Blue Dragon awards regain their glitter

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Blue Dragon awards regain their glitter

The award show business has struggled through hard times for the past few years. The once-dominant Grand Bell Awards, the biggest festival in the Korean entertainment industry, have been dogged by scandal. The more commercial Baeksang Awards have been unable to command any interest either from the public or from actors. After years of heart-wrenching work, what actors wanted was not a cabinet full of knock-off Oscars but real, justified honors.

Suddenly, in their 22d year, the Blue Dragon Awards have cast aside their old, "too conservative" label and grown into the most honored and prestigious award here. They have, since their inception in 1963, featured a list of Korea's top talent. Among past winners, names like Lee Man-hi, Yun Jung-hee, Kim Ji-me, Shin Sang-ok and Shin Sung-il are some of the biggest in Korean cinema history. Some of the award winning films, such as "Seopyeonje" by Im Kwon-taek, "Nowhere to Hide" by Lee Myeong-se and "Joint Security Area" by Park Chan-wook, have been instrumental in putting Korean cinema on the international map.

This year's Blue Dragon Awards certainly cheered up the battered spirits of Korean entertainers. At the National Theater, where the ceremony took place in the second week of December, there was no red carpet due to the icy rain. But that did not stop Korean fans with posters and flowers from lining up to catch a glimpse of their idols. The 1,520 seat auditorium was packed with excitement; the front rows were occupied by Korea's superstars, decked out in glamorous evening gowns and sharp suits.

The big question at this year's awards was "What will Kim Hye-su wear?" Kim, a 30-something actress who hosts the show, has become known for her perilously low-cut dresses in past years, and this year she did not disappoint people's high - or is it low? - expectations. Her brown dress also bared most of her shoulders, back and legs.

Among the highlights: both the fans and the press went wild over the rare personal appearance by Korea's biggest heartthrobs, Jang Dong-gun, the star of "Chingu" ("Friend"), Jung Woo-sung, the star of "Musa" ("The Warriors"), Lee Byung-heon, the star of "JSA," and the all-time queens of Korean entertainment, Kim Hee-sun, Lee Mi-yeon and Shin Eun-gyeong.

Ahn Sung-ki, who won the Best Supporting Actor Award for his role in "Musa," received a standing ovation from his fellow actors. He told the crowd that he had received all kinds of awards in the past except for the Best Supporting Actor Award. "All there is left for me now is the Achievement Award," he said, beaming.

The winners of this year's Blue Dragon Awards were widely accepted by even the most fastidious critics, although they did not, for the most part, follow the money trail at the box office. The blockbuster "Chingu," for example, won only the award for Most Popular Film, and most of the other awards went to films that were less than commercial successes.

Best Film went to "One Fine Spring Day," which was pulled from theaters around the nation almost before the posters went up. The Best Actor award was presented to Choi Min-sik, the veteran actor of "Shiri" who gave a brilliant performance in another commercial flop, "Failan." Upon winning the award, the gleeful actor urged the audience to go rent the video of his movie. The director of "Failan," Song Hae-sung, won the Best Director Award.

At the reception after the awards, the mood was festive. There was no foreign press in sight, but one actor hopes that that will change in the future. Park Jung-hun, a comedian, has a starring role in a new Hollywood production, Jonathan Demme's "The Truth About Charlie."

Park spoke about his ambitions at the reception. He said he was no longer striving for "Korean humor," but "universal humor that can touch the heart of everyone in the world." He is the first Korean actor to land a major role in a Hollywood movie. The film, a remake of the 1963 Stanley Donen film "Charade," will be released by Universal Pictures this year.

by Inēs Cho

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