An Australia-based director's romance, a Taiwanese family drama and the story of a Chinese peasant guarding a cow are the unlikely trio of top contenders at the Chinese-language equivalent of the Oscars to be announced on Saturday.
Jurors for this year's Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan pushed aside several of the year's blockbusters in favor of art-house films. Movies like Jackie Chan's "Shinjuku Incident," John Woo's historical epic "Red Cliff II" and the biopic of Bruce Lee's kung fu teacher, "Ip Man," weren't among the leading nominees.
Instead, Clara Law's "Like a Dream" bagged nine nominations, Leon Dai's "No Pudeo Vivir Sin Ti" had eight and Guan Hu's "Cow" seven. The three films are vying for best pictures honors against Tsai Ming-liang's "Face" _ the latest offering from the Malaysian-Chinese director known for minimal dialogue and music _ and Chinese filmmaker Ning Hao's "Crazy Racer."
Law, Dai, Guan and Tsai are also candidates for best director.
The best actor nominees are Daniel Wu, who played a Chinese-American man who travels to China to look for his imaginary love in "Like a Dream;" Chen Wen-pin from "No Pudeo Vivir Sin Ti," the story of a working-class father who tries to retain custody of his 7-year-old daughter; Huang Bo from "Cow," which follows a Chinese peasant who protects a dairy cow from Japanese invaders, and Nick Cheung from the action thriller "The Beast Stalker."
The best actress competition will see a showdown between two of China's top actresses _ Zhou Xun and Li Bingbing. Both women received nods for their performances in "The Message." The other contenders are Sandrine Pinna from the drama "Yang Yang" and Yolanda Yuan from "Like a Dream."
"The Message" is one of the few major commercial releases that racked up at least a few nominations. The Chinese spy thriller is also up for best screenplay adaptation, best visual effects, best art direction and best makeup and costume design.
Another high-profile production, Chen Kaige's "Mei Lanfang," also missed out on the top prizes. The famed Chinese director's profile of late Peking Opera star Mei Lanfang was nominated for best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best new performer and best makeup and costume design.
U.S.-based Oscar-winning director Ang Lee will serve as a presenter for his home country's top movie awards ceremony, as will Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung, who is making a rare appearance during an extended break from filmmaking.