Mainland director Jia Zhangke won the best screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival for A Touch of Sin, a shocking look at rampant corruption and exploitation in his home country.
When a trailer for it was released last week, internet chat rooms buzzed with expectation that it would never be seen in China, or at least not in the form seen in Cannes.
A Touch of Sin, based on four true stories of poor people driven to acts of desperation, contains his most outspoken criticism yet of the country. But Jia said the film - part-funded by a state-owned organisation, the Shanghai Film Group Corporation - had been given official approval and would be shown uncut.
"Cinema makes me live," Jia said as he received the best screenwriting award on Sunday. "China is now changing so fast. I think film is the best way to me to look for freedom."
Jia, 43, was born in the poor province of Shanxi, which has frequently provided a grim tableau for his director's lens. After graduating from Beijing's national Film Academy, he produced a series of gritty films portraying low-life characters including pickpockets, thugs and prostitutes, set in Shanxi and filled with local dialogue.
Jia's win was not the only controversial result. A graphic lesbian love story, Blue is the Warmest Colour by French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche, won top prize. Jury president Steven Spielberg said the tender coming-of-age tale about a 15-year-old French girl's first love, an older woman, was a unanimous choice for the Palme d'Or award.
The runner-up award, the Grand Prix, went to Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis about a luckless folk singer in 1960s New York. An emotional Japanese drama about young boys switched at birth, Hirokazu Koreeda's Like Father, Like Son, bagged the third-place jury prize.