Hong Kong movies defy warnings with strong Golden Horse presence

Taiwanese actress Alyssa Chia poses for a photo with her trophy after winning Best Actress for the film ‘The Falls’ at the 58th Golden Horse Film Awards in Taipei on November 27, 2021. ― AFP pic

Thursday 17 November 2022 08:06 GMT

HONG KONG, November 17 ― Crime thriller Limbo leads the field at the Golden Horse Film Awards in a strong performance for Hong Kong despite veiled warnings from Chinese authorities against attending the prestigious Taiwan-based event.

Dubbed the Oscars in the Chinese language, this Saturday’s Golden Horse Awards are now the fourth straight year without any mainstream Chinese films due to political tensions between Beijing and Taipei.

Most of the Chinese and Hong Kong stars who used to fill the red carpet shunned the event after a Taiwanese director voiced his support for the island’s independence in an acceptance speech in 2018.

China claims the self-governing democratic island as part of its territory and has long blacklisted Taiwanese artists for any perceived support for independence.

There were no mainland films in the 2019 nominations list and several Hong Kong films dropped out that year, while major commercial productions were conspicuously absent in the 2020 and 2021 awards.

This year marks something of a change with seven Hong Kong films competing, including five feature films and two documentaries, in what organizers described as “the best screening in five years” for the city.

Five independent works from China are also in the running, although there are still no feature film submissions or major commercial releases.

“Think Twice”

Just days before the nominations were announced in September, the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Association urged members to “think twice” about getting involved in the Golden Horse Awards, describing them as “gradually politicized”.

Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office echoed the disapproval, saying it supports cultural exchanges with Taiwan but “for activities with a political overtone, that’s another matter.”

Dark crime in black and white Limbowho has the most nods at 14, is up for best picture against another Hong Kong drama The sunny side of the street and three Taiwanese films.

But it is unclear whether many candidates from Hong Kong or China will travel to Taipei.

Cya Liu, nominated for Best Actress in Limboconfirmed via her Hong Kong agency that she would not attend the ceremony, without giving reasons.

“I think they want to win but in the current political environment, it’s probably unavoidable that neither the director nor the actors will be present,” with the exception of Taiwanese-American actor Mason Lee, told AFP. AFP film critic Wonder Weng.

Mason Lee is the son of Taiwanese Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, who is a strong supporter of the Golden Horse and regularly chairs its jury, a role that is taken over this year by veteran Hong Kong director Ann Hui.

“It would be really embarrassing…if a film that is recognized with 14 nominations doesn’t seem to support, or even boycott” the event, said Weng of the Film Critics Society of Taiwan.

Soi Cheang, who is nominated for Best Director for Limbodeclined a request for comment from AFP.

“A door for independent films”

The Golden Horse Awards have become a bulwark against Beijing’s tightening grip on creative freedoms and often feature titles that wouldn’t pass censors in China and Hong Kong.

At last year’s awards show, the award for Best Documentary went to Hong Kong director Kiwi Chow’s Revolution of our time.

The film explored the huge and sometimes violent democratic protests that swept through the business center in 2019 but cannot be shown there.

Once a melting pot of Cantonese cinema and a bastion of freedom of expression, Hong Kong is turning into a mirror of the authoritarian mainland after these protests.

A national security law criminalized much dissent, and movie censorship powers were strengthened.

Some of the Chinese films nominated this year also tackle sensitive topics.

Short film Border explores stereotypes and discrimination against China’s Uyghur minority. do you want to look at me is a documentary on homosexuality while Silence in the dust focuses on workers suffering from industrial pollution.

“Some say the Golden Horse might become less influential with fewer big films submitted, but I think it’s crucial that…it opens a door for those independent films,” commentator Weng said.

“It’s the only outlet for their voices to be heard” at Chinese-language film festivals and awards, he added.

Hong Konger Chan Tze-woon blue island is nominated for Best Documentary. It focuses on the city’s democratic movement and what he calls “a desperate attempt to capture the final moments of a sinking island.”

“I hope more people will know about the film after its nomination and that it will allow more people to continue discussing Hong Kong,” said Chan, who said he planned to attend the ceremony. Saturday.

“I also hope the nomination will encourage more filmmakers to keep making free movies,” he told AFP. ―ETX Studio

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