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Asian films win big as Chinese thriller takes top Berlin prize

BERLIN (Reuters) - Asian films were big winners at the Berlin International Film Festival on Saturday, led by gritty Chinese thriller "Bai Ri Yan Huo" (Black Coal, Thin Ice), about an overweight detective pursuing a serial killer, which took the top Golden Bear prize.
/ Source: Reuters

BERLIN (Reuters) - Asian films were big winners at the Berlin International Film Festival on Saturday, led by gritty Chinese thriller "Bai Ri Yan Huo" (Black Coal, Thin Ice), about an overweight detective pursuing a serial killer, which took the top Golden Bear prize.

Liao Fan, who said he put on 20 kg (44 lb) and drank more to play the role of detective Zhang Zili, was named Best Actor.

"It's really hard to believe this dream has come true," a stunned Diao Yinan, director of the winning film, told the audience at the Berlinale Palast.

Haru Kuroki, who won Best Actress for her portrayal of a housemaid in Tokyo before and during World War Two in the Japanese film "Chiisai Ouchi" (The Little House), said she wanted to leap for joy but it was difficult wearing a kimono.

American Richard Linklater was named Best Director for his coming-of-age film "Boyhood", using the same child actors over a 12-year span, while Wes Anderson's "Grand Budapest Hotel", the festival opener set in a fictional central European country, took the Silver Bear grand jury prize.

Asked if he was disappointed, Linklater, whose film was popular with Berlin audiences, said: "With this, film making, you are working for yourself to realize your own visions, you are not thinking about prizes."

The Ethiopian film "Difret", based on a real case of bride abduction in Ethiopia and backed by actress Angelina Jolie, took the audience award.

"I'd expected the Chinese films to do really well and 'Black Coal, Thin Ice' is very good," Scott Roxborough, the Berlin bureau chief for trade publication The Hollywood Reporter, told Reuters.

Roxborough noted that the Berlin festival has a tradition of honoring Chinese films, having given the top Golden Bear prize to the film "Red Sorghum" in 1988.

"Black Coal, Thin Ice" was "film noir" in the style of Quentin Tarantino and other Hollywood directors, and not in the mould of traditional Chinese kung fu films or period dramas, he said.

"TAKE OVER FROM AMERICA"

"We are seeing Chinese cinema becoming more cinematically adept, not so overtly political. Chinese film makers are more confident, more open to the world.

"China is the second biggest box office in the world, one day it will take over from America so people expect more stories of all kinds," he added.

"Black Coal, Thin Ice", which is set in northern China, pits Liao's detective, who at one point loses his detective badge after a shootout in a beauty parlor, in dogged pursuit of the killer who disposes of body parts in coal trucks, an eye in a bowl of noodles and dismembered feet in skates.

Although the opening scene is set in a hot summer, the rest of it unfolds five years later almost entirely in winter.

Director Diao, who won awards for "Night Train" in 2007, said he had ignored the advice "cold films don't sell". He wanted to portray the warmth of emotions beneath, and evil, to help us all "feel less alone with our dark side"

The Berlin festival, officially called the Berlinale, is one of the oldest and most prestigious film showcases in the world.

Some critics complained of a dearth of strong entries among the competition films and there was grumbling that the festival, renowned for films with strong political agendas, had given too much space to Hollywood with Anderson's movie and the international premiere of George Clooney's "The Monuments Men".

"There was never a line-up which was good for the critics, such a line-up doesn't exist," festival director Dieter Kosslick told Reuters on the red carpet before the awards.

The festival showed more than 400 films overall, including a series of movies on cooking and food and an unfinished documentary by veteran filmmaker Martin Scorsese about the political and literary journal The New York Review of Books.

(Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; additional reporting by Juliane Keck; Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Andrew Heavens)