Asia at the Oscars!

By Casey Chong

Taiwanese-born American filmmaker Ang Lee's work has been nominated at the Oscars thrice.

The upcoming 86th Annual Academy Awards is just around the corner (winners will be announced on Monday morning, March 3, S.E.A. time) and this year, there are a few Asians filmmakers who have been nominated for their work.

Among them is the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, who scored a Best Animated Feature nomination for "The Wind Rises", and the other one is of course Hong Kong's renowned auteur Wong Kar-Wai for his Ip Man biopic, "The Grandmaster" with two Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design.

Also making a mark from closer to home, is director Rithy Panh through his Cambodian-French documentary film "The Missing Picture", which is one of the five nominees for the Best Foreign Language Film category this year.

This year's Asian Oscar nominees are...

From Hong Kong, "The Grandmaster".

From Japan, "The Wind Rises".

From Cambodia, "The Missing Picture".

Panh's film, which also won the Prize Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival last year, is Cambodia's first film to be nominated for an Oscar. The film tells the story of Panh and his family's lives during the 1970s Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, which ended in the deaths of the director's entire family before he narrowly escaped to Thailand, and later France, where he discovered filmmaking.

With the ever-growing Asian film industry and its growing presence that noticeably gets more prominent every year, we look back at the previous years of the prestigious awards for a recap of the Asian film industry at the global stage.

Merle Oberon as Kitty Vane in "The Dark Angel".

Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Saito in "The Bridge On The River Kwai".

Asians have actually long established their Oscar presences way back in 1935 when Indian-born actress Merle Oberon became the first Asian ever nominated in an Oscar category – in this case, Best Actress – for the romance drama, "The Dark Angel".

From then onwards, the list had only continued to grow with notable ones including a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa in the 1957 World War II classic, "The Bridge On The River Kwai".

Japanese actress Miyoshi Umeki is the first ever Asian Oscar winner.

Cambodian-American Haing S. Ngor won a Best Supporting Actor award for "The Killing Fields".

The same year itself, Japanese actress Miyoshi Umeki became the first ever Asian actress to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the romance drama, "Sayonara".

Another Asian actor worth mentioning here is Cambodian-American actor, Haing S. Ngor, who won Best Supporting Actor for his impressive debut performance as the Cambodian journalist and refugee Dith Pran in the 1984 war drama, "The Killing Fields".

Director Ang Lee (right) on the set of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" with actor Chow Yun-Fat.

But it's not until the year 2000 when acclaimed Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee made incredible Oscar headlines with his Wuxia (literally means "martial hero") epic, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". Blessed with a stellar cast (Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen) and amazing martial-arts choreography by Yuen Woo-Ping, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was the highest-grossing foreign-language movie in the Hollywood history.

The movie even surprised everyone when it earned 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture (lost to "Gladiator") and Best Director (lost to Steven Soderbergh for "Traffic"), and won four awards including Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score and Best Cinematography. In fact, the global success of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" has certainly opened doors for many other Asian filmmakers to market their beloved Wuxia genre worldwide, particularly to the Western audiences.

Ang Lee (left) directing the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brokeback Mountain".

In 2005, Ang Lee made Oscar history for the second time in "Brokeback Mountain" when he became the first Asian to finally win the coveted Best Director category. The controversial gay western movie was also nominated for another seven Oscars including Best Picture (lost to "Crash").

Ang Lee (left) directs actor Suraj Sharma in "Life Of Pi".

Seven years later into 2012, three times became Ang Lee's lucky charm when he won his second Best Director award in "Life Of Pi" – an epic seafaring adventure that also garnered 11 Oscar nominations including Best Picture (lost to "Argo").

Ang Lee and his Best Director Oscar for "Life Of Pi".

Decade after decade, Asians have continued making their impact at the Oscars. Even though the Oscars now is still fairly dominated by the western hemisphere, maybe sometime in the future the Asian film industry will carry enough weight at the prestigious awards.

After all, people like Ang Lee did it thrice with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Brokeback Mountain" and "Life Of Pi" – which ultimately goes with a saying that anything is possible where the golden statue is concerned.

The 86th Academy Awards will take place in the morning of 3 March 2014 (M'sian and S'pore time).

Cinema Online, 28 February 2014

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