- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

HONG KONG (AP) - A low-budget Hong Kong action-comedy stole the spotlight at the local critics’ awards prize ceremony on Tuesday, earning praise for capturing this southern Chinese territory’s can-do spirit and providing an alternative to star-studded blockbusters.

The 5 million Hong Kong dollar ($642,000) production “Gallants” was an unlikely standout among last year’s releases, with its quirky tale of a Hong Kong kung fu master who briefly awakens from a 30-year-long coma to train two aging students and two newcomers. There are no major stars in the cast, no lavish period costumes or epic fight scenes. Instead, co-directors Clement Cheng and Kwok Chi-kin assembled a team of veteran actors from 1970s and 1980s Hong Kong movies.

And yet the 2010 release has become a critical hit and cult favorite. It clinched best film and best actor prizes at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society annual awards in results announced earlier in the year, and was voted one of the two audience favorites at the New York Asian Film Festival last year.

It also has been nominated in seven categories, including best film and best director, at the upcoming Hong Kong Film Awards, which will be announced on April 17.

At the critics prize ceremony on Tuesday, Teddy Robin, who played the loud and flirtatious kung fu master who rises from a coma, received loud cheers as he picked up his best actor trophy.

“I really didn’t expect that many viewers to like this movie,” one of the directors, Kwok, told The Associated Press after the award ceremony. “When I made this movie, I didn’t really think about the response. When it came to casting and the direction of the story, I just followed my preferences, but it turns out that quite a few people like the movie.”

Hong Kong Film Critics Society President Bryan Chang said he particularly enjoyed the humor and the never-say-die spirit of the movie, which is captured by the mantra repeated by Robin’s character _ “If you don’t fight you won’t lose, but if you fight you must try to win.”

“I haven’t seen something so cheerful and so funny in a long time,” Chang told the AP.

“Gallants” may lack on-screen star power, but its main investor was Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau, who also visited the set to give acting tips.

Producer Lam Ka-tung, a veteran actor himself, called the critical acclaim a form of vindication for creative, low-budget productions.

“The general climate dictates that you need certain stars, you need to be able to guarantee certain markets. But I wondered does it have to be that way? I think it’s important to try new things,” Lam told the AP.

In other awards presented on Tuesday, best director went to Taiwanese filmmaker Su Chao-pin, who directed former Bond girl Michelle Yeoh in the kung fu thriller “Reign of Assassins.” Best actress went to Miriam Yeung for the romantic comedy “Perfect Wedding.” Best screenwriter went to Ivy Ho for “Crossing Hennessy,” which she also directed.

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