (Mainland China)
  • Lee Byung-hun, “Inside Men” (South Korea) – WINNER
  • John Arcilla, “Heneral Luna” (The Philippines)

Best Actress

  • Zhao Tao, “Mountains May Depart” (France/Japan/Mainland China)
  • Shu Qi, “The Assassin” (Hong Kong/Mainland China/Taiwan)  – WINNER
  • Haruka Ayase, “Our Little Sister” (Japan)
  • Kim Hye-soo, “Coin Locker Girl” (South Korea)
  • Karena Lam, “Zinnia Flower” (Taiwan)

Best Newcomer

  • Vicky Kaushal, “Masaan” (France/India)
  • Jesse Li, “Port of Call” (Hong Kong) – WINNER
  • Ryoko Fujino, “Solomon’s Perjury, Solomon’s Perjury 2” (Japan)
  • Kim Seol-hyun, “Gangnam Blues” (South Korea)
  • Lee Hong-chi, “Thanatos, Drunk” (Taiwan)
  • Waruntorn Paonil, “Snap” (Thailand)

Best Supporting Actor

  • Max Zhang, “Ip Man 3” (Hong Kong)
  • Michael Ning, “Port of Call” (Hong Kong)
  • Tadanobu Asano, “Journey to the Shore” (France/Japan) – WINNER
  • Oh Dal-soo, “Assassination” (South Korea)
  • Cheng Jen-shuo, “Thanatos, Drunk” (Taiwan)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Zhou Yun, “The Assassin” (Hong Kong/Mainland China/Taiwan) – WINNER
  • Anna Tsuchiya, “Gonin Saga” (Japan)
  • Cherry Ngan, “Mojin – The Lost Legend” (Mainland China)
  • Juri Ueno, “The Beauty Inside” (South Korea)
  • Park So-dam, “The Priests” (South Korea)

Best Screenplay

  • Jia Zhangke, “Mountains May Depart” (France/Japan/Mainland China) – WINNER
  • Philip Yung, “Port of Call” (Hong Kong)
  • Vishal Bhardwaj, “Talvar” (India)
  • Takashi Ujita, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, “Journey to the Shore” (France/Japan)
  • Ryoo Seung-wan, “Veteran” (South Korea)

Best Cinematography

  • Christopher Doyle, “Port of Call” (Hong Kong)
  • Mark Lee Ping-bing, “The Assassin” (Hong Kong/Mainland China/Taiwan)  – WINNER
  • Yasushi Sasakibara, Yoshiaki Yamamoto, “Gonin Saga” (Japan)
  • Luo Pan, “Mr. Six” (Mainland China)
  • Kim Woo-hyung, “Assassination” (South Korea)

Best Production Design

  • Ken Mak, “Ip Man 3” (Hong Kong)
  • Hwarng Wern-ying, “The Assassin” (Hong Kong/Mainland China/Taiwan)  – WINNER
  • Tetsuo Harada, “Kakekomi” (Japan)
  • Cho Hwa-sung, “Inside Men” (South Korea)
  • Benjamin Padero, Carlo Tabije, “Heneral Luna” (The Philippines)

Best Original Music

  • Lim Giong, “The Assassin” (Hong Kong/Mainland China/Taiwan)  – WINNER
  • Sanjay Leela Bhansali, “Bajirao Mastani” (India)
  • Amit Trivedi, “Bombay Velvet” (India)
  • Naoko Eto, Yoshihide Otomo, “Journey to the Shore” (France/Japan)
  • BANG Joon-seok, “The Throne” (South Korea)

Best Editing

  • William Chang, Chu Ka-yat, Liao Ching-sung, Wong Hoi, Philip Yung, “Port of Call” (Hong Kong) – WINNER
  • Rajesh Pandey, “Bajirao Mastani” (India)
  • Yasuyuki Ozeki, “Bakuman” (Japan)
  • Tu Yiran, “Jian Bing Man” (Mainland China)
  • Kim Jae-bum, Kim Sang-beom, “Veteran” (South Korea)

Best Visual Effects

  • Ellen Poon, Jason H. Snell, Tang Bingbing, “Monster Hunt” (Hong Kong/Mainland China)
  • Srinivas Mohan, “Baahubali: The Beginning” (India)
  • Prasad Sutar, “Bajirao Mastani” (India) – WINNER
  • Katsuro Onoue, “Attack on Titan” (Japan)
  • Cho Yong-seok, Choi Jae-cheon, Lee Jeon-hyoung, “The Tiger” (South Korea)

Best Costume Design

  • Hwarng Wern-ying, “The Assassin” (Hong Kong/Mainland China/Taiwan)
  • Maxima Basu, Anju Modi, “Bajirao Mastani” (India)
  • Masae Miyamoto, “Kakekomi” (Japan)
  • Lee Ji-yeon, Shim Hyun-seob, “The Throne” (South Korea) – WINNER
  • Carlo Tabije, “Heneral Luna” (The Philippines)

Best Sound

  • Lee George Yiu-keung, Kinson Tsang, Yiu Chun-hin, “Monster Hunt” (Hong Kong/Mainland China)
  • Chu Shih-yi, Tu Duu-chih, Wu Shu-yao, “The Assassin” (Hong Kong/Mainland China/Taiwan)  – WINNER
  • Shinji Watanabe, “Bakuman” (Japan)
  • Toru Nishiyama, “The Inerasable” (Japan)
  • Kim Suk-won, Park Joo-gang, “Assassination” (South Korea)


HKAFF 2015: Five Films to Watch

Miriam Yeung and Jan Lamb in 'She Remembers, He Forgets' PHOTO: HKAFF Society

Miriam Yeung and Jan Lamb in ‘She Remembers, He Forgets’

The Hong Kong Asian Film Festival kicks off today in Hong Kong and runs until Nov. 22. The festival is featuring 70 films from across the region. Here are five to mark in your calendar:

“She Remembers, He Forgets” (Hong Kong)

This is director Adam Wong’s first feature since winning best new director at the Hong Kong Film Awards for “The Way We Dance” (2013). Miriam Yeung and Jan Lamb star in this drama about a couple and their troubled marriage. (Watch the trailer:

“Mountains May Depart” (China)

Auteur Jia Zhangke’s drama looks at how ordinary people’s lives are affected in a fast-changing society. The film has been nominated for seven Golden Horse Awards, which will be handed out next month. (Watch the trailer:

“Zinnia Flower” (Taiwan)

Director Tom Shu-yu Lin worked through his own grief following the death of his wife in this drama about a woman coming to terms over the loss of her fiancé. (Watch the trailer:

“Right Now, Wrong Then” (South Korea)

Director Hong Sang-soo’s latest film won the Golden Leopard award for best film at the Locarno International Film Festival in August, while actor Jung Jae-young picked up the best-actor prize. (Watch the trailer:

“Keeper of Darkness” (Hong Kong)

Actor Nick Cheung steps behind the camera for the second time, following last year’s “Hungry Ghost Ritual,” directing and starring in this suspense thriller. (Watch the trailer:

Raman Hui Named Director of the Year

Raman Hui, director of 'Monster Hunt.' PHOTO: CineAsia

Raman Hui, director of ‘Monster Hunt’
PHOTO: CineAsia

Hong Kong filmmaker Raman Hui was named director of the year by movie-industry group CineAsia.

Mr. Hui directed the 3-D fantasy-action hit “Monster Hunt,” China’s biggest blockbuster this year. The film, which opened in July, went on to earn 2.44 billion yuan (US$383.9 million) and claimed the title of China’s No. 1 box-office hit of all time. 

“CineAsia is thrilled to honor Raman Hui with this prestigious award,” Andrew Sunshine, co-managing director of CineAsia, said in a statement. “As the director of what is now the highest-grossing film of all time in China, Raman continues to perform at a level that is second to none,” he said. 

“Monster Hunt,” an adventure-comedy that combines live-action with animation, is about a battle between humans and gruesome-looking creatures that live deep in the forest.

The film stars actress Bai Baihe and actor Jing Boran. The big-name cast includes Tang Wei, Sandra Ng and Eric Tsang. 

Mr. Hui made his mark in Hollywood as the supervising animator and lead character-designer for “Antz” (1998), among other films. He gained further recognition as the supervising animator for “Shrek” (2001) and its 2004 sequel, “Shrek 2.” He also co-directed 2007’s “Shrek the Third.”

Mr. Hui will be honored by CineAsia at an awards ceremony in Hong Kong in December. The annual CineAsia event brings together movie-industry professionals from across Asia and elsewhere, with a focus on exhibition and distribution.

Watch a trailer for “Monster Hunt”:

Taiwan Names ‘The Assassin’ as Its Oscar Entry

A scene from Hou Hsiao-hsien's 'The Assasin." PHOTO: Well Go USA

A scene from Hou Hsiao-hsien’s ‘The Assassin.’

Taiwan selected “The Assassin” as its official foreign-language entry for the 2016 Academy Awards.

Director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s art-house martial-arts film stars actress Shu Qi as an expert assassin in 9th-century China. Mr. Hou won the best-director award for the film at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.

“‘The Assassin’ was selected because the film’s technical aspect has reached a pinnacle,” Taiwan’s ministry of culture said in a statement. “The film conveys a classical atmosphere and humanity through its cinematography, lighting, art direction and character modeling. Director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film techniques have remained the same, but the film shows Hou’s strong ambition to create a new film language and style,” according to the statement, which was issued by Well Go USA, the film’s U.S. distributor.

The film opened around Asia last month and currently is screening at this week’s Toronto International Film Festival. It will also screen at the New York Film Festival, which opens later in September, prior to its release in the U.S. on Oct. 16.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences typically releases a short list of films eligible for the foreign-language category prior to its announcement of five nominated films. The full list of nominations for the 2016 Oscars is scheduled for Jan. 14, and the awards ceremony will take place on Feb. 28.

‘The Assassin’ Gains an Audience in China

Shu Qi, in a scene from director Hou Hsiao-hsien's 'The Assassin.' PHOTO: Hong Kong International Film Festival Society

Shu Qi, in a scene from director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s ‘The Assassin.’
PHOTO: Hong Kong International Film Festival Society

Filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “The Assassin” continues to gain a steady following at the mainland China box office since its opening on Aug. 27. In its first nine days of release, the Taiwanese director’s art-house sword-play film starring actress Shu Qi has earned 54.91 million yuan (US$8.62 million), according to website ChinaBoxOffice.

The film, which earned Mr. Hou the best-director award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, has drawn strong reviews — earning a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The South China Morning Post called it “an instant classic,” while Variety described it as “a mesmerizing slow burn of a martial-arts movie.”

Watch a trailer for “The Assassin”: