To win an award as prestigious as the Oscars is every filmmaker's dream. It comes as no surprise then that this year, the 2014 Academy Awards sees an impressive total of 83 entries submitted for consideration in the Foreign Language Films category.
Out of the 83 hopefuls, 11 come from the regions of South-East Asia, East Asia and South Asia. These three Asian regions have had quite a monopoly on the category, having been nominated, and even won, in it several times.
Let us take a look at the 11 films that have been chosen to represent the countries in this year's running:
Sayang Disayang (Singapore)
Directed by Sanif Olek, this Malay language family drama tells the story of a live-in nurse (Aidli Mosbit) and the bitter elderly man (Rahim Razali) she looks after. In its trailer, one of the things emphasised on is the sambal goreng. We see it being prepared. Later we see it sizzling as it is stirred in the wok. Sambal goreng, a dish unique to the Malay archipelago, serves as a metaphor for the sizzle and simmer of the household in which the Tsunami-survivor-turned-nurse and her lonely, bitter employer are part of.
The Teacher's Diary (Thailand)
This country school teacher drama, directed by Nithiwat Tharathorn, is about how a diary connects two strangers who never meet. Wrestler-turned-teacher Song (Sukrit Wisetkaew) is the sole teacher to a rural school with four students. He starts feeling lonely and when he discovers a diary left by the previous teacher Ann (Chermarn Boonyasak), it becomes his companion. He is captured by the words written inside. A year later, he leaves the school and Ann returns. She sees the entries made by Song in her diary and feels a connection with him.
Hanung Bramantyo directs this biographical movie which follows the life of Soekarno, the first president of the Republic of Indonesia. The film covers his life from his childhood until his victory in proclaiming Indonesian freedom with M. Hatta. Soekarno (Ario Bayu) is a young man who dreams of freeing Indoenesia from colonialism. After being captured and put in Banceuy Prison at Bandung, Indonesia, he finds a way to fight back.
Norte, the End of History (Philippines)
Directed by Lav Diaz, this Filipino drama film explores the themes of crime, class and family. The four-hour film has received praises for its outstanding storytelling and cinematography. It tells the story of Joaquin (Archie Alemania), a man trying hard to provide for his family, who gets accused of murdering his money lender. His wife Eliza (Angeli Bayani) now has to shoulder the responsibility of being the head of the family. The real murderer, Fabian (Sid Lucero), is a free man who is eventually driven to insanity.
The Light Shines Only There (Japan)
In this Japanese drama film directed by Miko Oh, Gou Ayano stars as Tatsuo Sato, an unemployed man who wanders around aimlessly, finding an escape from his painful past. He meets Takuji Oshiro (Masaki Suda) at a pachinko parlor and befriends Oshiro. He follows Oshiro home only to find out Oshiro lives in a dilapidated shack with his ill father, ambivalent mother and older sister Chinatsu. Sato feels an attraction toward Chinatsu, seeing a light in her that shines despite the oppresiveness of her family situation.
Haemoo (South Korea)
Shim Sung-Bo directs this highly acclaimed film which is based on 2007 stage play of the same name, which in turn is based on a true story. Set in 1998, Captain Kang (Kim Yun-Seok) is informed by the boat owner that the boat is going to be sold off. Wishing to earn money to buy the boat himself, Captain Kang agrees to transport Chinese-Korean stowaways from the sea back to the port. Crew members Dong-Sik (Park Yoo-Chun) and Chang-Wook (Lee Hee-Joon) agree to go along with the plan even though they are afraid of the consequences.
The Golden Era (Hong Kong)
Directed by Ann Hui, this film is four hours long and relies very heavily on narrative. It has a less than satisfactory opening in the cinemas but it might receive a warmer reception from the more academic crowd of the Oscars. The film tells the story of 1930s author Xiao Hong (Tang Wei), one of the most important female writers in contemporary China. She is saved from poverty by good friend Xiao Jun (Feng Shaofeng) but the two friends' competitive nature cause a rift between them.
Ice Poison (Taiwan)
Midi Z. tells a compelling story in his film about two young Burmese people trying to escape their impoverished life. The documentary-like film offers an insight to contemporary rural Myanmar. Wang Shin-hong stars as an unnamed farmer who earns little money as a moped-taxi driver. One of his customers is Sanmei (Wu Ke-xi), who is starting her life over with her young son in Myanmar. She hires the farmer-driver to help her make "ice", or methamphetamine, deliveries.
The Nightingale (China)
This Chinese-French production, directed by Philippe Muyl, is the second-ever official co-production between France and China. It is an adaptation of Muyl's 2002 French film "The Butterfly". It tells the story of a journey undertaken by an old man and young girl in southern China. Zhu Zhigen (Li Baotian) plays the widower who is asked by the parents of Renxing (Yang Xinyi) to take her on his journey back to his hometown. The two then embark on a journey that will change their lives.
Liar's Dice (India)
Geetu Mohandas directs this Hindi road drama film. It tells the story if a young mother, Kamala (Geetanjali Thapa) from a remote village, whose husband goes missing after he left to work several months ago. Kamala then brings her daughter Manya (Manya Gupta) with her on a journey to seach for her missing husband. They encounter Nawazuddin (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), an army deserter who helps them to get to their destination but hides from them his own selfish motive.
Glow of the Firefly (Bangladesh)
Khalid Mahmood Mithu won best director for this film at the Brasov International Film Festival, Romania, in September 2014. Bidya Sinha Saha Mim and Gazi Rakayet star in the film that tells the story of a woman who wants to adopt a son but her conservative parents-in-law are against the idea. She then meets an avant-garde artist, who falls for her even though she is already spoken for. She is now torn between two men while at the same time, she tries to take care of an orphaned boy.
(Photo source: chicagoreader.com)