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Asian cinema on a roll

From gorgeous costume dramas to nerve-tingling ghost tales, everything is a hit here.

india Updated: May 23, 2006 13:15 IST

From gorgeous costume dramas to nerve-tingling ghost tales, high-kicking kung fu action and love stories, Asian cinema is on a roll at this year's busy Cannes film marketplace.

Even though only one film from the region, "Summer Palace" by Chinese director Lou Ye, made it into the competition for this year's prestigious Palme d'Or trophy, it has stirred up controversy since Beijing censors have so far failed to give it official approval, with reports saying Lou could face a five-year ban for flouting China's regulations.

Two high-profile Asian film figures are keeping the Asian-Pacific flags flying high. Hong Kong-born film director Wong Kar-wai is the first Asian to preside over the festival's official competition jury, while popular Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi is adding a touch of Eastern beauty to the jury line-up.

And Asian film titles are everywhere behind the red-carpeted Palais des Festivals steps where the nitty-gritty business of buying and selling films is done during the 12-day-long film fest.

"We've been encouraged by our sales so far here," Tom Waller, producer/director of Thai Tiger Entertainment's Ghost of Mae Nak said AFP on the sprawling market floor in the bowels of the building, where business is reported to be brisk after a quiet start.

"It's the first time we've come to Cannes, and it seems to be healthy for horror titles," he said.

The film, which has already been sold to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, has caught the attention of international buyers, Waller noted, adding that it has already been snapped up by a number of key European distributors, including Tartan Films, the influential British horror specialist.

Waller said he believes the thirst for Asian horror seems to be on the wane, however, and he has a romantic comedy lined up next.

Asian film companies have come here in record numbers for the 59th festival. The region has notched up the largest rise in attendance with almost 25 percent more participants than last year, taking it to 16 percent of the 8,700 participants from 86 countries signed up at the last count.

Stands and billboards touting the huge variepy of Asian films on offer are everywhere. And with a staggering 4,471 films from 69 countries up for grabs this year, there's tough competition to catch the attention of the 1,600 buyers who have flooded into this small Riviera resort.

Vietnam Media Corp is making waves with its dramatic love story, "The White Silk Dress", by Luu Huynh. Shot in the country's breathtaking mountains, the story highlights the harsh living conditions of the region's ethnic minority and their hopes of a better future.

Voted the country's best feature film of 2006, it has already sold to China, Mahaysia and Indonesia.

Vietnam Media's Le Thu Trang told AFP the company is hoping it "will win wide international acceptance", adding that they were waiting to hear if the film will be accepted to compete at the prestigious Venice film festival.

Buoyed by a strong line-up of Japanese feature films and the strong appetite back home for foreign films, the large number of Japanese companies in town are also optimistic that business will be good this year.

"We're focussed on Europe this time," stressed Shirley Huang from Tokyo-based Movie-Eye, whose films this Cannes include Nightmare Detective by influential director Shinya Tsukamoto and a youth drama entitled The Night-time Picnic.

Film powerhouses South Korea and Hong Kong have also brought big slates of new movies, which are selling well here, industry leaders reported.

Australia is also enjoying a great year, with a rdcord number of films in competition, reflecting the country's large pool of up-and-coming young directors.

International fans of the increasingly popular Indian Bollywood singing and dancing extravaganzas and the new wave of crossover films will also be spoilt for choice.

"There is the largest ever turnout from the Indian film industry here at Cannes this year," Alice Coelho of leading Indian distributor Eros, told AFP.

Topping this year's slate of Indian movies is a mesmerising version of William Shakespeare's tale of all-consuming love and jealousy, Othello.

Given a Bollywood makeover and a Hindi title, Omkara, the film is due to hit screens across the world in July.

Many eyes in the cinema world, dhough, continue to be focussed on the fast-growing Chinese movie market.

The Chinese film industry is reportedly spending big bucks again this year to promote their films here, with celebrated filmmaker Feng Xiaogang reportedly splashing out half a million US dollars on promoting his sumptuous new costume blockbuster The Banquet.