The Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was named best picture at the fifth Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong on Monday in a ceremony overshadowed by the absence of Japanese filmmakers who stayed home in the wake of the deadly earthquake and tsunami.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's mystical drama follows a dying man from Thailand's rural northeast who explores his past and the idea of reincarnation in his final days.
Apichatpong said it was especially sweet to win in his home region, a year after he took the top Palme d'Or award at France's Cannes Film Festival.
"I think maybe that shows that's what some people need, because the films that are being made now are so universal in terms of style and storytelling. That means maybe we need something different and some diversity," he said.
Veteran South Korean director Lee Chang-dong took home best director and best screenplay for Poetry, about an elderly woman who discovers a passion for writing poems. Lee also won best screenplay for the same movie at Cannes last year.
Another South Korean, Ha Jung-woo, won best actor for his role as a minority Korean in China who becomes a contract killer in The Yellow Sea.
China's Xu Fan was best actress for playing a grieving widow in her husband Feng Xiaogang's earthquake epic Aftershock, which also won for best visual effects.
But as the cream of Asian cinema celebrated their best works from the past year, they also remembered the suffering in Japan, highlighted by the sparse attendance from the country's film industry. Nominated stars, like actor Koji Yakusho (13 Assassins) and actresses Rinko Kikuchi (Norwegian Wood) and Takako Matsu (Confessions), missed Monday's ceremony. The lone Japanese winner of the night, 13 Assassins production designer Yuji Hayashida, also was absent.
The hosts, presenters and winners sent best wishes to the Japanese people. Famed American producer Harvey Weinstein delivered a public greeting to his friend, Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, before handing out the best actor award with Hong Kong actress Carina Lau.
Addressing the Japanese public, Weinstein said, "We hope you're safe and we hope things turn very well very quicklY."
Accepting his box office award, Feng announced that two of the investors in Aftershock, Hong Kong studio Media Asia and mainland counterpart Huayi Brothers, have pledged $76,000 for relief efforts. Moet & Chandon chipped in another $23,000 to the Japanese Red Cross — $1,300 for each of the 18 awards handed out Monday.
In other awards, veteran Hong Kong action star Sammo Hung was named best supporting actor for portraying a rival kung fu master Ip Man 2. South Korea's Yoon Yeo-jeong won for her supporting role in The Housemaid.
Retired Hong Kong producer Raymond Chow, who guided the careers of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, was honoured for lifetime achievement. Kim Dong-ho, who built South Korea's Busan International Film Festival into one of the region's best, received a prize for outstanding contribution to Asian cinema. Organisers also paid tribute to Hong Kong-based Fortissimo F
ilms, a company that specialises in marketing and distributing Asian movies.