South Korean black comedy Parasite has continued its juggernaut trajectory by winning best feature film at the Asia Pacific Screen awards on Thursday.
The Bong Joon-ho directed film has won accolades on the Korean film circuit and film festivals around the world, including the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and has its sights set on the Oscars.
But it was the capacity to make sumptuous work with the most meagre of production budgets that unified all the winners at the 13th annual awards ceremony, held in Brisbane on Thursday night. Even the coffers of the smash hit Parasite were not “very high compared to other European or American movies”, producer Jang Yeong-hwan said.
“It was not just a Korean story, it has a universal appeal,” Yeong-hwan said of Parasite’s global response. “But still we didn’t expect this level of success.”
Other winners include Kazakhstan’s Adilkhan Yerzhanov, an APSA veteran, who received his first achievement in directing award for his visually stunning crime film A Dark-Dark Man, which follows the fallout from the murder of an orphaned boy.
Yerzhanov is often credited with inventing Kazakh-noir but A Dark-Dark Man is also a kind of Kazakh western. Shot against the mountain ranges and vast open sweep of the Kazakh Steppe, the film’s malevolent characters are tiny insects in this extraordinary landscape.
“Similar to Australia but colder,” Yerzhanov told the Guardian, adding that the story was “taken from the stories of Dashiell Hammett, in the nuanced style where there are no good people”.
Yerzhanov said it was “quite difficult” to finance arthouse films such as A Dark-Dark Man but that local investors often responded to international interest. “When my films are selected overseas I feel like it means we are doing something right,” he said.
A willingness to take on challenging roles was the defining characteristic of both winners of best actor awards. Manoj Bajpayee is unrecognisable as a shuffling, elderly, redundant policeman in Indian Hindi-language drama Bhonsle. Depressed, without hope, his character has withdrawn into the joyless monotony of loneliness.
“All these years of theatre and cinema come to nothing if you are not evolving as an actor,” Bajpayee told the Guardian of his determination to play a part significantly older than his 50 years. “What interests me is the conflict and chaos that is going on inside the brain.”
The film does not shy away from tough subjects, addressing ageing, migration in Mumbai and rape, among other things. “Misogyny is quite prevalent in our country,” Bajpayee said. “The fight is on, the struggle is on.”
Bhonsle marks Bajpayee’s second APSA best actor award win. He won in 2016 for his soulful gay professor struggling against homophobic prejudice in the biopic Aligarh.
Meanwhile, the Philippines’s Max Eigenmann took the best actress award for Verdict, in which she plays a victim of domestic violence, her injuries visible as she fights a sagging bureaucracy for some kind of justice.
Being exposed through her work on the film to domestic violence in the Philippines “woke me up”, she said.
“It is very, very common but not a lot of people speak about it. That is the basis of this film.”
She spoke highly of Verdict’s 26-year-old director, Raymund Ribay Gutierrez, who she said conducted thorough research, including interviewing numerous perpetrators and victims of domestic violence. “He wanted this film to be the voice of all women,” Eigenmann said. “It is such an honour for me to be that voice.”
She said she was not allowed to read the script before shooting the film, resulting in a performance that is confronting and raw. She said all she could do to prepare for work each day was “brace myself”.
“I did take home a little bit of this character,” she said. “I was kind of depressed the entire time I was shooting the movie. It makes you feel shitty. It was so physically exhausting and emotionally draining.”
Verdict received the Horizons special jury prize at the 2019 Venice film festival and, upon seeing it completed for the first time, Eigenmann cried all the way through.
In other awards, Russian cinematographer Ksenia Sereda took the achievement in cinematography for her work on the Russian post-second world war drama Beanpole, which Guardian reviewer Peter Bradshaw called “a story of people for whom the horror of war has not ended, for whom peace is the horror of war by other means”. Israel’s Philippe Bellaiche won best documentary for Advocate.
Other winners include Japan’s Weathering with You for best animated feature film, Indian filmmaker Ridham Janve received the young cinema award for The Gold-Laden Sheep and the Sacred Mountain, while Palestinian film It Must Be Heaven received the jury grand prize.