Variety‘s Asia Editor Patrick Frater presented eight talented actors and actresses from across Asia with the “Asian Stars: Up Next” award at the 4th International Film Festival and Awards Macao (“IFFAM”).
“Changing times have brought Asian actors and directors to the forefront of Hollywood, and Asian films like Shoplifters, Parasite, and Bad Genius are now at the forefront of global awareness as well,” Frater said at a press conference. “The selection has been about finding talent, not only stars, but tomorrow’s crossover stars with global and regional power.”
Transcending Cultural Barriers
This year’s honorees include a number of celebrities who initially gained fame for their musical careers before transitioning into acting. Most notably, Yoona from popular K-Pop girl group SNSD appeared in a number of Korean dramas before starring in the disaster action movie Exit earlier this year. Yoona, who was also the Talent Ambassador for last year’s IFFAM, expressed hope that through her movies, she can touch fans from around the world.
“I would like to star in more movies [like Exit],” Yoona said through a translator. “I feel movies can transcend cultural barriers and reach audiences from other countries.”
Two members of Thai music idol girl group BNK 48 were also in attendance. Praewa Suthampong and Jennis Oprasert starred together in teenage friendship drama Where We Belong. Suthampong said that acting allows her to express a different side of her personality than her usual role as a pop idol.
“[In my idol group] I am a normal girl, we become adults and we have to lose our ‘shy moments.’ But when I’m acting I feel like I can go back [to being] myself, like a crazy girl,” Suthampong said. “So it’s making me really happy.”
Social Impact Through Cinema
Acting is not only an outlet for self expression, but for many on stage today, it’s also an outlet for social commentary. Bollywood starlet Bhumi Pednekar spoke at length about her hopes for how her films can not only help smash patriarchal views in her homeland of India, but also inspire social change. She pointed to her 2017 film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (Toilet: A Love Story) as a quantifiable example of cinema’s impact on society.
“The film is about open defecation, which is actually a very big problem in the [South] Asian sub-continent,” she said. “Before the film released open defecation in India was at 54%, and since the film’s release it’s gone down to 17%. That’s when I realized I have the power as an actor to make an impact and I need to do it responsibly.”
Social impact also came up for Indonesian actress Asmara Abigail, who shows up in a number of Joko Anwar‘s films.
“I think it’s very hard for a little girl to understand that they have potential, and they can choose their own life,” Asmara Abigail said. “For me, it’s more like a protest [against Indonesian patriarchy] through my roles.”
Entertainment in the Digital Era
Both Asmara Abigail as well as Filipino honoree Bea Alonzo highlighted Netflix as a way to broaden the impact and reach of the movies they appear in.
“I think right now we arrive into a borderless world with Netflix. I think as in every part of the country can enjoy other country’s entertainment as well, to be able to understand the life itself in the other part of the world,” Abigail said. “I think it’s also very good to make society more open-minded. I think we should be grateful of the diversity because I think diversity it makes us like beautiful as a world.”
Increasing mutual understanding between cultures was a constant theme for many of the award winners. Japanese honoree Ryota Katayose spoke about his hopes for how cinema can help foreign audiences build cultural bridges with Japan.
“My dream and ambition is to build bridges between Japan and other Asian countries through the art of entertainment,” Katayose said.
Of course, the digital era also brings challenges alongside it’s opportunities. Frater concluded the press conference by highlighting the recent deaths of prominent K-Pop stars Sulli and Goo Hara. Both K-Pop stars faced online harassment, and some media outlets have cited cyberbullying as a cause for their untimely passings. Pednekar had a pointed response to online bullies.
“When I started off [online bullies] really bothered me, but I realized that these are faceless cowards,” Pednekar said. “There is an entire group of people who love me for my work, that appreciate me for what I do.”
It certainly takes a thick skin to thrive in the entertainment industry. Yoona recognized that for as many fans she has, she will have as many haters.
“I didn’t expect that everyone has to be a fan of mine,” she said. “And I don’t expect that they all love me.”
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Full List of “Asian Stars: Up Next” Award Winners
Asmara Abigail (Indonesia)
Bea Alonzo (Philippines)
Bhumi Pednekar (India)
Jennis Oprasert and Praewa Suthamphong (Thailand)
Liên Binh Phát (Vietnam)
Lim Yoon A (Korea)
Ryota Katayose (Japan)