The director of China's second-highest grossing film stole the spotlight in New York City.
Hong Kong director Dante Lam was awarded the Daniel A. Craft Award for excellence in action cinema at the 17th annual New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), which wrapped up on Sunday.
The award is named for Daniel A. Craft, a former director of the festival who died in 2013. Previous winners of the excellence in action laurels include Thailand's Panna Rittikrai in 2015, China's Yue Song in 2016 and South Korea's Jung Byung-gil in 2017.
Lam's latest film Operation Red Sea was singled out for the top honors in 2018.
Operation Red Sea is the second-highest grossing Chinese-language film of all time at the China box office and the seventh-highest grossing film of 2018 globally. Released in February, the movie has made about $579 million (about 3.87 billion RMB).
"Hong Kong action movies changed world cinema," said Samuel Jamier, NYAFF's executive director. "Not only has Dante Lam pushed the boundaries of the genre, but he has also reinvented the crime drama and the war movie in the past decade."
"We are awarding him in the year he conquered the box office in China whilst maintaining his integrity as an auteur director,"Jamier added.
Operation Red Sea is loosely based on the China navy's real-life evacuation of 600 Chinese citizens from the port city of Aden during the 2015 Yemen civil war.
The film kicks off with an explosive set piece featuring the Chinese navy's eight-person Jiaolong assault team foiling a hijacking by Somali pirates, before following them in a covert mission to thwart dirty-bomb-building terrorists in the Middle East.
Lam, who is also the writer and action choreographer of the film, added helicopter crashes, tank battles and sharp-shooting snipers to the mix.
"I'm interested in reality, in real things, for my movies, I want everything to be as real as possible. I find that more effective,"said Lam.
"For example," he explained, "in a regular action movie, when you throw a hand grenade, what happens on screen is not what happens in real life — there's no huge explosion, bodies don't go flying through the air. I try to show what really happens.
"And through a lot of tiny details I try to build my movie into something that's more convincing than other action films,"he said.
The NYAFF website calls Operation Red Sea "a major breakthrough in action cinema" and "a nonstop barrage of shootouts, deadly hand-to-hand combat, high-powered chases and nail-biting suspense."
This year, nine Hong Kong films, including two world premieres, one North American premiere, and three New York premieres, were featured in the festival.
NYAFF is co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Subway Cinema Inc, a nonprofit dedicated to the exhibition and appreciation of Asian popular film culture.