Taiwanese director Leon Dai's social drama "No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti" is tipped for top honours Saturday at the island's Golden Horse Film Awards, considered the Chinese-language "Oscars", critics said.
The emotionally charged movie, based on a true story of a diver's desperate fight for custody of his daughter, is the favourite for best picture and would be the first local movie in seven years to win the coveted award.
"It has a slight advantage as the best picture hasn't gone to a Taiwanese film for a long time," said Steven Tu, an influential film critic who recently published a book about the island's cinema.
The Golden Horse Awards, broadcast by Chinese-language channels as far away as Canada, are styled on the US Academy Awards but are decided by a jury along the lines of the Cannes film festival.
Dai's movie, whose title is Spanish and means "I Can't Live Without You", is competing in a rich and varied field that stretches from romantic drama "Like A Dream" to art-house picture "Face" and black comedies "Cow" and "Crazy Racer."
"The films represent different genres and they are evenly matched, so it's really anybody's guess," said Tu.
Indeed, Chinese director Guan Hu's "Cow" could surprise with its lively portrayal of a Chinese farmer entrusted by the communist army to look after a cow during the war against Japan in the 1940s, critics say.
"Guan uses one man (Huang Bo) and one cow to reflect the struggles of that period in a dramatic and epic-like story," said Ryan Cheng, a critic associated with the Kaohsiung Film Festival in southern Taiwan.
For the best director title, Dai faces better-known rivals Clara Law of Hong Kong ("Like a Dream") and Taiwan-based Malaysian high-brow director Tsai Ming-liang ("Face").
"Law has a long history with the Golden Horse awards while Tsai has an intense personal style that sets him apart, so either could be the winner," Tu said.
Tsai, who won the best director in 1994, has staged a comeback with "Face" ("Visage"), which is the first of a new series of works produced by The Louvre and has bagged five nominations.
Law, now based in Australia, has been nominated for best director three times but walked away empty-handed each time.
"Like A Dream," about a man chasing a girl from his dreams, leads the race with nine nods, including Chinese leading lady Yolanda Yuan for best actress, a category dominated by mainland names this year.
Also representing China in this category are Zhou Xun and Li Bingbing from espionage thriller "The Message". The only exception is Taiwanese-French Sandrine Pinna ("Yang Yang").
"I think the best leading actress is hardest to predict as the contenders are all very impressive. Zhou might have a better chance as she's now widely recognised," said Cheng.
For best actor, Cheng's pick is Huang from "Cow", but other observers beg to differ.
The Taipei-based United Daily News favoured Hong Kong heartthrob actor Daniel Wu ("Like a Dream") over Huang, Nick Cheung ("The Beast Stalker") and Taiwan's newcomer Chen Wen-pin ("No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti").Reuse content