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TAIPEI (Reuters) - A Hong Kong star-studded historical drama and a Taiwanese comedy packed with a colorful
local cast are vying for center stage at this year's Golden Horse awards, widely regarded as the Oscars of Chinese-language film.
Hong Kong film "The Warlords," with martial arts star Jet Li, leads this year's nominations at the awards that will be given out on Saturday at a glitzy ceremony in the city of Taichung.
Close on its heels is "Cape No. 7," a low-key Taiwan film that has taken the local market by storm, garnering 10 nominations including best film and best director for Wei Te-Sheng.
The Golden Horses are considered the Academy Awards of Chinese-language film, although they have no affiliation with the Hollywood honors.
"Warlords," with 12 nominations for best film, best director for Peter Chan and best leading actor for Li, tells the story of a 19th century general set to become governor during the turbulent years of the waning Qing dynasty.
"(The film is) about human nature and the plot brings out certain gray areas, about how every person has two faces and weaknesses," said Hong Kong film critic Law Kar. "The screenplay is rare among Chinese historical movies in having a certain subtle ambiguity, so that you can see both sides of things."
"Cape No. 7" is much less serious or subtle, centered on a motley cast of small town folk in southern Taiwan who form a rock band that opens for a Japanese superstar.
"Cape No. 7 is the big story this year," said David Frazier, a Taiwan-based arts and film writer. "It condensed a lot of local identity issues into a very audience-friendly film."
Since opening in August, the film has earned some T$230 million ($7 million) at the box office in Taipei alone, more than twice the take of the second highest grossing film this year, the Hollywood blockbuster "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor."
But "Cape No. 7" has not been without controversy.
The film's Japanese themes, including two Taiwan-Japan love stories, may have been partly behind it being held up for screening in China, which had originally approved it for local distribution.
Taiwan is a former Japanese colony and still has close ties with its former ruler. That contrasts with China, where many still harbor distrust toward Japan following atrocities committed by Japanese troops during their occupation of parts of the country before and during World War Two.
Foreign films have dominated Taiwan's box office for years and continued to do so in 2008, with the next highest-grossing Taiwan-made entry this year coming in 31st with a Taipei box office take of just T$17 million.
That film, "Orzboyz," is also one of the top nominees in this year's Golden Horse awards which is usually dominated by Taiwan and Hong Kong entries.
"Orzboys," which follows the lives of a couple of naughty boys, picked up four nominations, including best film.
Rounding out the list of best film nominees are "The Assembly," a wartime drama and "Ocean Flame" about a blackmailer.
Other regional glitterati nominated this year include Louis Koo, for best actor for his role in "Run Papa Run" and Hu Jun for best supporting actor for his role in "Red Cliff."
Additional reporting by James Pomfret in Hong Kong