Controversial Chinese production leads Asian Film Awards nominations

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A Chinese film that sparked furious debate over its "humanizing'' of invading Japanese soldiers leads nominations announced January 20 for the 4th Asian Film Awards.

Director Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death, also known as Nanjing! Nanjing!), depicts the 1937 massacre of Chinese at the hands of Japanese forces in the former Chinese capital and drew the ire of some members of the press and the public in China for showing the invaders as more than one-dimensional characters.

The director has said he wanted to show "how war can completely destroy a normal person.''

Controversy followed the film when it was withdrawn at the last minute from this month's Palm Springs International Film Festival - with speculation being the move was part of a Chinese protest at the festival's plans to screen a film about the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama.

City of Life and Death will be up against Taiwan's No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti - which picked up the prestigious Golden Horse for best film last year, the award considered the Chinese film industry's equivalent of an Oscar.

Others in the running for the AFA's top honor are the Hong Kong/China-produced action epic Bodyguards and Assassins, Philippine film festival favorite Brilliante Mendoza's Lola, South Korea's Mother and Parade from Japan.

"Now in its fourth year, the AFA continues to make its mark as the ultimate recognition of film talent in Asia,'' said Wilfred Wong, chairman of organizing body Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, on announcing the nominees Wednesday.

"2009 was another great year for the film industry and the AFA is proud to be recognized as a global platform for the recognition of the best of Asian cinema.''

The winners will be announced March 22.

And the major nominees are ...

Best Film: Bodyguards and Assassins (Hong Kong/China), City of Life and Death (China), Lola (The Philippines), Mother (South Korea), No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (Taiwan), Parade (Japan).

Best Director: Bong Joon-ho ( Mother, South Korea), Asghar Farhadi ( About Elly, Iran), Lu Chuan ( City of Life and Death, China), Brilliante Mendoza ( Lola, The Philippines), Sion Sono ( Love Exposure, Japan), Yonfan ( Prince of Tears, Hong Kong/Taiwan).

Best Actor: Asano Tadanobu ( Villon's Wife, Japan), Huang Bo ( Cow, China), Song Kang-bo ( Thirst, South Korea), Matsumoto Kang-ho ( Symbol, Japan), Wang Xueqi ( Bodyguards and Assassins, Hong Kong/China).

Best Actress: Bae Doo-na ( Air Doll, Japan), Kim Hye-ja ( Mother, South Korea), Li Bingbing ( The Message, China), Matsu Takako ( Villon's Wife, Japan), Sandrine Pinna ( Yang Yang, Taiwan).