As the year approaches its end, the Golden Horse Awards - the most influential and respected Chinese-language movie award - celebrates a year's worth of cinematic excellence again. The only heavyweight Chinese movie award that accepts entries from movies filmed in Chinese or a Chinese dialect from any country and region, the Golden Horse Awards this year boasts the fiercest competition in years with heavyweight entries from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China.
The most anticipated category is the Best Picture category. This year sees three high-profile art-house classics endorsed by international film festivals competing against two highly acclaimed commercial blockbusters.
Hong Kong director Johnie To's gangster noir "Election" leads the pack with 11 nominations. Hong Kong superstar Stephen Chow's internationally acclaimed comedy masterpiece "Kung Fu Hustle" follows with 10 nominations. Taiwan art-house master Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Three Times" take the third seat by garnering nine nominations.
"A World Without Thieves" starring Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau and Taiwan actress Rene Liu is directed by China master Feng Xiaogang, the most influential China director only next to Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige. As the third consecutive modern day comedy produced by Columbia Asia, the movie is a morality tale about a couple of masterful thieves who suddenly discover their souls when, after the female partner-in-crime becomes pregnant, the couple attempt to redeem themselves through a monk.
"The Wayward Cloud" by Taiwan master Tsai Ming-liang is a controversial and envelope-pushing film about the lives of porn actors. A sexually charged movie featuring an unprecedented amount of nude scenes and intermittent fantasy musical scenes, the film won awards including the Silver Bear Award in Berlin Film Festival this May.
"Election" by Hong Kong rising master Johnie To is a gangster noir about the infighting between two camps in Hong Kong's biggest triad group instigated by the retirement of the group's old chairman and the debate over the new one. A rollercoaster gangster thriller with equal measure of intelligence and entertainment, the movie was selected by Cannes Film Festival as a competition film this year.
"Three Times" by Taiwan master Hou Hsiao-hsien is a three-segment movie about three love affairs between three couples (all portrayed by superstar Shu Qi and Chang Chen) set against three pivotal eras (1911 during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, 1960's during the white horror era under the Kuomintang reign, and 2005 during the political chaos under the DPP reign) in Taiwan history.
"Kung Fu Hustle" is the comedy masterpiece written and directed by Hong Kong superstar Stephen Chow. At once hilarious, inspirational, melodramatic and heart-touching, the movie is about a small-time good-for-nothing delinquent who is trying to climb up the social ladder by joining a powerful gang. Torn between his desire for power and his sympathy for the victims the gang ravages, he discovers his calling as a kungfu master who could help better the world. As Chow's first breakthrough blockbuster in the western world including north America and Europe, the movie also beat out Wong Kar Wai's masterpiece to win the best picture award earlier this year at Hong Kong's Oscars.
The four Best Director nominees are all from the Best Picture category. All four directors except for China director Feng Xiaogang of "A World Without Thieves" are nominated in this category.
A note-worthy category this year is the Best Short Film category. Hong Kong master Wong Kar Wai's segment "The Hand" from the three-part movie "Eros" is submitted as a short film and nominated in this category. A universally praised film work, Wong's "The Hand" has been regarded as the latest masterpiece in his huge oveure of cinematic excellence.
The Best Leading Actor category feature two Hong Kong star and two Taiwanese actors. Tony Leung Ka Fai snabs a nomination for his portrayal of a maniac gangster in "Election." A well respected veteran actor who is mostly known for his turn as a wealthy Chinese Vietnamese heir in the French movie "L'Amant," Leung has previously won a Golden Horse best actor award for "Farewell, China" costarring Maggie Cheung.
Hong Kong star Aaron Kwok, who has been as known for his near-perfect handsomeness as for his monotone acting and singing, delivers a surprise this year with his smoldering performance as a dejected and washed-out cop who buries his mind in work overload after losing his girlfriend in the gangster thriller "Divergence."
Taiwan's reigning heartthrob Chang Chen, who has mostly been known as the weakest link in mega-budget masterpieces such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "2046," finally proves his mettle this year with a double-punch stand-out performances in "The Hand" and "Three Times." Because of the short length of "The Hand," Chang is instead nominated for "Three Times" in which he portrays an innocent soldier in 1911, a politically active newspaper editor in 1960 and a confused modern youth in 2005 respectively.
China's rising actor Chen Kung scores his first Golden Horse nomination for his performance as movie screenwriter who falls in love with a lovely young girl who works in a cafe in the subtle and poignant romance "A West Lake Moment" helmed by acclaimed China director Yen Hao. As one of the most promising young actor in China, Chen's most memorable movie so far was "Balzac and the Chinese Seamtress" written and directed by Chinese French Dai Sinji.
