MANILA, Philippines—Underscoring their triple triumphs on Monday night at the 7th Asian Film Awards (AFA)—a regional event likened to the Oscars—veteran Filipino screen stars Eddie Garcia and Nora Aunor waxed patriotic.
For Aunor, who won the best actress award, the victory was bittersweet in light of recent developments in southern Philippines. She told the Inquirer in a text message within an hour after the program: “I am extremely grateful for this recognition. But I am also saddened because of the problems confronting our countrymen in Mindanao.”
The film for which she won, “Thy Womb” by Brillante Mendoza, was shot last year in Tawi-Tawi province’s Sitangkai town. Aunor related in the same SMS: “I experienced, first-hand, the kindness of our countrymen there. They took very good care of us. Why shouldn’t they be given what is due them? The problem of the people in Mindanao is the problem of every Filipino.”
Garcia’s speech as best actor, according to Senedy Que, one of the Filipino filmmakers who attended the program, was “short and sweet” but ended with a rallying call: “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas (Long live the Philippines)!”
The 84-year-old veteran was declared people’s choice for favorite actor earlier in the proceedings for the same movie, “Bwakaw (Voracious).”
A splashy event, the AFA show—held this year at the Grand Hall of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center—gathered some of the region’s biggest screen luminaries, including Michelle Yeoh, Donny Damara and Andy Lau.
Best picture winner was the Chinese melodrama “Mystery,” about a woman plotting revenge against her unfaithful husband.
Garcia was reported by the international press to have “dazzled viewers [as] an aging gay man coping with loneliness and missed opportunities.” His movie was described as “a drama that tested sensibilities about sexuality in [a] conservative Catholic country.”
Aunor was identified in media accounts as “one of the most popular Filipino stars in the 1970s and ’80s.” One report read: “[She won] for her comeback film… playing a midwife struggling with her own infertility in a picturesque, impoverished Muslim community in the southern Philippines.”
The AFA was the second chance reunion in three months for the two actors. Also a director, Garcia had steered Aunor to a best performer win at the Metro Manila Film Festival in 1978. Last December, both were among the special honorees in the third Inquirer Indie Bravo! Tribute.
Shoe didn’t fit
Walking up and down the AFA red carpet was exhilarating but hard on her feet, Aunor said in her acceptance speech. She told the well-heeled international audience that she was wearing sneakers under her yellow baro’t saya, a traditional women’s outfit, made by Filipino designer Nono Palmos.
Aunor told the Inquirer via SMS within an hour after the program: “I tried to wear the shoes that came with the dress but they were too small [because] my right foot was swollen. In fact, midway through the program, it started really hurting.”
“Bwakaw” director Jun Robles Lana, who was also at the event, confirmed via e-mail: “She wore rubber shoes… but she looked great anyway. Only a [true] superstar could pull that off.”
The same role earlier won for Aunor the best actress honor at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards held in Brisbane, Australia, last November.
Mendoza, who at the time hailed his main star as a “national treasure… pride of the Philippines,” told the Inquirer late Monday night: “AFA validates Nora’s excellence as an actor.” Citing the two actors’ feat, Mendoza added, “Winning three trophies at the AFA is a great achievement for Philippine movies. Long live Philippine cinema!”
Jury head, fan
Dapper in his suit, Garcia was given a rousing ovation each time he walked onstage.
Recalled Que: “Andy Lau, the jury head, stood up from his seat in the audience and applauded Tito Eddie.”
Garcia’s people’s choice trophy was presented by compatriot Eugene Domingo, people’s choice for favorite actress winner last year for “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank.”
Domingo seemed to have caught the patriotism bug and told the Inquirer via text right after the program: “Winner! Ang galing ng mga Pinoy—ang saya-saya (Filipinos are exceptional. We’re ecstatic here)!”
In a cream-colored Maxie Cinco gown, Domingo stole the show during her turn, Que related. “She made Michelle Yeoh (recipient of the “Excellence in Asian Cinema” lifetime achievement award) laugh.”
Domingo recounted: “Backstage after the show, Andy Lau ran towards me… just to tease me, saying I had gained weight. He was the same playful and funny Andy that I met last year.”
Lau was people’s choice for favorite actor last year, for “A Simple Life.” Of his role as judge in this year’s AFA, he said: “I liked [best] the films and performances that moved me.”
In the press con/photo call that followed the awards show, Garcia told the international media that he was “elated and honored” to have won.
Lana said of Garcia’s double victory: “I’m happy that ‘Bwakaw’ has earned Tito Eddie a lot of trophies.”
When they started work on it last year, Lana recounted, all he wanted was for his lead star to win best actor at the Cinemalaya independent film festival—which Garcia did.
For the same role, Garcia also won best actor at the Asia Pacific Film Festival held in Macau last December.
“He is a true living legend and I’m honored to have worked with him,” Lana said. “And I’m excited about our next collaboration, ‘Kuwentong Barbero (Barber’s Tales).’”
Lana noted that it was the first time at the AFA that the same actor won in the people’s choice and main acting categories. “This is the biggest honor for Tito Eddie so far,” he said.
The AFA people’s choice favorite actor and actress categories, introduced last year, are decided by online voting.
Perci Intalan, head of creative and entertainment production of TV5, where Aunor is a talent, told the Inquirer also via SMS: “It meant a lot when the awards’ host mentioned that Tito Eddie’s character was a Noranian… and also acknowledged Ate Guy (Aunor’s nickname) as ‘Superstar of Philippine Cinema.’ After the show, a lot of celebrities, including Andy Lau, had photos taken with Ate Guy.”
Ferdy Lapuz, “Bwakaw” producer, reported that the Filipinos at the Grand Hall were “euphoric” after Garcia and Aunor were named top acting winners.
“Motorcade level ito,” Filipino filmmaker Chris Martinez said, also in a text message from Hong Kong. What he meant was that Aunor and Garcia deserved a grand welcome and motorcade on their return to Manila.
After the ceremony, Que said, Garcia and his wife were whisked off to the victory party held at View 62 of the Hopewell Center. Aunor opted to call it a night.
The best film winner by director Lou Ye from China also won best screenwriter and newcomer (Qi Xi).
Kitano Takeshi (Japan) won best director for “Outrage Beyond.” Best supporting actress award went to Watanabe Makiko for “Capturing Dad” (Japan); best supporting actor to Nawazuddin Siddiqui for “Talaash: The Answer Lies Within” (India).—With a report from AP