It seems Hollywood East wants to have its own Oscars East too. The first Asian Film Awards, billed as an 'Asian version of the Oscars', will open the Hong Kong International Film Festival next month, and our suddenly culturally sensitive government will subsidise it to the tune of HK$5 million. Ten prizes will be presented in categories ranging from best film to best screenwriting, cinematography and visual effects. Festival chairman Wilfred Wong Ying-wai says awards for Asian cinema are long overdue given that 60 per cent of the world's population lives in the region. So, if the Oscars celebrate the best of the west, there's room for a feast to the east. It's a nice idea - not to mention one heck of a promotional vehicle to kick off the film festival - but you can't just create an award that reflects a pan-Asian perspective overnight. When exactly have movie awards truly represented real film achievements? Let's face it, the Academy Awards are primarily a marketing device. Every year, deserving works are neglected because they were released at the wrong time of the year, didn't get the right studio support, or were just too offbeat or challenging for conservative Academy members. Will our Asian equivalent be any different? Nominees for the first Asian Film Awards were apparently picked by a jury of 17 film experts 'from across the world'. This is a prize that is supposed to reflect the creative achievements of half the world on one continent and it is decided by a group I can count on my fingers and toes? Talk about your small circle election. The common criticism about the Oscars is its inherent biases. Despite talk of the independents' breakthrough, it's still mostly major American studios that pick up the prizes. Occasionally, an esteemed British flick may get an invite to the Governor's Ball. But unless a bigwig such as Harvey Weinstein chaperons one of those martial artsy dramas (with Chinese people, in Chinese costumes, speaking Chinese), we'll be lucky to get a token seat at the foreign language nominees' table. Put it this way: our movies are sometimes too foreign. The year Akira Kurosawa made his classic Seven Samurai, it didn't get an Oscar nomination. But Seven Brides for Seven Brothers did. It will be interesting to see how seriously the rest of Asia takes this new kudos fest. Surely, it's a little conceited and presumptuous for us to suggest we'll decide what the best Asian cinematic achievements are each year at the start of our film festival. I'm sure the advisory group tried their best to ensure objectivity and a wide jury representation, but considering where the event is being held it can't help but give it a Hong Kong slant. Given the sheer size and scope of Japanese and South Korean cinema, they ought to dominate, right? Nope! And other regions are practically ignored. Hong Kong has a disproportionally high number of nominations (15 from local productions or co-productions). Other prolific and serious film nations such as India and Iran barely got noticed, with just three between them. Maybe it was a bad year on the subcontinent. Maybe Johnnie To Kei-fung's Exiled is just so much more superior than Jafar Panahi's Offside that it deserves recognition as both best picture and best director. Maybe Andy Lau Tak-wah in A Battle of Wits is that much more powerful than Amitabh Bachchan in Black. It's also a travesty that a film award for the region doesn't have a best dance choreography category. Are they afraid Prabhu Deva will dominate, year after year? All kidding aside, there are just too many fragmented markets in the region and too few films shown across the continent to make it universally compelling. It's like apples and oranges. Most Asian audiences have simply never heard of these films. Anyone know the Indonesian best picture nominee, Opera Jawa? The bottom-line question is: does the world really need another film award? The answer is, of course not. But that's never stopped any other film association, so the HKIFF is guilty only of being a Johnny- come-lately. The least we can do now is come up with a good nickname for the AFA trophy.