Film awards can be unpredictable. At the 2012 Oscars, Meryl Streep was said to be so surprised at winning the Best Actress gong for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady that she was “gasping, wheezing, crying, snotting”, according to the New York Times.
Actress Gong Li had a violent reaction at a recent awards ceremony too – this time, the Golden Horse Awards – but for the opposite reasons.
Heavily favoured to win Best Actress for her performance in Coming Home, Gong could only watch as the award went to Taiwanese actress Chen Shiang-chyi for her performance in Exit.
To her credit, Gong, 48, didn’t bother with the normal niceties after missing out on the win (a fixed smile and some careful clapping), preferring to slam Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards as “unjust” instead.
In a statement issued by her manager, Gong was also later quoted as saying: “Special thanks to the Golden Horse Awards for giving me this opportunity to understand what an unprofessional film festival is like. Everyone in the arts looks down on an unfair film festival… I like Taiwan, and I will visit Taiwan many more times in the future, but this was my first time coming to the Golden Horse Awards and it will be my last.”
Prior to the ceremony, critics had said that Gong was a shoo-in winner, because of her performance in the Zhang Yimou film. That might also explain why she decided to travel to Taipei for her first appearance at the awards (neither the director Zhang nor Gong’s co-star Chen Daoming were nominated).
After finding out the result, Gong was said to have dropped out of post-event parties and there were reports that her sponsor, the jeweller Piaget, had to cancel a special celebration planned to mark her victory.
The jury has countered that the competition for Best Actress was particularly fierce this year. “During the first round and second round of voting, none of the nominees got the majority of votes. Actress Chen Shiang-chyi was voted as a winner for her role in Exit only after three rounds of voting,” one of the show’s producers told Sina Entertainment.
Some criticism has been directed at Gong for her outspoken response, with Hong Kong director Shu Kei calling her a “frog in the well” – an idiom for someone who behaves ignorantly – for thinking that she was unbeatable.
Not even Meryl Streep wins every year, he added. “Did you think you are better than Auntie Meryl?” Shu asked.
Southern Metropolis Daily also lambasted Gong for a lack of professionalism. “What’s worse than complaining about the Golden Horse is not accepting the fact that there are others who have a different view of aesthetics,” it scolded. “There will never be an absolutely fair judgement when it comes to art and its expressions. But to think that there is one is dangerous.”
Some netizens derided Gong too. “I suppose she will never attend another film awards unless they guarantee her to win,” one wrote.
Another asked: “Why would it only be fair if Gong won the award?”
Others speculated that Gong had no chance of winning in the first place. That’s because the chair of the Golden Horse jury was actress-director Joan Chen – and there has long been speculation that the two divas do not get along.
But Chen issued a statement on her personal weibo denying that she had sabotaged Gong’s chances of winning.
“Please, I ask the media to do their job properly and do some research. I always respect Gong Li’s acting ability and she was so moving and precise in Coming Home,” she wrote, adding that she had voted for Gong in all three rounds.
Citing an insider, Hong Kong’s Apple Daily says some of Gong’s fury was understandable, as the actress had declined an invitation to attend the show but relented when the organisers pleaded with her to reconsider, hinting that she was going to win Best Actress.
Not only did Gong then show up at the awards, she may also have urged Piaget, which she endorses, to become the lead sponsor.
“I think the organisers of the show purposely deceived Gong Li. Otherwise, why would Piaget organise such a lavish celebration in anticipation of her win? She is fine with not winning but she can’t stand other people taking advantage of her and humiliating her so publicly,” another person-in-the-know whispered to Shenzhen Urban Daily.
Other actresses from China quickly voiced support. “I wish there’s a chance to collaborate [with Gong]. After all these years she’s still so generous and charismatic. She’s forever my best actress,” gushed Vicki Zhao.
“I saw Gong Li in Coming Home. In my mind, she is extremely outstanding,” added Zhang Ziyi.
This is not the first time that the Taiwan-based Golden Horse has been accused of being unfair to the mainland film industry. In 2010, director Feng Xiaogang also denounced the awards when a jury member described his wife’s performance in his film Aftershock as “over the top” (needless to say, she didn’t win Best Actress either).
Feng later complained that his wife was a “victim” of cross-straits politics, recalls Information Times.
Meanwhile, Gong’s manager Zeng Jingchao has been trying to shift the focus of the controversy by saying that his client wasn’t bitter about failing to win a prize but just disappointed at the award show in general.
And besides, he says, Gong is from Shandong and women from northeast China have always been known for being “honest and outspoken…”
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