Pretty Big Feet (Meili de Dajiao), was the top prize winner -- capturing four categories -- on Tuesday at the 22nd Golden Rooster Awards.
The Roosters are China's top film awards. Pretty Big Feet won the best film, best director, best actress and best supporting actress categories.
"It is the first film that depicts contemporary western China," said Mo Yan, a renowned writer who authored a series of novels depicting rural life in China's hinterland including Red Sorghum, which was later adapted to an award-winning movie with the same title.
Set in a small Northwest China village on the Loess Plateau, the movie sketches the life of a rural woman teacher -- Zhang Meili, played by Ni Ping.
The teacher -- trying to help the villagers overcome poverty -- believed education was the only way the locals could change their fate.
The movie centers on three relationships -- the communication between Zhang and a Beijing volunteer Xia Yu played by Yuan Quan, who won the best supporting actress award; the intimacy/love affair between Zhang and Wang Shu, the village projectionist, played by Sun Haiying; and the special commitment by the two teachers to the village's children.
Zhang and Xia Yu -- with different social backgrounds -- experience conflicts, understanding and friendship.
Zhang, despite living in a poverty-stricken area, encourages her students, much like herself, to maintain their dignity.
"The movie made me laugh and cry," said Li Jianhua, an art editor with a Beijing-based newspaper.
The strong cast and solid screenplay made the film a success.
"I had a dream. I wanted to make a movie revealing the reality of people and their lives in today's western China," said Yang Yazhou, who shared the best director category with Chen Kaige, for his Together.
"I was deeply moved while reading Li Wei's screenplay earlier this year," Yang said.
"It explored the right mentality of ordinary people." Yang is renowned for his films and television serieses depicting China's ordinary citizens.
"I have two goals -- entertaining people while presenting in-depth concepts," he said.
Pretty Big Feet, he said, achieved both goals.
The director also spoke highly about his stars.
"As soon as I saw Ni Ping in a typical rural woman's dress, running with a group of children on the dried-up bed of the Yellow River, I was confident she would make it," Yang said.
Ni, one of China Central Television's most popular anchors, put in a solid performance despite a 14-year absence from the movie business.
"I thought Ni captured the right mood of the teacher," Yang said.
"She prepared well," Sun said.
Sun earned fame for his portrayal of Shi Guangrong, a military general, in the TV series The Days When We Were Young (Jiqing Ranshao de Suiyue).
Yuan Quan, who won the best supporting actress award for her portrayal of the volunteer teacher, well demonstrated her acting prowess.
Yuan is regarded as one of China's rising stars. She has played city girls' roles in several productions.
"Although the story is simple, everyone in the film seems to have a perfect understanding of their roles, even the amateur children performers," said Li Jianhua.
"They are not acting, but showing their real emotions."
The award ceremonies were held in Wuxi, East China's Jiangsu Province.
(China Daily October 25, 2002)