Ang Lee paves way for Asian films

Expectations high for Far Eastern movies at Cannes festival

— When Japanese actor Yusuke Iseya opened his mouth to reveal his pierced tongue for photographers, he was making a personal statement � but it could also have been a statement about Asian films.

They are cool, cutting-edge, and seeking both glory and financial success at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

This time, they have a special edge as they battle to break into the American and European markets: It's the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" factor.

The success of Taiwan-born Ang Lee's Chinese-language martial arts extravaganza � the highest-grossing foreign film in the United States � has piqued interest in action films with an Eastern twist.

"Crouching Tiger" was shown out of competition in Cannes last year but won some of the most enthusiastic reviews. It went on to win an Oscar for best foreign film.

This year, there are three Japanese films in competition � including "Distance" by Hirokazu Kore-eda, which stars Iseya � and two from Taiwan.

Expectations are particularly high after last year's Asian entries grabbed a string of awards: best director for Taiwan's Edward Yang, best actor for Hong Kong's Tony Leung and the grand prize for China's Jiang Wen.

Kore-eda's "Distance" got the Asian caravan off to a slow but strangely compelling start Thursday. The documentary-style film about the relatives of victims of a cult is loosely based on events surrounding the Japanese cult Aum Shinri Kyo, whose members released deadly nerve gas into Tokyo subways in 1995.

Among the other films competing are "Desert Moon," by Shinji Aoyama of Japan; "What Time is it Over There?" by Ming-Liang Tsai of Taiwan; "Millennium Mambo," by Hsiao-Hsien Hou of Taiwan; and "Warm Water Under a Red Bridge" by two-time Cannes laureate Shohei Imamura of Japan.

A slew of Asian film companies have come to Cannes to find distributors for their works. And everyone is hoping the "Crouching Tiger" magic will rub off.

"There is a growing interest because of that film," said Mark Yoon, senior vice president of Korean CJ Entertainment, which is pitching "Musa," starring Zhang Ziyi of "Crouching Tiger" fame.

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