It’s awards season! Film buffs will have to wait until April for next year’s Oscars due to the coronavirus pandemic. But there are still plenty of festivals and awards ceremonies putting on a show. One of the lesser known, but no less prestigious, film-related awards is the Asian Film Awards. The Asian Film Awards (AFA) began in 2013, organized by the newly-formed AFA Academy. The Academy is a collaboration between the Tokyo, Hong Kong and Busan international film festivals. It was created to promote and encourage Asian filmmakers and cinema.
The AFA includes many of the usual categories, like Best Director, Best Visual Effects and Best Editing. But for time’s sake, I will just focus on the movies nominated for Best Film. A full list of the nominees can be found here.
So here is everything you need to know about the Best Film nominees at the 2020 Asian Film Awards:
1 Listen to the Universe – Japan
“Listen to the Universe” — also known by its original title, “Mitsubachi to Enrai” — is based on a novel of the same name. This drama revolves around the story of four musicians with very different lives. But their journeys intersect at an international piano competition.
This is the fourth film from director Kei Ishikawa. Besides its nomination for Best Film at the AFA, “Listen to the Universe” is also up for the Japan Academy Prize’s Picture of the Year. The film has been praised by fans for its well-developed characters, moving soundtrack and gorgeous cinematography.
2 So Long, My Son – China
“So Long, My Son” (地久天长, Dì Jiǔ Tiān Cháng) follows two families over the course of 30 years. The families work in the same factory and even have sons born on the same day. Although the plot seems mundane, the simplest premises can be the most moving when done skillfully. The film has been praised for its ability to capture the difficulties of ordinary citizens during China’s social reforms, such as the one-child policy. The movie captures the universal themes of grief, change and love.
The film has already been recognized by many international film awards shows. Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei won Best Actor and Best Actress respectively at both the 69th Berlin International Film Festival and the 32nd Golden Rooster Awards. The director Wang Xiaoshuai also co-wrote the movie, winning a Golden Rooster for Best Writing.
3 A Sun – Taiwan
“A Sun” (陽光普照, Yáng Guāng Pǔ Zhào) is a family drama revolving around the dynamic between two sons. The older son is the pride and joy of the family while the other is a dark disappointing stain on their family line. But as the events of the movie progress, the roles are somewhat reversed. In order to keep the suspense, that is all I will say for now.
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. It was highly praised by Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. Critics highlighted how delicately Chung handled the dynamic, showing how our own expectations of a person get in the way of seeing who they truly are. The film won the awards for both Best Feature Film and Best Director at the 56th Golden Horse Awards.
4 Thappad by Anubhav Sinha – India
“Thappad” is a Hindi-language film about a woman who is slapped by her husband at a party. This sets off a chain of events leading her to rethink her life choices. The film focuses on the woman’s journey to gain independence and freedom from her husband in a deeply-misogynistic society.
“Thappad” has been praised for addressing universal misogynistic issues on the big screen. The director, Anubhav Sinha, is most proud of the film’s impact on pushing men to re-evaluate their preconceived notions of women. Although the film was well-reviewed by critics, it failed to take off at the theaters. Sinha recently received backlash on twitter for an outburst regarding box office reports.
5 There is No Evil – Iran, Germany
“There is No Evil” (translated from Persian, شیطان وجود ندارد, to 'Satan doesn't exist') follows the stories of four men who have been sentenced to the death penalty. This film aligns with the themes of director Mohammad Rasoulof’s previous works, such as oppression, submission and resistance.
Rasoulof said his goal was “to turn my camera to the light side and to show that, although because of the act of resistance and refusing to take part in your repression you may have a price to pay, you may be harmed, but your life can still be joyful. This light was something that I really decided to put at the heart of my stories.”
“There is No Evil” has been widely praised by various critics. It even won the Gold Bear for Best Film at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival. Rasoulof was unable to attend the festival: he is unable to travel internationally due to propaganda charges. However, he is still able to produce controversial, thought provoking pieces.
6 Parasite – South Korea
This movie made headlines when it won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2020. In fact, it swept awards season last year, piling on numerous other international film awards. If you don’t know what this film is about, I recommend going in blind. But just in case you like to be prepared, “Parasite” follows a lower class family who cons their way onto the trusted staff of a wealthy family. The film is a commentary on classicism and desperation. It transcends genre barriers.
“Parasite” (aka “Gisaengchung”) was directed by Bong Joon-ho, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Han Jin-won. Bong’s other films are often in the same vein as “Parasite,” including “Snowpiercer” and “Okja.” “Parasite” was a milestone for Asian creators gaining recognition from Western audiences.
All these nominations for Best Film are stimulating pieces that showcase the lives of regular people.They comment on the human struggle under different circumstances: they cover everything from classicism, to patriarchal standards, to familial grief and change.
I am so glad that the Asian Film Awards is giving recognition to them all, and I am definitely going to be watching the awards ceremony. You can tune in to the Asian Film Awards on October 28th on the Academy’s Youtube Channel to see who wins!