Following a lengthy marketing campaign and a premiere attended by beauty queens, champion kickboxers and royalty, Thai action drama Beautiful Boxer opened at the top of the Thai box office last weekend. Based on the real-life story of a kickboxer who fought to earn money for a sex-change operation, the film fended off competition from Hollywood releases such as Kill Bill Vol 1 and Intolerable Cruelty to grab top spot. The film is one of many local productions that have topped the Thai box office this year, including martial arts picture Ong-Bak - Muay Thai Warrior, feel-good drama Fan Chan and Iron Ladies II. However, unlike most other Thai productions, Beautiful Boxer wasn't released by a Thai film company but by the local arm of a Hollywood studio - Twentieth Century Fox. Although the film was produced and financed by a Thai company, Fox acquired the local distribution rights and is also considering buying rights for other countries in Asia. This marks the first time Fox has bought a local Thai movie, but not the first time it has picked up a local-language Asian film. The company released Zhang Yimou's Hero in several Asian countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, and also buys films in India and South Korea. 'We buy films both for release in their country of origin and, if it's appropriate, in other Asian territories,' says Fox senior vice-president, Asia Pacific, Bob Girard. 'It helps us keep an eye on what's happening in each country and whether there's any talent that could cross over to the west.' United International Pictures (UIP), which distributes films for three Hollywood studios - Universal, Paramount and DreamWorks - is also stepping up the number of Asian movies it buys. It recently released Andrew Lau's horror film The Park in Singapore and Malaysia, and has picked up Taiwanese animation Leon & Jo - The Butterfly Lovers for distribution in Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China. As nice as it might be to imagine that the Hollywood studios are keen supporters of Asian cinema, their motives are not entirely altruistic. Apart from talent-spotting, the studios have noticed that in Asia - perhaps more so than in Europe - local films are standing their ground against the onslaught of Hollywood blockbusters. Of course, in a region as vast and diverse as Asia, the picture differs hugely from country to country. In South Korea and Thailand, local films have only recently bounced back after losing ground to Hollywood and now account for about 30 to 40 per cent of the overall cinema market. In India, Bollywood reigns supreme and holds more than 95 per cent of the market, while in Taiwan local films have a pitiful 1 to 2 per cent share. But looking at the region as a whole, it appears that the preferences of Asian audiences are not a carbon copy of tastes in the west. While some Hollywood films - such as big action pictures - travel smoothly to Asia, there are many others that leave local audiences cold. At the same time, Asian films are experiencing a revival in their home markets and crossing borders within the region. South Korean comedy My Sassy Girl, Japanese horror title The Ring and Chinese martial arts epic Hero all performed strongly in several countries across Asia. According to the head of UIP's Asian operations, Kurt Rieder, there's a three-fold reason for picking up local films. 'Of course there's a financial benefit - particularly when we have gaps in our schedule - but it also allows us to learn about the local markets and the potential for growth,' he said at the recent CineAsia convention in Bangkok. 'It's also a matter of goodwill. The reality is this is not a good time to be representing a US company.' Rieder says that this strategy also benefits local producers, who gain access to Hollywood's distribution and marketing clout. But there are also losers among Asia's small independent distributors who miss out on releasing some of the region's hottest films. Buying Asian films for release in their home market also seems to be a safer strategy than buying them for release in the west. US mini-major, Miramax Films, has acquired US rights to a large number of Asian films, including Hero, Shaolin Soccer and Infernal Affairs. However, the company has drawn criticism from Asian movie fans because some of these films still haven't been released in the US. Speaking at the recent Filmart convention in Hong Kong, Miramax acquisitions chief Matt Brodlie said that, despite the unexpected success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it was difficult to position foreign-language films in the crowded US market. In the case of Shaolin Soccer, Brodlie said Miramax first decided to subtitle the film, and then thought it could work with a youth audience, which doesn't read subtitles, so prepared a dubbed version. However, test audiences didn't respond to the dubbed version so Miramax has reverted to its original strategy and plans to release a subtitled version in art-house cinemas next March. 'We've asked Stephen [Chiau Sing-chi] to come over and help us raise awareness for the film,' Brodlie said. 'He may be huge in Asia, but we still have to explain who he is to American audiences. We have some of his other titles in our library, so we're planning a retrospective of his films.'