Zhang Yimou's highly-anticipated $31m martial arts epic, Hero, has been selected as China's candidate for the best foreign-language Oscar.

The film is opening today (Oct 24) for a seven-day qualifying run on a single screen in southern China. In order to qualify for next year's Oscars, the picture must receive a commercial release for at least seven days before October 31. According to the film's Chinese producer, Zhang Wei Ping, the release was left as late as possible before the deadline to deter piracy.

Miramax has North American and a slew of other rights on the film which is being sold outside Asia by Universal's specialty unit, Focus Features. Within Asia, the film is set for a wide, simultaneous release in China, Hong Kong and possibly Taiwan on December 19. Chinese distribution is being handled by Beijing New Picture Film Co, which co-produced with Hong Kong producer Bill Kong's Elite Group Enterprises. In Hong Kong the film is being distributed by Kong's Edko Films.

The film, which tells the story of three assassins attempting to kill China's emperor-in-waiting, is crammed full of top Asian talent including Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Zhang Ziyi and Donnie Yen. The crew includes Cannes Technical Grand Prize-winning DoP Chris Doyle and acclaimed action choreographer Tony Ching.

Meanwhile, The Best Of Times, directed by Chang Tso-Chi, has been chosen as Taiwan's official foreign-language Oscar entry. The film, which screened in competition at this year's Venice Film Festival, tells the story of two teenage boys who become mixed up with a local gang in the Taipei suburbs. It was selected by a committee invited by the Taiwanese government's Department of Motion Picture Affairs.