A film for the masses, not critics

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 4:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 4:17am


The polite thing to do when someone else wins a big award is to force a smile and congratulate them. That seems to be beyond some insiders from Hong Kong's film industry. A few have grumbled about the failure of legendary director Wong Kar-wai's much touted The Grandmaster to win in the major categories at Taiwan's 50th Golden Horse movie awards, except for best actress, won by mainlander Zhang Ziyi.

Instead, Singapore's social drama Ilo Ilo - about the relationship between a foreign domestic helper and the family she works for - won the awards for best film, best director and best original screenplay. It cost less than HK$4 million to produce. By contrast, The Grandmaster, based on the life of kung fu legend Ip Man, took more than a decade to make and was much hyped. Certainly it has all the trademarks for which Wong has earned a huge arthouse following around the world - the scenery and artistic visuals; the disembodied voices, like voiceovers from actors, speaking about nothing in particular but sounding vaguely philosophical; the gorgeous costumes.

In truth, The Grandmaster won in the categories that were undoubtedly well-deserved: best cinematography, best visual effects, best art director and best make-up/costume design. But the best director prize that Wong had widely been expected to win did not follow.

Many take his movies as Artistry Incarnate; and professing to be a big fan of Wong is a cultural requirement in Hong Kong to distinguish one from the culturally illiterate.

When a Wong film enters a film contest, whether local or overseas, it practically has a licence to win. Such has been the artistic prestige and aura he has created for himself. Judges, one supposes, have to be "artistically correct". The judges in Taiwan apparently did not have such cultural baggage to carry. They saw the emperor and took a pass.

Why did Ilo Ilo win big? Perhaps it's because it has a poignant story, with characters that audiences care about and that it delivers an emotional impact.