THE casino punters in Macau must be envying Anthony Chen as his debut feature, Ilo Ilo, continued its winning streak at the 56th Asia Pacific Film Festival (APFF) with Yeo Yann Yann taking home the Best Supporting Actress prize.
Held at the sprawling Venetian Macau Resort Hotel last Sunday, the awards ceremony capped the three-day boutique film festival organised by the Federation of Motion Picture Producers in the Asia-Pacific. The star-studded event - hosted by the former Portuguese colony for the second consecutive year - featured celebrities like Andy Lau, whose latest action blockbuster Firestorm was the opening film, and the likes of Nick Cheung, Anita Yuen, Fiona Sit and Zhang Ziyi, who scooped the Best Actress prize for her role in The Grandmaster.
The awards show was televised "live" to about 30 countries and had a surprisingly strong Singapore presence. Comedian Mark Lee co-hosted the event while Chen, Jack Neo and Christopher Lee all came on to present awards during the course of the evening.
Fresh from his Golden Horse wins last month, as well as nods for Best Director in Brisbane and Dubai (where Ilo Ilo also won Best Picture and Yeo was crowned Best Actress) earlier in the same week, Chen proved to be a hit with the mainland Chinese and Hong Kong press which took up every available interview slot with him. Such enthusiasm is rare and usually reserved for the more popular homegrown Chinese stars rather than a foreign newcomer.
Ilo Ilo was also part of APFF's eight-film line-up and was in the running for Best Film, Best Screenplay and Best Actress as well.
Hong Kong movie mogul and executive chairman of the 56th APFF organising committee, Eric Tsang, said Macau can take heart from the success of Ilo Ilo. Like Singapore, it has a very small movie industry and its population of just over half a million is barely enough to support it.
"It's difficult to even find a production crew here but even if you're not making your own films, it doesn't mean you can't help others to make theirs," noted Tsang. "Macau actually has plenty of history and stories behind it to inspire filmmakers."
Films that were shot on location there this year include Hong Kong action director Dante Lam's mixed martial arts drama Unbeatable and Korean director Choi Dong-Hoon's ensemble-cast heist thriller The Thieves. Both movies have broken their respective domestic box offices and exposed Macau to a wider audience.
More importantly, the films also showed different sides of the world's richest gambling mecca. Choi's The Thieves used the often-seen glitzy neon lights of its casinos as a backdrop while Lam steered clear of that, preferring to set Unbeatable in the older but historically richer part of town.
Tsang added that hosting the APFF, which started in Tokyo in 1954 and was originally named South-east Asia Film Festival, for the second year running meant he had more time to make the event a bigger one.
This included commissioning a special closing film, Streets of Macau. The omnibus movie features seven short stories directed by popular Hong Kong filmmakers including his son, Derek Tsang, and Wong Ching Po. It stars a host of Hong Kong household names like Charlene Choi, Edison Chen and Miu Kiu Wai, all of whom graced the screening's red carpet.
The elder Tsang said the success he has enjoyed in the film industry is not something he expected because he does not boast the typical good looks of his peers.
"Look at me; I've never thought I could be an actor," he admitted. "But when I was just starting, I would often take the initiative to interact with the crew including the directors and producers whom I worked with."
He now wants to pay the deed forward by boosting Macau's profile through APFF, especially since this is the last year the event is held there before moving to Thailand next year.
"I hope to bring the filmmaking scene to a different level and help them develop it as much as I can so people see Macau as more than just a backdrop; it actually also has its own unique identity and characteristics," he said. Citing Las Vegas as an example of a city that no longer relies only on gaming to power its economy, Tsang added: "People used to go to Vegas to gamble only but that in turn has boosted the entertainment scene (with long-running stage shows and big- name music acts that become resident acts); Macau definitely has the potential to do the same."