Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning film inspired by Hong Kong's crime thriller

Martin Scorsese finally won an Oscar - and he did it with a little help from his Chinese-speaking friends.

The veteran American director won best picture and best director Oscars on Sunday for the gangster movie "The Departed," a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller "Infernal Affairs."

But Scorsese's interest in Chinese-language cinema dates back decades.

He attended a movie conference in Beijing in 1984, when few foreigners had visited the country. He met Chinese directors Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige before they became critically acclaimed darlings in the West.

More recently, he has avidly boosted up-and-coming Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke, who won the top Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival last year for "Still Life."

Taiwanese director Peter Wang, who attended the Beijing conference with Scorsese more than two decades ago, said the New York native was irritable in the morning but generally easygoing. He asked people to call him "Marty."

In his autobiography, "I Look Awkward," Wang said Scorsese was extremely curious about Chinese film.

"At many events, Marty would pull me aside and ask me what he was eager to know in a low voice," he wrote.

A picture published in Wang's book shows a bearded, trench-coat wearing Scorsese, his hair still dark black, chatting with Wang and others. It's a stark contrast to the gray-haired 64-year-old honored in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Scorsese showed his classic crime movies "Mean Streets" and "Taxi Driver" in Beijing - but the films were so new to China that they were translated live on the spot, according to Wang.

By Scorsese's own account, he admired Chinese filmmakers' for "their eagerness, their passion" when he met them in the 1980s.

"The difficulties encountered by many of these filmmakers, under censorship as well as the economic dominance of Hollywood, are so great and so constant that their stories should give pause to many here in the West the next time we feel like complaining," he said in a foreword to the book "Speaking in Images: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Filmmakers."

Scorsese said he followed Chinese and Taiwanese film closely.

He ranked Chinese director Tian Zhuangzhuang's "Horse Thief" and Taiwanese director Wu Nien-jen's "A Borrowed Life" among his top 10 picks for the 1990s. He said "Horse Thief" was "intimate yet epic, completely unsentimental but yet deeply moving."

In more recent years, he's become a big fan of Chinese filmmaker Jia. He heaped praise on Jia's debut "Xiao Wu," a portrait of a Chinese pickpocket.

"This was true guerrilla filmmaking, in 16-millimeter format, and it reminded me of the spirit in which my friends and I had begun, back in the 1960s," he said.

Jia said in an article published in Hong Kong's City Magazine's book review last year that Scorsese faxed him a letter in 2002 praising "Xiao Wu" and inviting Jia to meet him in New York.

The Chinese director said he was touched by the letter, noting more senior Chinese directors had never extended such a gesture.

"Such a letter and such words make you feel like you received greetings from the tradition of filmmaking, from a family. You feel that your work isn't lonely but is connected with the whole development of film," Jia said.

Jia said he met Scorsese, whom he affectionately refers to as "Old Martin," in his office in New York in October 2002 when he was attending the New York Film Festival.

He said the American director prepared Chinese tea and Italian snacks, and "constantly smiled at us, like watching a child."

Scorsese paid tribute to one of the directors of "Infernal Affairs," Andrew Lau, in his acceptance speech Sunday, also praising, "wonderful Asian cinema."

The success of "Infernal Affairs" helped launch Lau's own Hollywood career. He recently shot his American debut "The Flock," which features Richard Gere and Claire Danes.

Hong Kong also cheered Scorsese's win, with news reports Monday and Tuesday touting "The Departed" as a remake of a local movie.

Lau's co-director on "Infernal Affairs," Alan Mak, said he was so happy he felt like he himself won an Oscar, the AP reports.

"It feels like you won half an award," Mak said, adding he was encouraged that "an idea made in a small place in Hong Kong can become universal."

But "The Departed" hasn't fared that well in the city where its story originated. The remake, starring Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, changes the setting from Hong Kong to Boston but follows the original plot closely.

While a box office hit in the U.S., "The Departed" made just 8.2 million Hong Kong dollars (US$1 million; EUR 800,000), while "Infernal Affairs" made nearly seven times that amount, or HK$55 million (US$7 million; EUR 5.3 million).

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