Hong Kong's annual film awards on Sunday honored a sentimental favorite with its top prize — a quirky, low-budget action comedy about a kung fu master who briefly wakes up from a 30-year-old coma to train two aging students and two newcomers.
The $643,200 production "Gallants" beat out better-funded and more star-studded movies for the top prize at the 30th Hong Kong Film Awards, including the John Woo-produced kung fu thriller "Reign of Assassins," which starred former Bond girl Michelle Yeoh; "Ip Man 2," the biopic headlined by action star Donnie Yen, and veteran Hong Kong director Tsui Hark's lavish fantasy epic "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame."
It was sweet vindication for Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau and his producer, actor Lam Ka-tung, the driving forces behind the long-shot project. "Gallants" was also beloved by local critics, clinching best picture and best actor at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society's annual awards earlier this year.
Tsui, one of Hong Kong's most versatile filmmakers whose credits range from comedy to action and animation, however, didn't go home empty-handed. He won best director and the actress he cast as an ancient Chinese empress in "Detective Dee," Carina Lau, took best actress honors.
Nicholas Tse, who played a reluctant informant in the police thriller "The Stool Pigeon," was named best actor, prevailing in a deep field that included veterans Chow Yun-fat and Tony Leung Ka-fai and past winner Nick Cheung, Tse's co-star in "The Stool Pigeon."
"Gallants" producer Lam, co-directors Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng leapt up and hugged cast members when the best picture award was announced. Kwok jumped and pumped his fist in the air.
"I really don't care about how many honors 'Gallants' wins. The most important thing is the spirit and meaning behind the movie — it's the spirit of Hong Kong people, the spirit of Hong Kong movies," Lam said.
Kwok repeated the line that was the kung fu master's mantra in the movie: "If you don't fight you won't lose, but if you fight you must try to win."
"That's the spirit of the Hong Kong movie industry," Kwok said.
"Gallants" also swept the supporting role awards, with Teddy Robin, who played the martial arts teacher, and veteran actress Susan Shaw, winning in their respective categories. The multitalented Robin picked up a second award for co-writing the movie's score with Tommy Wai.
Tsui, who is known for his work ethic, thanked his crew.
"I have this reputation for working both cast members and crew members very hard," Tsui said, "I wanted them to win more than me. They worked much harder than I did."
Tsui's crew was also duly recognized on Sunday night at the Hong Kong Cultural Center. "Detective Dee," which stars Andy Lau as an ancient Chinese official who investigates a series of mysterious deaths by fire, also dominated the technical categories, winning for best art direction, best costume and makeup design, best sound design and best visual effects.
Tse, who has transformed himself from brash pop star to serious actor in recent years, thanked his wife, actress Cecilia Cheung, and his father, veteran actor Patrick Tse, for tolerating his rebellious behavior. The younger Tse saw his career briefly derailed by criminal charges after a driver took the fall for a 2002 car accident he was involved in.
"I hope you forgive the impolite kid who had no sense of perspective. To be able to raise such a troublesome kid and still face the public with smiles, you are the real best actor dad. I'm sorry," Tse said.
Carina Lau, a frequent nominee at the Hong Kong Film Awards, appeared a bit dazed when she accepted her award.
"I am used to being disappointed. Now that I have things my way, I am at a loss," Lau explained.
She teased her husband, fellow actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai, a best actor winner at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in the Wong Kar-wai romance "In the Mood for Love."
"I know however hard I work I won't be able to catch up with you. But I will slowly try to catch up," she said.
Oscar-winning cinematographer Peter Pau, who won an Academy Award for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," was honored for his work on the biopic of ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius.
Best screenplay went to Pang Ho-cheung and Heiward Mak, who penned the story of two fellow smokers who fall in love for Pang's "Love in a Puff."
Jackie Chan's longtime agent Willie Chan was honored for professional achievement. Jackie Chan led a small contingent of Willie Chan's clients in paying tribute. Another client, Hong Kong pop star Jacky Cheung, thanked him with a recorded performance of the Frank Sinatra classic "My Way."
The lifetime achievement award went to distributor Terry Lai, a veteran importer of foreign movies who also touted Hong Kong martial arts productions to international buyers.
Also Sunday, Jackie Chan and Chow led a standing ovation for a group of largely unknown stuntmen who worked on classic Hong Kong action sequences, including some in Chan's movies.