2017 Foreign Oscar Guide: Will Asia-Pacific Cinema Triumph Again?

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Welcome to The Awards Circuit’s 2017 Foreign Oscar Guide. This weekly series will shine a spotlight on this year’s Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film, looking at all 92 submitted films and their interesting trends and regional perspectives.

After a 4-year streak of European domination for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, 2016 was a standout year for cinema from the Asia-Pacific region. Indeed, Iran and Asghar Farhadi claimed their 2nd win for “The Salesman” while Australia picked up their first ever nomination with “Tanna”. Looking ahead to 2017, the new submissions from the Far and Middle East boast the potential to perform even better. As always, they are a diverse set, ranging from intimate indies to crowd-pleasing blockbusters and everything in between.

Among this year’s Asian contenders are a handful of debuts. Notably, Syria will be represented for the first time by Sam Kadi’s “Little Gandhi,” a documentary about the Syrian activist Ghiath Matar. Additionally, several countries have placed their bets on new directors. From Hong Kong, there is Wong Chun with this debut feature “Mad World,” which received a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the 2016 Asian Film Awards. Meanwhile Indonesia and Pakistan will seek their first nominations with Wicaksono Wisnu Legowo’s “Turah” and “Saawan” respectively. Vietnam on the other hand, will be going for their 2nd nomination with Lương Đình Dũng’s debut “Father and Son.”

Alongside these fresh faces, a number of directors will be making their return to the Foreign Language Oscar race. After being selected in 2011, Tusi Tamasese will once again represent New Zealand with another Samoan language drama named “One Thousand Ropes.” Similarly, Jang Hoon will hope to finally deliver an Oscar nod for South Korea with “A Taxi Driver,” after missing out with “The Front Line”. Tamasese and Jang are still newbies compared to the directors of the Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan submissions however. For Akan Satayev, “The Road to Mother” will mark his third selection for Kazakhstan, while Aktan Abdykalykov’s name appears on the entry list for an impressive fourth time with “Centaur.”

Kamel El Basha with his Volpi Cup for “The Insult”

Also making a comeback is Ziad Doueiri with “The Insult,” one of two Middle Eastern submissions that made a splash at the Venice Film Festival. This Lebanese drama won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor for Kamel El Basha’s performance as a Palestinian refugee who gets embroiled in a public dispute with a Lebanese Christian. An even bigger prize went to Samuel Maoz’s “Foxtrot,” the Grand Jury Prize winner which is gaining buzz as a possible first time winner for Israel. Its chances definitely look promising with Sony Pictures Classics handling its campaign and North American distribution.

Rajkummar Rao in “Newton”

While festival awards can boost a submission’s pedigree, China skipped over the arthouse-oriented fare for a bona fide blockbuster. With a gross of $870,325,439 worldwide, Wu Jing’s “Wolf Warrior 2” is #5 on the worldwide box office chart for 2017, ahead of such hits as “Wonder Woman” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. India meanwhile, will hope to benefit from the star power of Bollywood actor Rajkummar Rao in Amit V Masurkar’s “Newton“, a dramedy that premiered at the Berlin Film Festival.

With such stiff competition from a record-breaking 92 submissions, the remaining Asian films may need a minor miracle to make the cut. They include Akram Khan’s “The Cage” (Bangladesh), Hussein Hassan’s “Reseba: The Dark Wind” (Iraq), Ryōta Nakano’s “Her Love Boils Bathwater” (Japan), Zolbayar Dorj’s “The Children of Genghis” (Mongolia), Deepak Rauniyar’s “White Sun” (Nepal) and Mikhail Red’s “Birdshot” (Philippines). And as already discussed, they are joined by “First They Killed My Father“, “Yeva“, “A Letter to the President“, “Breath“, “Dearest Sister,” “Wajib,” “Small Talk,” “By the Time It Gets Dark” and “Pop Aye.”

Contenders to watch: “First They Killed My Father”

Which of these films are you rooting for? Let us know in the comments below.

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MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
FOREIGN LANGUAGE | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE |