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Huabiao refers to a type of ceremonial column often erected in front of palaces and last weekend the pillars of China's film industry were recognized.

Jackie Chan performed a song on stage, Chow Yun-fat, who seldom shows up at mainland film festivals, walked the red carpet, and top directors Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Stephen Chow and Wong Kar-wai all attended.

Set up in 1957, Huabiao Film Awards is a film competition hosted by the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (SARFT). It has been a bi-annual event since 2005.

Megastar Zhang Ziyi won accolades at the awards for her role as Meng Xiaodong, the lover of Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang in Chen Kaige's Forever Enthralled (Mei Lanfang).

She earned the same Excellent Actress honor in 2005, by her performance in Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers (Shimian Maifu).

Chen was awarded as Excellent Director. Feng Xiaogang, whose war film The Assembly (Jijie Hao) topped the local box office in 2007, shared the honor.

Taiwan actress Shu Qi at the press conference after she won the Excellent Chinese Actress outside the Mainland award at this year's Huabiao Film Awards.

Taiwan actress Shu Qi at the press conference after she won the Excellent Chinese Actress outside the Mainland award at this year's Huabiao Film Awards. [Wang Jing] 

Despite the formalities, the event is more like a party than a contest. The award winners are honored as "excellent" instead of "best" and usually every award has two winners or more.

This year 10 films shared the Excellent Film award, including box office winners such as Forever Enthralled and The Assembly, as well as Iron Men (Tie Ren), a "mainstream" film on a role model oilfield worker.

Sharing Zhang's award was Fan Zhibo, the leading actress in Emergency (Tufa Shijian), a film about two dedicated officials.

The Excellent Actors included Zhang Hanyu, the lead in The Assembly and Guo Jinglin, who plays the respectable scientist Yuan Longping in a biopic.

This year's Huabiao had three new awards, namely the Excellent Chinese Director outside the Mainland and the Excellent Chinese Actor/Actress outside the Mainland.

John Woo, with the smash hit historic epic Red Cliff (Chi Bi), won the director award. Taiwan actress Shu Qi and Hong Kong actor Donnie Yen won the other two prizes.

"We have seen more and more co-produced films on a larger scale in recent years," says Zhang Hongsen, vice president of the State Film Bureau affiliated to SARFT.

"In the future we may have all Chinese filmmakers, including those from Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas in the same awarding system. Setting up these three awards is the first step."

According to Zhang, Huabiao's jury is made up of 38 judges including those from governmental departments, filmmakers, cinema managers and representatives from various walks in life.

China's box office reached a record-breaking 4.34 billion yuan ($680 million) in 2008, an increase of 30.5 percent over the takings in 2007.

The industry has seen an average growth of 25 percent since 2002.

(China Daily September 1, 2009)

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