Ang Lee's steamy Lust, Caution is the odds-on favorite to clean up at the 2007 Taiwan Golden Horse Awards, the most coveted Chinese-language film prizes, in a year where China-Taiwan politics has played a controversial role.
Despite a low profile in the West, the Golden Horse is a star-studded occasion, with top talent from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China turning out each year for the red-carpet event in Taipei.
Lee's movie, his most prominent Chinese-language film since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, has been nominated for 12 awards, including best film and best director, at a ceremony set for Saturday in his native Taiwan.
The movie, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival, is competing for best film with three lesser known titles. The Home Song Stories, about a Hong Kong nightclub singer who emigrates to Australia, Getting Home, about a Chinese migrant worker returning home after a sudden death, and what on earth have I done wrong?, a political comedy.
Lust has the advantage of far more publicity than any of its rivals, having screened for several months in Taiwan, said Lee Yun-fen of the Chinese Taipei Film Archive.
"It should have pretty strong chances because so many people have seen it," she said. "It's very persuasive."
The awards feature mostly films from Taiwan and Hong Kong. In addition to Lee, luminaries on this year's list include Hong Kong film stars Tony Leung and Aaron Kwok, and China-born Joan Chen, who burst on to the movie scene in Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" in 1987.
Taiwan pop star Jay Chou is also up for outstanding Taiwanese filmmaker of the year for his directorial debut Secret.
China, which has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, doesn't allow its movies to compete, though co-productions between Chinese and foreign houses are allowed.
Despite the ban, two mainland films, Tuya's Marriage and Blind Mountain, were submitted by film makers this year, only to be forced to withdraw later, creating a gap in the nominee list that had to be hastily filled.
"This is a question of their policy," said a spokeswoman for the show. "Tuya's Marriage was entered at the film company's own request. In the end it was China that made them withdraw."
Organizers said they were hopeful that mainland productions might be allowed to participate next year.
Cultural exchanges have increased across the Taiwan Strait in the last decade, but political relations have been icy during the seven-year tenure of President Chen Shui-bian, whose Democratic Progressive Party favors independence.
Lust, Caution, about a Chinese woman tasked with killing a Japanese collaborator in Shanghai during World War Two, has also been the subject of controversy, with some decrying it for being too long and others critical of its graphic sex scenes.
The film drew additional attention when China said it would cut some scenes before screening it there.