Asia is surging ahead as a power to be reckoned with in the film industry, and nowhere is this more evident than at the southern French resort town of Cannes, where the 58th annual film festival opened today/Wednesday.

No less than five Asian directors are competing for the top prize, the Palm d'Or, this year. Among them is a film from Hong Kong, one from mainland China and one from Taiwan. Two of the Cannes judges this year are Asian, and Indian film star Aishwarya Rai, a jury member at Cannes last year -- helped open the festival Wednesday night.

Asia is the flavor of the year at Cannes -- or so it seems. Joy Lee, a sales manager for China Film Promotion International sounded upbeat about her company's chances to sell Chinese movies to a Western clientele at the sidelines of the festival. China Film Promotion is holding a special

session during the festival highlighting Chinese cinema.

In a telephone interview from Cannes, Ms. Lee said she believed Europeans and Americans will like big, blockbuster Chinese movies with well known stars. She says there's a particularly interest in Kung Foo movies.

The Asian film industry did well last year. Altogether, it scooped up best actor and best actress awards, along with the runner up for the Grand Prize. But no Asian film has won the Palm d'Or since 1997, when Japan's Shohei Imamura cinched the top prize for his movie, "The Eel."

But film producer Pierre Rissient, a well-known authority on Asian cinema, warns against overly optimistic assessments of the Asian film market.

"I don't think we can really speak of a boom of Asian films in France and elsewhere. There's almost an established fashion of some Asian films coming from some countries, and some specific directors," Mr. Rissient says.

Nor does Mr. Rissient believe that India's mass-producing movie studios made much of a splash in the West.

"At this moment really we cannot speak of massive international support for Bollywood films. It's really starting. We need more to see if it's really correct," Mr. Rissient says.

Mr. Rissient says he believes the Asian movie industry is being applauded because of a dearth of competition from other areas of the world, like Africa or Eastern Europe. And in the future, he says, should be about encouraging individual efforts by top Asian actors and directors.