Superstar Stephen Chow, who radiates explosive charisma yet again in "Kung Fu Hustle" as in his previous "Shaolin Soccer," fails to bag a best actor nomination because the Golden Horse committee reasons that his performance as the lead actor pales in comparison to his outstanding achievement as the director and screenwriter in "Kung Fu Hustle."
The Best Leading Actress category also features candidates from different regions. Hong Kong comic star Miriam Yeung scores her first nomination with "Drink Drank Drunk" in which she portrays a brothel house girl disillusioned with men's womanizing and alcohol-gulping ways until one day she meets a shockingly handsome chef who falls down drunk on the sidewalk of a hotpot restaurant.
Taiwanese actress Chen Shing-chyi scores for his role as a library girl at Taiwan's National Place who carries out a doomed love affair with a porn actor in "The Wayward Cloud." As in accord with the trademark style of all of Tsai's movies, there is minimal dialogues in "The Wayward Cloud." In this movie, Chen snags her nomination with only one line of dialogue and then a full arsony of body languages and facial expressions that manage to convey the ecstasy and horror of a proper-and-prim girl who falls in love with a porn star.
Taiwan superstar Shu Qi scores her fourth Golden Horse nomination for her
highly challenging performance in "Three Times." In this movie, Shu portrays a billiard clerk girl in 1960's, a high class brothel house courtesan in 1911, and a sexually ambiguous and drug abusing delinquent in 2005 who is carrying on a romance (all played by actor Chang Chen).
The little known Chinese American Michelle Krusiec bags a nomination for her term as Chinese American lesbian who must come to term with her sexuality and make peace with her single-parent Chinatown mom (portrayed by superstar Joan Chen) who scandulously becomes pregnant and moves in to live with her daughter in the independent movie "Saving Face."
The Best Supporting Actor category sees four Hong Kong thespians competing against each other. Veteran actor Anthony Wong, who also won a best supporting actor award at Golden Horse for Sylvia Chang's "Princess D," scores another yet another nomination as the mentor in the star-studded racing car flick "Initial D." Hong Kong star Alex Fong, who has been rising in the award circles with his acting chops, snabs a nomination for his smoldering turn as a handsome chef who wins the heart of a disillusioned call girl in "Drink Drank Drunk." Hong Kong actor/director Wong Tian Lin snabs a well-deserved nomination as the retired gangster lord in "Election." Hong Kong actore Yuen Wah, who is mostly known for his villain roles in Hong Kong films, turns his image upside down with the hilarious and touching performance as the kungfu master disguised as a womanizing landlord in the blockbuster "Kung Fu Hustle."
In the Best Supporting Actress category, rising stars compete against veteran actresses. Hong Kong veteran actress Teresa Mo for scores for her understated turn as the loving mother who cares for her family in acclaimed director Derek Yee's "2 Young." Taiwanese starlet Hsiao Shu-shen, who has been more known for her gossip column dishes than her acting, proves that she is more than tabloid fodder by winning a nomination for her performance in the lesbian costume drama "Love's Lone Flower." Taiwanese veteran actress Lu Yi-ching, a regular in Tsai Ming-liang's movies, snabs a nomination for role as a newly released inmate who encounters two drastically different men who change her life in "Blue Cha-Cha." Veteran Hong Kong actress Yuen Qiu bags a nomination for her hilarious and attention-grabbing turn as the screaming and speed-running landlady in "Kung Fu Hustle." Yuen was the first ever Chinese James Bond girl in the 70's. In retirement for decades, Yuen was lured by Stephen Chow and put on 30 kiligrams to portray this juicy part of a kungfu master disguised as a ditsy landlady. In honor of her contribution to cinema, Yuen was nominated as a Best Leading Actress contender for the same role earlier this year in Hong Kong's Oscars.
The universally acclaimed and the current reigning Taiwanese R&B superstar Jay Chou scores two nominations for his film debut with the blockbuster "Initial D" about youngsters addicted to car racing. Chow scores the nomination as the Best New Performer and Best Original Film Song entitled "Drifting" composed and performed by himself. Chou, however, faces stiff competition from veteran and award magnet Lo Tayu, who composes the theme song "Song for Heaven" for the movie "Election."
Hong Kong kungfu master Tsui Hark's acclaimed blockbuster "Seven Swords" scores technical category nominations such as Best Screenplay Adaptation, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction, Best Makeup and Costume Design, Best Action Choreography and Best Sound Effects.
The 42nd Golden Horse Awards ceremony will be held on November 13 in Keelung.