CANNES, France (AFP) - Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-hsien scooped the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday for his slow-burning minimalist drama, The Assassin.
The film is set in ninth-century China, at the end of the Tang Dynasty, with Asian megastar Shu Qi playing a highly trained female assassin who, after failing in one mission, is sent back to her home province to kill its governor, who is also the man she loves.
Despite its action-packed premise, the film is a study in lingering, contemplative art from director Hou, who continues a similar aesthetic from his previous films, Millennium Mambo and The Puppetmaster.
Speaking through an interpreter, Hou kept his acceptance speech short and sweet, saying: "It's difficult to make cinema, to find financing. I want to thank all my crew and cast."
The 68-year-old is one of the most recognisable names in Taiwan's New Wave cinema, having won a string of international film prizes, including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Award for City of Sadness in 1989 and the 1993 Cannes Film Festival third place prize for The Puppetmaster.
Born in China's Guangdong province in 1947, Hou moved to Taiwan with his family the following year to escape the civil war on mainland China. He started working in the film industry in 1973 after graduating from college with a film degree and shot his first feature film, romantic comedy Lovable You (1981).
Hou is best known for lingering camera shots and minimalist dramas depicting the upheavals in Taiwan in the 20th century. His autobiographical movie A Time To Live, A Time To Die (1985) told the story of a family which fled to Taiwan from China in the 1950s.
The City of Sadness, which won him international recognition touched on a taboo - the February 28, 1947 massacre by nationalist Kuomintang troops that took over Taiwan from the Japanese colonial power after the Second World War - and a family caught up in the political turmoil.
Three Times portrayed three love stories set in three different periods and competed for the Cannes film festival's Palme d'Or in 2005.
Hou has also taken part in a number of international projects. He directed the Japanese film Cafe Lumiere (2003), a homage to the late Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, and went to France in 2006 to direct Flight of the Red Balloon, starring French actress Juliette Binoche.