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Korean Stars Dot Firmament of 1st Asian Film Awards
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South Korean thriller The Host enjoyed the glory of winning four out of five nominations, including best picture, at Hong Kong's inaugural Asian Film Awards on Tuesday night while Chinese director Jia Zhangke was honored for best directing.

The dazzling ceremony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center was further brightened by the presence of stars from around Asia, including China, Iran, South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia.

The red carpet was a procession of glamorous celebrities with mainland director Jia Zhangke, Hong Kong directors Andrew Lau and Johnny To, French director Luc Besson, actresses Michelle Yeoh and Maggie Q, actors Tony Leung, Andy Lau and Chang Chen, South Korean pop star Rain and director Park Chan-wook, Japanese actor Hirokazu Korida and actress Miki Nakatani among those in attendance.

The Host, a film depicting a family pitted against a mutant squid-like monster -- brought to life thanks to The Orphanage and Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop-produced visual magic -- which also contains some subtle anti-Americanism, won the awards for best picture, best actor, best cinematographer and best visual effects.

"The film is not only about anti-Americanism but about problems at home in South Korea such as receiving no help from the police even when they are called," said executive producer Choi Yong-bae when he received the award trophy, Song Kang-ho picked up the best actor award for his role in the movie.

This film's reception in Hong Kong is ironic compared with the critical panning it received at home with audiences and media alike deriding it as being a step back for the director, despite its adroit combination of horror, black humor and satire.

Jia Zhangke collected the Best Director Award for his Venice prize-winning film Still Life while Oscar-winning Hong Kong art designer Yip Kam-tim was rewarded for his spectacular work in The Banquet with the best art direction prize.

Japanese actress Miki Nakatani took home the best actress award for Memories of Matsuko, lending the awards a true international flavor along with several other winners such as Iran's Mani Haghighi (best screenwriter), Thailand's Lee Chatametikool (best editor) and Indonesia's Rahayu Supanggah (best composer).

The "Outstanding Contribution to Asian Cinema" achievement award was given to 60-year-old Hong Kong legend Josephine Siao Fong-fong, whose rise from child star to scintillating screen legend across 230 films on silver screen has entertained audiences for five decades.

Pop star Andy Lau, recognized as a landmark figure in Hong Kong film history, won the "Asian Box-office Megastar" award for his outstanding contribution to the Hong Kong film industry -- namely his box office sales in the Hong Kong have reached HK$170 million (US$21.7 million).

Some observers derided the Asian Film Awards for only selecting commercial blockbusters in the best film award nominations such as China's Curse of the Golden Flower, Japan's Death Note: the Last Name and the big box office victor in South Korea, The Host -- the final winner.

As the Hong Kong film industry plummeted in 2006 to its lowest point since the 1980s, while Korean filmmakers are competing for a narrowed field of success due to the nation's stringent screen quota regulations and with Japan facing increased competition pressure from Hollywood, to see Asian box office hits and their makers rewarded is understandable, since the industry must ensure its own survival, observers said.

The awards marked the beginning of the Hong Kong International Film Festival, which will run until April 11. The festival will showcase around 300 films and premiering 16 of them.

Compared to the Hong Kong Film Awards, the Hong Kong International Film Festival is less well-known and organizers have linked it to the new Asian Film Awards this year, hoping to attract and hold the limelight.

Two other influential awards already exist in Hong Kong -- the Hong Kong Film Critic Awards and Golden Bauhinia Awards. Furthermore, two top international awards are held every year in Shanghai and Tokyo, with the reputation of Pusan International Film Festival also on the rise, leading some to question the utility of these new Asian Film Awards.

The answer remains unclear since these inaugural awards, despite having been a visual and cinematic feast, maintain their fledgling status. They must yet prove able to develop into a true development opportunity for Asian films and filmmakers.

The Host wins the Best Picture Award.

Jia Zhangke picks up the Best Director Award for his Still Life.

Hong Kong movie legend Josephine Siao Fong-fong

Pop star Andy Lau

Song Kang-ho receives the Best Actor Award for his performance in The Host.

Miki Nakatani receives the Best Actress Award for her performance in Memories of Matsuko.

Yip Kam-tim is rewarded for his spectacular work in The Banquet with the best art direction prize.

World-famous French director Luc Besson presents the "Outstanding Contribution to Asian Cinema" achievement award to the legendary actress Josephine Siao Fong-fong.

The 3rd Entertainment Expo Hong Kong opens

The Asian Film Awards and the film festival all form part of the 3rd Entertainment Expo Hong Kong. The Expo also kicked off on Tuesday with a star-studded line-up featuring at its gala opening.

Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology Joseph Wong led the ceremony, saying that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government would drive forward in supporting the local media and entertainment industry, which are key components of the creative industries.

The HKSAR government will work to enhance production quality, explore market opportunities, keep up a balanced business environment and facilitate technological development, Wong added.

       Expo Ambassador Tony Leung

The Expo includes eight major core events, including the Hong Kong International Film and TV Market, HK International Film Festival, HK Film Awards Presentation Ceremony, HK-Asia Film Financing Forum, Digital Entertainment Leadership Forum, HK Music Fair, IFPI Hong Kong Top Sales Music Award, and the HK Independent Short Film and Video Awards. The extravaganza will run for just under a month, from March 20 to April 15.

Throwing together a smorgasbord of star-studded events, gala premieres and seminars, this year's Expo has united under the themed banner, "Get into the Scene."

"The entertainment industry serves the public, so their involvement is crucial," said Entertainment Expo Ambassador Tony Leung. "It is a great honor for me to be the Entertainment Expo Ambassador. Over the past three years, we have been able to see the positive effect the event has had throughout the industry. It has become part of the city itself."

(Xinhua News Agency, China.org.cn by Zhang Rui, March 21, 2007)

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