Liao told the jury he turned 40 on Friday and "this is the most wonderful birthday present you could have given me."
"Before I left Beijing to come here I said to my mom, I'm not coming back if I don't win this prize," he joked. "Thank you very much for not leaving me in the lurch."
Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," a caper set in a fictional spa town in pre-World War II Europe with a strong ensemble cast including Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray and Edward Norton, won the jury grand prize, which comes with a runner-up Silver Bear. Anderson presented the movie when it opened the festival Feb. 6, but couldn't make it to Saturday's award ceremony — so festival director Dieter Kosslick picked up the prize on his behalf.
The ceremony presenters read out what they said was an acceptance message from Anderson, in which he said he had previously received a "palme de chocolat" in a gift bag at the Cannes Film Festival — but "this Silver Bear is the first both full-scale and genuinely metallic prize I have ever received from a film festival, so I feel particularly honored, moved and indeed thrilled to accept it." Kosslick said he is flying to the U.S. next week and would bring Anderson the award.
American filmmaker Richard Linklater took the best director honor for "Boyhood." Made over 12 years, it follows a boy — played by Ellar Coltrane — from first grade to college, watching him grow up as his divorced parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) chart their course through parenthood and relationships. Linklater said he was accepting the award "on behalf of the over 400 people who worked on my movie all these years, cast and crew."
"It says best director, but I'll think of it as best ensemble," he said.
Japan's Haru Kuroki was named best actress for her part in "The Little House," from veteran director Yoji Yamada, a film about a covert love affair in Japan set against the backdrop of World War II. Kuroki said she wasn't expecting the honor — "it's only because director Yamada has made such a wonderful film that I'm able to stand up here this evening."
Diao's winning entry was one of three Chinese films in the 20-movie competition this year. Another Chinese entry, director Lou Ye's "Blind Massage" — an adaptation of a popular novel that's set largely in a massage center run by the blind — won the festival's outstanding artistic contribution prize for its cinematography.
German director Dietrich Brueggemann's "Stations of the Cross," a tragic tale of a teenage girl in an ultraconservative Catholic community striving for spiritual perfection, was honored for the best script. And the festival's Alfred Bauer prize for innovation went to 91-year-old French director Alain Resnais' "Life of Riley," an adaptation of a play by British playwright Alan Ayckbourn.
An eight-member jury under "Brokeback Mountain" producer James Schamus chose the winners.