HSU Feng sat slightly forward in her chair, as she listened to the questions as they were translated into Mandarin. She has an angular but delicate beauty and a deceptively formal demeanour in her navy suit, buttoned-to-the-neck blouse and seed pearl. But it is her manner that is arresting. Intense but unexpectedly self-depreciating. You sense that when push comes to shove this woman, who produced the Cannes Film Festival winner, Farewell To My Concubine, is not to be messed with. Yes, she said this week, sitting in her corner office at Tomson (Hongkong) Films Co Ltd, in Pacific Place. ''The award (joint Palme D'Or for best picture at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival) was very important to me. ''Everyone says that Hsu Feng is rich. She does not need money. She can do anything. But now I have shown that I can make artistic films that are successful. I want to make the best films in the world.'' And she is not wasting much time. Post the completion of Farewell , which starred Gong Li and Leslie Cheung and has catapulted Beijing film director Chen Kaige into galactic cinematic stardom, she has three films in development and six, ''maybe seven'' directors under contract. The first is the big one. The film of the blockbuster autobiography Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng. It will be filmed on location in China, but the filming schedule has been put back to 1994. Hsu wants to play Nien Cheng but the matter is stillunresolved, at the family level. Her husband still has to be persuaded that it is necessary for her to spend three months away from him and their two sons, Charles, 12, and Albert, 10, next summer. She said that in the end she knows that she cannot go too far as her ambition to be a good producer already has taken her away too often from her family. But she thinks playing Nien Cheng is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. ''I think we have a lot of similar characteristics. I want to play this role. It will be my last as a actress.'' The two women are similar, even though they are a generation apart and have been brought up in different economic and political circumstances. Both have a steeliness that belies their appearance, and in Ms Nien's case, coquettish manner. Both have struggled, suffered the loss of their loved ones and gone through long periods of depression. ''My father was from Fujian province and fought as a Kuomintang soldier and my mother was from the north,'' Hsu said, rifling in her wallet and removing the only two pictures she has of her father - one of him in uniform in Beijing and another passport-size snapshot. Her story is the classic tale of the stateless anti-Maoists of postwar Taiwan. The family fled to Taipei in 1949 and Hsu was born in 1950. She remembers little of her father, who died of cancer when she was young but the struggle the family of six had against poverty is a vivid memory. The eldest of four children, she took over cooking for the family in their one-room flat when she was 10 and was intuitively independent. ''My stepfather did not like paying my school fees and I resented his attitude,'' she said. ''When I was 15 I decided that I would get a job. Any job.'' She found two possibilities in the newspapers. A vacancy as a process worker in an electronics factory and an advertisement for auditions for a movie being produced by the film production house of King Hu. It's a time-honoured story. ''I knew nothing about acting. We had two readings and one screen test and I got the part,'' she said, ''because I was the only one who could cry real tears. It was a very sad story. It really moved me.'' ''A week later a letter arrived from the factory offering her the production line job. I would have taken it. I just wanted money,'' she said. Many months later, when Dragon Gate Inn was released, Hsu said that some of her schoolmates were surprised to see her in the movie. ''They did not think I could be an actress because I was considered to be pretty ugly at the time.'' Master mass movie-maker King Hu thought differently. In her next film, A Touch of Zen, she played the lead and eventually went to Cannes where the film was honoured at the 1975 festival. At home, instant stardom produced changes in the Hsu family lifestyle. She earned between NT$800 to NT$2,000 a month in the first year of her movie career, so the family moved to a bigger flat. By the time she was 20, she had enough money to buy a house for NT$500,000 in 1970 and moved everyone in. ''I always lived with them. I did not like to live alone,'' she said. By then she was a major celebrity and the female warrior queen of Asian action movies. ''I find it quite amusing that I ended up as a superstar like this because I am quite clumsy. When I started making A Touch of Zen the director shouted at me because I could not handle myself in a fight scene with 20 people.'' With fame came travel and a social life that included the attentions of many rich suitors. ''I did not have anyone special in my life. I did not find a man who was my type.'' In fact, she almost missed out on her husband, the founder of the Tomson Group,David Tong Cun-lin. It took some wooing on Mr Tong's part but the couple finally married after a year-long courtship, in 1980. ''I had promised my husband that I would give up my career when we married. But a few months after our wedding, I won the Golden Horse award for Root in 1980 and I started having regrets. I missed the film business.'' But her new husband wanted her to be his personal assistant and installed her in the offices of his department store in Taipei. ''I had this calculator and I had to balance the cheques. I was hopeless. I could not add up anything.'' Desperate to stop his wife from sinking into depression, her husband allocated her a lump sum and three choices for its investment - jewellery, film production or property. Naturally, she chose the movie option but it did not work out as she planned. ''I was a child 10 years ago in the business,'' she said. ''I tried to do everything. Now I concentrate on being a producer, and I don't interfere with the director. I have five areas of responsibility: choice of director, the quality of the script, actors, budget and box office. My test is whether the story moves me. If it can't make me feel something then how can the audience like it?'' In 1983, when she established Tomson Films Co Ltd, however, her goals were different. She decided to make one artistic and commercially successful film a year which resulted in the company quickly rising to the top of the Taiwan film industry. Unfortunately, commercial success produced the opposite reaction in Hsu. She lapsed into clinical depression about the quality of her films and ended up consulting a psychiatrist for 12 months. With professional medical help, she identified the problem and decided to return to the film industry but only make movies she felt were top class. Commercial films, per se, were out. ''My husband begged me not to try again, as movies had made me sick. But I knew I had made the right decision.'' That was in 1987. Her first quality venture was Five Girls on a Rope followed by Red Dust. Each of the films was about China and all of them have an epic theme revealed through strong, often heroic personalities. Farewell To My Concubine was next, under the direction of Chen Kaige. The producer felt she had found a professional soul-mate with the Beijing Film Institute star director and has worked with him ever since. ''He was on a contract for Farewell but after I saw what he did I signed him up for six films,'' she said. Since then it has been success all the way. Her work was acclaimed at a special New Film Festival retrospective last year, and distribution rights for Farewell have been sold to every country except Yugoslavia and Russia. Nobody can say she is rich film dilettante now. But some problems need to be resolved in the immediate future. Chen Kaige wants to film Life and Death in Shanghai in the summer, when the section on the Cultural Revolution in the book takes place, and of course Hsu is not a person to be easily dissuaded from what she wants to do. But she is traditional in her private life and she said she cannot go too far with her husband, if he objects to the long absences that her role in the film would require. ''I really appreciate my husband but I really want to play Nien Cheng. I understand his position. If he said he had to be away for three months I would expect a very good explanation. I have to ask his permission.'' Not too many people who know Hsu Feng would put their money on Mr Tong, at this stage.