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2018 Oscars: Analyzing FLF contenders from Cambodia, South Korea and China

Our fifth piece on this year’s Foreign Language Oscar race turns to Asia, a region that has been regularly absent come nominations day in this category. The reason for this Asian underperformance isn’t quite clear – but it looks like the nominations committee leans towards more European fare as opposed to African and Asian films which may be seen as inaccessible or unappealing enough for them to make the cut.

2018 Oscars: Analyzing FLF Contenders from Hungary, Norway and Argentina

Exceptions are there though – films like The Missing Picture, Timbuktu, Theeb, Omar and others give us hope that stories from Asia and Africa can sometimes make the cut – and judging from the films that did get nominated from these regions, they either carry resonance or importance: in the case of films like The Missing Picture, Omar and Timbuktu, these were timely stories that Western voters identified with. And with films like Theeb, kid-centric films that reflect unique worlds through the eyes of children tend to appeal to AMPAS (which is why we are giving Italy’s A Ciambra and Spain’s Summer 1993 good odds for nods here – but more on that in a later article analyzing where the race stands).

2018 Oscars: Analyzing FLF Contenders from France, Germany, Lebanon, Sweden, Egypt, Poland and Ireland

Going back to our Asia contenders this time around, we analyze 3 films that couldn’t be more different, yet only one of them stands a chance at getting a nomination – and it’s a pretty good chance too.

Let’s take a look.

From Cambodia: FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER (Netflix)

1) The Story: Through the eyes of a Cambodian girl who lives through the terrifying Khmer Rouge regime that has killed a quarter of Cambodian population.

(2) Quick Review: This is such a brilliant film, and definitely Angelina Jolie’s best film to date. Available now on Netflix, we strongly urge you to see it. It’s not your typical misery porn, or war film where just terrible things happen to good people. It transcends this and becomes a unique depiction of war through the eyes of a child. The camera movement and the film’s narrative takes place from a traumatized child’s perspective and the film allows you to delve into her mind, soul and heart to understand what it’s like to shift lives. From a lavish apartment in the capital to brutal work camps, this child’s life is shattered before her eyes – and we experience her trauma in heartbreaking ways. Thanks to the involvement of Oscar-nominee Rithy Panh (FLF nominee for The Missing Picture), this is authentic and powerful filmmaking that is honest, empathetic and graceful.

(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? It sure will, for many reasons. First, the film is thematically resonant and if the similarly-themed – but much lower-profile The Missing Picture – could make it and earn a nod, there’s no reason why this can’t. Second, the film is by Angelina Jolie, a beloved Hollywood figure that this film cements her as a good director (after several directorial misfires). The committee will surely be aware of that. Third, the film has one of the highest profile FLF campaigns. It’s available on Netflix and will be widely seen (Netflix is not a bad thing when it comes to Docs and FLF contenders) and Angelina Jolie is out on the circuit promoting it heavily. And finally, the film has a killer narrative – it’s been acted by many real Khmer Rouge survivors who Angelina Jolie got on board to tell this harrowing story. It’s a tribute to a shattered nation that’s now re-building its society. The film has everything in its favor. And also played very well at Telluride where many Oscar voters were present and its reviews were unsurprisingly strong.

(4) Historic precedents/stats Cambodia submitted 6 times and earned one nod for another Khmer Rouge film (The Missing Picture).

(5) Overall chance for a nomination. We will give this film an 80% chance – the 3rd highest likelihood for a nom since we started this FLF series, tying it The Wound which we also pegged 80%. The film just has so many factors in its favor and it’s hard to see it miss.

Stay tuned next month for our predictions for the FLF shortlist in which we’ll be filtering down all the contenders we had pegged at 65% or more in our FLF analysis series and will be arranging the likely contenders from in a typical preferential Oscar prediction style.

2018 Oscars: Analyzing FLF Contenders from Israel, Russia, Belgium, Morocco, Singapore, Austria and Chile

From South Korea: A TAXI DRIVER

1) The Story: The film focuses on a taxi driver from Seoul who suddenly gets involved in a German journalist’s reporting of the events of the Gwangju Democratization Movement in Korea.

