Well Go USA Entertainment couldn’t wait for Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s martial arts pic The Assassin to hit Cannes. The distributor has just acquired North American rights to the Chinese competition film that has its world premiere next week on the Croisette. The Chinese auteur has been working on the film for close to a decade, and he will be in Cannes for the May 21 bow.

Set in ninth century China, the movie centers on Nie Yinniang, the 10-year-old daughter of a decorated general, who is abducted by a nun who trains her in the martial arts. She is transformed into an exceptional assassin (Shu Qi), charged with eliminating cruel and corrupt government officials. After a failed mission, she returns to the land of her birth with orders to kill her betrothed husband-to-be (Chang Chen): a cousin who now commands the largest military force in North China. After 13 years of exile, the young woman must confront her parents, her memories, and her long-repressed feelings. A slave to the orders of her mistress, Nie Yinniang must choose: sacrifice the man she loves, or break forever with the sacred way of the righteous assassins.

The deal was negotiated by Well Go USA president and CEO Doris Pfardrescher with with Carole Baraton of Wild Bunch.

“We have a proud history of supporting films from Taiwan, and Hou Hsiao-Hsien is a legend,” said Pfardrescher. “It’s like someone made a wish list, and we got everything we could have hoped for: Iconic director, stellar cast, and this exciting, moving story – we’re very excited to bring this to North America.”

This is the second competition title to get a U.S. deal ahead of the fest that bows Wednesday. Fox Searchlight was closing down North American rights to Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, the English-language drama that stars Michael Caine, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel and Paul Dano.