Asia watches on as region's films head to Europe

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The Independent Culture

The Asian film industry started its annual trek to Europe this week, first heading to a small festival in the north of Italy before it moves en masse to the biggest film festival there is each year - Cannes ( - which starts on May 12.

The Far East Film Festival ( in the township of Udine, about a two-hour train ride north of Venice, whets Europe's appetite for Asian film with a showcase of commercial productions that have enjoyed box office success over the past 12 months in their home nations.

Asia's various media keep a close watch on the event as a precursor to Cannes - the French festival which can take an unknown director and turn him or her overnight into a household name around the world.

"Udine attracts media coverage from all over Asia because people want to know how the region's films are received in Europe. There is great cachet and of course sometimes great box office figures to be made," says long-time Asian film industry watcher Stephen Cremin who recently started up the Film Business Asia ( website which tracks what is going on in that region's cinema circles.

And while Asian box office smashes such as Hong Kong's Bodyguards and Assassins and China's The Founding of a Republic are being screened in Udine, the French seaside city of Cannes is preparing to host the latest releases from some of the biggest names in the region.

There are five Asian films this year vying for the top award at Cannes, and interest in the region is once again high, following on from the successes of last year when Filipino Brillante Mendoza received the award for best director for Kinatay, South Korea's Park Chan-wook won the jury prize for Thirst, and China's Mei Feng took home the best screenplay award for Spring Fever.

South Korea is leading the way this year with two films - Im Sang-soo's The Housemaid, Lee Chang-dong's Poetry - in the running for the main award at Cannes, and they will be joined by Japanese director Takeshi Kitano's Outrage, Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and China's Wang Xiaoshuai with Chongqing Blues.

And Asia will be watching their every move. Photographers from the region's main media outlets are sent to cover Cannes red carpet events and hundred of journalists file from the Croisette.

"South Korean media and general public, for example, are very much interested in Cannes, because many Korean films have been rewarded there over the last 10 years," says Kim Do-hoon, who runs South Korea's pre-eminent film magazine cine21 (http:| "If a major film is selected from any Asian country, everything from the film trade media to gossip magazine will cover Cannes."

And the rewards for those whose films are selected can be rich.

"Every Korean film director is anxious to go to Cannes," says Kim. "In Korea, having a reputation as an artist whose films have screened at international film festivals is as important as a commercial success.

"Directors such as Park Chan-wook ( Oldboy) became highly respected cultural figures in Korea which made them pick up jobs even as highly paid commercial models."

The 63rd Cannes Film festival will run May 12-23.