(2) Quick Review: This is one of the highest grossing South Korean films in the past 10 years, and watching the film you can understand why. Very few films are able to address serious issues while also being very accessible to the general public. More importantly, it succeeds in being relatable, by telling the story of a light-hearted taxi driver who is a typical everyday man. When he agrees to drive a German journalist, the two start an unlikely friendship but the tone of the film then shifts when they find themselves in a terrible massacre that the media was actively blocked from reporting. Even though the film highlights the German reporter’s attempts to break that blockade, it is essentially a story of personal transformation that the taxi driver witnesses. This is a unique film that works when it’s funny and works when it’s heartbreaking and sad.

(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? The film, unlike many South Korean films submitted before, holds some thematic resonance and timeliness. At the core of it, it addresses the role of the media in uncovering truth and also delves into the relationship between foreign correspondents and local residents. Hollywood is now living in an age where true journalism is uncovering sad realities that were long unspoken of, so the film’s themes may resonate. However, it still deals with a relatively unknown to many Western voters. This 1980 uprising is an integral part of South Korea’s history and the film details these horrific days, but it may not be something that AMPAS voters gravitate towards because they typically go for bigger-scale tragedies that changed the course of history rather than specific local incidents that are more resonant in their respective countries.

(4) Historic precedents/stats South Korea has 29 submissions but no nominations. The country has a great industry but it hasn’t been able to resonate with AMPAS yet.

(5) Overall chance for a nomination. We’ll give this film a 25% chance due to the fact that it may be seen as more of a locally resonant film that doesn’t cross borders and hit big with AMPAS. It’s still a unique film that’s surely worth a watch. Its superb box office run may also ensure a good international DVD release strategy so you may be able to see it soon before the shortlist is out.

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From China: WOLF WARRIOR 2

1) The Story: The film focuses on one of China’s special forces operatives who quits is military life and settles into a quiet life by the sea. But this doesn’t last long when he finds out that nearby civilians are in danger so he gets back to work. (2) Quick Review: At a staggering $870 million in box office receipts, this is the highest grossing film (both local and imported) in China’s box office history and the second highest grossing film in a single market (surpassing Avatar and just behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens). It’s pretty crazy. Watching the film, you may not get where the hype is coming from – after all, it’s a pretty well-done, but generic action film. But then, if you’re really familiar with Chinese film output, you’ll get why this film deeply resonated. First, it’s a patriotic film about a Chinese hero, and second, you can consider it a step forward for Chinese cinema. It doesn’t feel like a copycat of American actioners, and there are several well-executed scenes and almost the entire film is non-stop action. For Chinese moviegoers who take pride in their local films, they finally found a superbly made local actioner that offers non-stop thrills with a strong message about Chinese heroism.

(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? There’s probably no chance this appeals to AMPAS who will never go for such a generic film. Yes, it’s been tremendously received at home, but this has everything the Academy doesn’t go far. They’ll almost definitely pass.

(4) Historic precedents/stats China has 31 submissions and 2 nominations (1990’s Ju Dou and 2002’s Hero). This won’t be their third.

(5) Overall chance for a nomination. We’ll give Wolf Warriors 2 one of the lowest likelihoods of a nom since we started our FLF analysis series, and we’ll peg it at 5%. This doesn’t mean the film is outright terrible, but this is an Oscar race, and not a box office-driven analysis, and on that front, the film won’t score.

2018 Oscar Predictions: FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM (November)

Next week: we offer a special AFI preview focusing on 14 FLF contenders screening at the festival, including our FLF recommendations.

Mina Takla

Mina Takla is a foreign correspondent for AwardsWatch and the co-founder of The Syndicate, an online news agency that offers original content services to several film brands including Empire Magazine’s Middle East edition and the Dubai Film Festival. Takla has attended, covered and written from over 10 film festivals online including the Dubai International Film Festival, Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Cannes, Venice and Annecy Film Festivals. He has been following the Oscar race since 2000 with accurate, office-pool winning predictions year after year. He writes monthly in Empire Arabia, the Arabic version of the world’s top cinema magazine and conducts press junkets with Hollywood stars in the UK and the US. He holds a Master’s degree in Strategic Marketing from Australia’s Wollongong University and is currently based in Dubai, UAE.

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