Refn is now a two-time winner of the prize, having recevied the honour for his 2009 film, Bronson. The award was extablished six years ago, to reward "courageous, audacious and cutting-edge" film making.
In a joint statement, the jury, led by actor hugo Weaving, acknowledged that there was lengthy deliberation, and that opinions were split over whether to award the prize to Refn's violent retribution drama.
“After 10 days of captivating and diverse film viewing and passionate conversations, the jury arrived at a majority decision. In the true spirit of the Competition criteria, we award a visually mesmerising and disturbing film, which polarised our opinions."
Only God Forgives premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in competition for the Palme d'Or. Critics were divided about the moody Thai-set tale of violent men and their mothers, which stars Ryan Gosling and Kristen Scott Thomas.
FULL COVERAGE: SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL