TAIPEI – Singaporean family drama “Ilo Ilo” was the surprise winner of the coveted best feature film prize at the Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan Saturday while kung fu epic “The Grandmaster” scooped the most gongs at the Chinese-language “Oscars”.
“Ilo Ilo” — director Anthony Chen’s first feature-length film — was the dark horse for the award, beating off stiff competition from Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster,” Johnnie To’s “Drug War,” Jia Zhangke’s “A Touch of Sin” and Tsai Ming-liang’s “Stray Dogs”.
Chen also scooped the best new director and best original screenplay prizes for his film, based on his own experiences, which tells the story of a Filipina maid who befriends the troubled son of the Singaporean family she works for.
“We come from a small country and this film probably has the smallest scale and budget and I never expected to win,” Chen said after accepting the best film award from acclaimed directors Ang Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien — the first time a Singaporean film has won the prize.
“I want to thank Ang Lee and the judges for letting the Chinese-speaking world see Singaporean movies and opening a new chapter for Singaporean cinema. I hope this award will encourage more young directors in Singapore.”
The Grandmaster,” inspired by the life of Yip Man, the mentor of legendary kung fu star Bruce Lee, collected five awards after being nominated in 11 categories — including best actress for Zhang Ziyi, best cinematography and best visual effects.
“Shooting ‘The Grandmaster’ was a long and hard but blissful journey and I want to thank the masters before and behind the screen,” said an emotional Zhang, the star of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Memoirs of a Geisha”.
“You are good and you’ve made me better,” added the actress, who plays a martial arts master opposite Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai.
Taiwan’s Lee Kang-sheng beat off competition from Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Tony Leung Ka-fai to win best actor for his role as the father of a homeless family living on the margins of society in “Stray Dogs”.
The film’s Malaysian-born, Taiwan-based director Tsai Ming-liang bagged the best director award two months after “Stray Dogs” won the new Grand Jury Prize at the 70th Venice film festival.
“I didn’t expect to win. I think it could only happen in Taiwan that a Malaysian Chinese who argued with the Golden Horse (organisers) can win the award,” Tsai said.
Tsai had threatened to “forever boycott” the Golden Horse Awards in 2006 after judges criticised his movie “I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone” during the nomination process.
Malaysia-born, Singapore-based Yeo Yann Yann took the best supporting actress statuette for playing a mother juggling work and family in “Ilo Ilo”.
“This is a fantastic journey for me to attend the Golden Horse ceremony in Taiwan. I want to thank the director and my family in Malaysia. I hope my fantastic journey will continue,” said Yeo, who was six months’ pregnant during filming.
Veteran Chinese performer Li Xuejian was awarded best supporting actor for his role as a nationalist Kuomintang party official in the historical drama “Back to 1942”.
Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s sensitive social drama “A Touch of Sin”, which has reportedly been banned in China, collected the best film editing and best original film score awards, while the best action choreography title went to action hero Jackie Chan for “CZ12”.
Nearly 40 films were nominated in the 50th edition of the Golden Horse Film Awards, which are styled on the US Academy Awards but are decided by a jury in a similar way to the Cannes film festival. This year’s jury was chaired by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee.