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Vincent Yu/AP
Andy Lau, right, and Helena Law Lan after winning Best Actor and Best Actress at the 19th Hong Kong Film Awards

WEB-ONLY EXCLUSIVE
Ordinary Heroes
The Hong Kong Film Awards ceremony offers the spectacle of some working-class stars having a good time
By RICHARD CORLISS Hong Kong

ALSO:
And The Winner Is ...


Do people at awards ceremonies have any fun? You wouldn't think so if you watched last month's Oscar Night. The stars seemed starched into their tuxedos. Best Actor nominee Russell Crowe glowered as if he were next in line on Death Row, as victim or executioner. Warren Beatty's solemn, stumbling thank-you speech made U.S. voters glad he didn't run for President. The ordeal lasted four hours--longer than some Hollywood movies these days. And like quite a few other films, the Oscarcast was meandering and mopey, and so full of itself it nearly exploded from hot air.

Not so the Hong Kong Film Awards, whose 19th edition was held on Sunday at the cavernous Hong Kong Coliseum. Here were folks who knew how to have, and give, a good time--and in a brisk two-and-a-half hours. The opening number from producer Teddy Robin had the voice of comedy god Stephen Chow introduce some Peking Operabatics and kung-fu fighting (with "Purple Storm" star Stephen Daniel Wu sailing and spinning on wires). To underline the top talent's solidarity with the proletariat, several directors contributed short-film tributes to film people who never get awards (the production assistant, the camera pushers, the tea-serving lady known as "Queen Pauline").

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The show had a few gaffes and slow spots, but none of the self-importance that bloats a Hollywood prize marathon. The Hong Kong film industry threw itself a party, pure and simple, and invited some great looking people. We'll let Michelle Yeoh, Sylvia Chang, Daniel Wu, Faye Wong and Josie Ho (whose hair was more gravity-defying than Marge Simpson's) take us to the movies any time.

The trio of hosts--actor-comedians Eric Tsang Chi-wai and Vincent Kok Tak-chiu and actress Sandra Ng Kwun-yu--kept the tone breezy and brassy. They teased some of the stars about their famous or notorious affairs, while offering kind words to Jackie Chan and Gigi Leung Wing-kei, who had endured recent revelations of hanky-panky. For the awarding of the Best Actor prize, Ng joined Carina and Faye Wong, the Mainland Madonna, for a three-way teasing session about their respective beaux. The mood was less Victoria Peak tea party than sorority dish party. Director Peter Chan, whose "Comrades, Almost a Love Story" won nine awards in 1997, said it was the "warmest" ceremony in many years.

Local movie people know these are the lean years (after what might be called the Chow Yun-fat years). Ticket sales are down, talent has fled to the other side of the Pacific, and illegal duping is so effective that the films are often available on VCD before their theatrical premiere. The winners in their speeches didn't ignore these troubled times; they underlined the glamour and the poignancy of this lovely endangered species. Cecilia Cheung, who took the New Performer prize, gave thanks "to all those who support Hong Kong cinema."

The acting prizes were all about survival, perseverance, doing your job as well as you can until someone pays attention. The big awards went to a quartet of performers who, in sum, had made more than 300 movies, in careers lasting 20, 30, 50 years, without winning so much as a door prize. So cheers to Ti Lung, stern hunk of so many Shaw Brothers martial-arts epics; to Carrie Ng, devil goddess of "Naked Killer" fame; to Helena Law Lan, who at "64" is the eldest winner of a Hong Kong acting award and who got the biggest applause of the night when her name was announced; and to Andy Lau, the pop-star Sky King with a long yen for movie respect. Lau, who by Hong Kong showbiz law is the only artist allowed to wear a white suit at one of these pageants, practically levitated onstage when his name was announced; he could have surfed there on the sonic wave of his fans in the nosebleed seats.

The awards were diplomatically spread around: Ann Hui's "Ordinary Heroes" won no prize but the top one; Chang's "Tempting Heart" earned screenplay and art direction nods; "Purple Storm" took five technical awards; and "Fly Me to Polaris" received the music diplomas. At the end, all the winners got showered in champagne and confetti, as if it were midnight on New Year's Eve.

Remember, though, this is an age of austerity and equality: most of the winners took buses to the post-awards party at the Regent Hotel. A Coliseum technician, spotting Law Lan inside the bus, locked his hands and raised them in triumph--a familiar gesture of congratulations from one working stiff to another.

So let Hollywood's royalty fret, like masters of the universe afraid that their dotcom empires are crumbling. The ordinary heroes of Hong Kong cinema will be happy to be pushing their tasty wares on the same busy street in the company of their friends, rivals and customers.

And The Winner Is ...

Best Film: "Ordinary Heroes"
Best Director: Johnny To, "The Mission"
Best Screenplay: Sylvia Chang and Cat Kwan, "Tempting Heart"

Best Actor: Andy Lau, "Running Out of Time"
Best Actress: Law Lan, "Bullets Over Summer"
Best Supporting Actor: Ti Lung, "The Kid"
Best Supporting Actress: Carrie Ng, "The Kid"
Best New Performer: Cecilia Cheung, "Fly Me to Polaris"

Best Song and Score: "Fly Me to Polaris"

Best Cinematography, Editing, Action Choreography, Sound Design, Costume and Makeup: "Purple Storm"
Best Art Direction: "Tempting Heart"

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