TAIPEI - Some of the biggest stars in Asian cinema gathered in Taipei Saturday for this year’s Golden Horse film awards, with Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien shooting for more glory after triumphing at Cannes. Taiwanese film-maker Ang Lee, Japanese actor Satoshi Tsumabuki and Korean actress Ha Ji-won were among the celebrities to grace the red carpet at the awards, dubbed the Chinese-language “Oscars”.

Hundreds of excited and screaming fans braved the rain to see their idols arrive at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in downtown Taipei on Saturday evening. This year’s awards list is dominated by Taiwan, with around 40 percent of nominations, one of the best homegrown showings in recent years when Hong Kong and China have outshone Taiwanese competitors. Arriving at the event, Taiwanese film director Chen Kuo-fu, who is also the chair of this year’s Golden Horse awards jury, said the country’s film industry had experienced ups and downs in recent years but that he was “especially happy and excited this year”. Hou’s “The Assassin” leads the field with 11 nominations for the awards. The movie’s nominations include best film, best director, best leading actress, best adapted screenplay and best cinematography. Set in ninth-century China, “The Assassin” is a slow-burning minimalist movie with Taiwanese megastar Shu Qi playing a highly trained female assassin sent back to her home province to kill its governor, who is also the man she loves.

“I’m really glad director Hou gave this opportunity to challenge myself,” Shu Qi said. Hou won the best director gong for the film at Cannes in May and has since said he is hoping the movie will garner an Oscar. Also up for best film are “Thanatos, Drunk” from Taiwanese director Chang Tso-chi a drama about two sons of an alcoholic mother and their dysfunctional lives; Hong Kong director Philip Yung’s crime thriller “Port of Call”; black-and-white movie “Tharlo”, the tale of a shepherd by Tibetan director Pema Tseden; and “Mountains May Depart”, a family saga from Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke. Film critics have praised the strong field, but Hou is favourite to win. “I’m not saying the other films are not good — they are all good, but not good enough to take on ‘The Assassin’,” Kelly Yang, a Taipei-based cinema critic, told AFP. Hou’s foray into ancient China tapped “fundamental human nature, which is universal”, says Yang. “(He) tries to present abstract Zen philosophy through his characters and does a brilliant job.” Hou will also be awarded Outstanding Taiwanese Film-maker of the Year at the ceremony Saturday, for what organisers describe as his “achievement and uncompromised perseverance”. The Golden Horse best actress category will see a battle between Shu Qi of “The Assassin” and Hong Kong star Karena Lam, who plays a woman struggling to cope after her fiance is killed in a car accident in “Zinnia Flower”. Best actor contenders include 25-year-old Lee Hong-chi, who plays one of the sons in “Thanatos, Drunk”, and China’s Feng Xiaogang - better known as a director - for his role as an ageing street kingpin in the film “Mr Six”.

In addition to Hou, Chang Tso-chi and Pema Tseden are among the favourites for the best director award. Thirty-nine films were nominated for the 52nd edition of the Golden Horse Film Awards. While they are styled on the US Academy Awards, the winners are decided by a jury, along the lines of the Cannes film festival.