Asian cinema's growing global profile will be in focus at the 58th Cannes Film Festival starting Wednesday, with its young guns doing battle with Hollywood hot shots.
Five Asian films are jostling for the top prize, the Palme d'Or, including Shanghai Dreams, a tragic love story by Wang Xiaoshuai, one of the leading lights of what has been dubbed China's "Sixth Generation".
Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-Hsien will unveil Three Times about lovers who meet in three separate lifetimes, and Hong Kong's Johnnie To will make his competition debut with Election, a thriller starring Nick Cheung and Cantonese heart-throb Tony Leung.
Japan will be offering up Masahiro Kobayashi's topical Bashing about a young woman struggling with her return home after being freed as a hostage in the Middle East.
And a last-minute entry by South Korean director Hong Sangsoo, Tale of Cinema, will follow up on his 2004 entry Woman is the Future of Man, which drew a lackluster reception.
Mark Yoon, managing director of Seoul-based production and distribution company, MK Pictures, told AFP that the strong Asian showing in the competition was a boost for cinema throughout the continent.
"Cannes brings out much more awareness about our films because this is where all the major players gather," he said in an interview at the festival's sprawling market section.
"When you're making a big budget film you have to look beyond the Japanese market, for example. And to do that you need to come up with subject matter that everyone can relate to."
Despite the strong crop, Asian filmmakers will be in for a fight for the top prizes in an impressive field which includes heavyweights such as Wim Wenders, Gus Van Sant, David Cronenberg and Lars von Trier.
Last year Asians scooped up the awards for Best Actress (Maggie Cheung in Clean), Best Actor (Yagira Yuuya in Nobody Knows), the runner-up Grand Prize for South Korea's Park Chan-Wook's Old Boy and a Jury Prize for Thailand's first-ever bid for the Palme [Tropical Malady by Apichatpong Weerasethakul].
But an Asian film has not won the Palme d'Or at Cannes since The Eel by Japan's Shohei Imamura in 1997.
Out of competition, Asian movies will stand out from the crowd too with two Japanese films, one from South Korea and one from Sri Lanka competing in "Un Certain Regard" section on the sidelines of the main competition.
The "All the Cinemas of the World" section will showcase undiscovered gems from countries including Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
Meanwhile a major Chinese delegation is expected at the French Riviera resort to mark 100 years of Chinese cinema.
Hong Kong's John Woo and Bollywood actress Nandita Das are serving on the nine-strong Palme d'Or jury headed this year by Sarajevo-born director Emir Kusturica.
And Taiwanese director Edward Yang is heading the jury for the Cinefondation -- a section devoted to young new talent.
( Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)