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Asian cinema takes center stage in Toronto

Region's film industry is highlighted at this year's fest

From more Gala and prestige slots than ever to a new industry event stacked with major players, Asian cinema and biz have never been higher on the agenda at Toronto.

“The Asian film industry is the most dynamic and fastest growing in the world — and the West wants to get in on the action,” fest artistic director Cameron Bailey told Variety on Saturday, following the international preem of Japanese box-office hit “Thermae Romae,” helmer Hideki Takeuchi’s adaptation of the popular comic book.

With the scene set Thursday by the enthused reception for fest opener and U.S.-China co-pro “Looper,” biz action kicked into gear Saturday morning with the sale of Korean helmer Hur Jin-ho’s “Dangerous Liaisons,” which adapts the 18th-century French literary classic to 1930s Shanghai, to Well Go USA.

Pic has its North American preem Monday night following the inaugural TIFF Asian Film Summit, a banner event for the festival, being held at the recently opened Shangri-La Hotel Toronto.

Bailey and his team scoured the globe for expert advice and for business leaders who will tackle the nitty-gritty of attaining closer East-West collaboration in a day-long series of working sessions on key topics like harnessing talent, wrangling financing, managing co-pros and building sales ties.

“The West wants to access not only the film-loving audiences in huge countries like China and India, but also the financing that’s available in countries with serious film money,” said Bailey, whose first step in putting the summit together was sitting down in Hong Kong with producer Bill Kong (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), whom Bailey calls “one of the best minds on film globally.”

Bailey also secured the participation of superstar Jackie Chan, the summit’s guest of honor.

“We wanted to have one high profile actor to be a kind of ambassador and show, through the work they’ve done, what’s possible in terms of building bridges.”

In Cannes, Bailey sat down with Senator Chris Dodd, MPAA CEO and chair, and will continue the free-ranging conversation Monday morning in a summit session called “The Global Future of Film.”

“I really liked his nuanced approach to important issues, such as curbing piracy, that the major studios are trying to figure out in order to engage more closely with the Asian industry,” Bailey said.

While many recent industry confabs have focussed on China, the fest wanted its summit to open the exchange to the wider Asian scene.

“You can see in this year’s programming films that show creative and financing collaboration between Asian countries,” Bailey said.

An afternoon session looking at India’s unique path to international success through both Bollywood and independent film includes the participation of Nina Lath Gupta of the National Film Development Corp. of India; the country has 20 pics on this year’s slate, 10 in the City to City program, which puts Mumbai in the spotlight.

The fest’s diverse Asian feature slate includes pics from China (18), Japan (16), South Korea (11), the Philipines (4), Vietnam (3) and a film apiece from Singapore, Thailand and North Korea.

Asian genre films, also on the summit agenda, have a long tradition of generating aud and buyer excitement in Toronto — previous Midnight Madness titles “The Host,” “13 Assassins” and cult favorite “The Raid” to name a few.

Although this year’s midnight slate lacks an Asian pic — Japanese helmer Ryuhei Kitamura’s world-preeming “No One Lives” is a U.S. title — Toronto’s thrill-seeking auds and have plenty to choose from.

Saturday night saw the world-preem of Lu Chan’s latest big-budget historical spectacle “The Last Supper” — with CAA and Wild Bunch primed to pursue, respectively, U.S. and international sales — and the North American preem of thesp-turned-helmer Stephen Fung’s “Tai Chi O” (Well Go USA), a retro-futuristic actioner with superstars Tony Leung Kar-fai and Shu Qi.

Previous fests have seen film fans from Toronto’s large South and East Asian immigrant populations show up to catch a rare live glimpse of superstars from their native lands on the red carpet.

“We’re expecting some crazy crowds this year,” Bailey said.

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