Despite occasional hits such as Spirited Away and Hero, Asian cinema is still neglected in Britain. But a new Asian-focused film festival is out to change all that. The Firecracker Showcase is a London-based film event that's held every September to bring the excitement and diversity of the region to British audiences. The fourth Firecracker Showcase ended last Sunday and presented an eclectic array of films from across Asia. Previous Showcases have focused on a specific country such as China or the Philippines, but this year it offered 40 films from eight nations, including 22 British premieres. 'Certain types of Asian cinema receive a disproportionate amount of exposure in the UK,' says organiser Erika Franklin. 'It's invariably easier to market a thriller or a horror movie because they're genres people are familiar with. Our aim is to show the true diversity of films from this part of the world. We believe that this richness ultimately could provide a compelling alternative to the movie mainstream.' This year's programme was vivid and wide-ranging. As well as a series of recent offerings from the mainland, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, this Showcase highlighted many smaller and emerging film industries, including those from Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. Everything from rural satire to hyperkinetic kung fu was on display, as well as a few extraordinary cult items. The festival opened on a nostalgic note with Nuan, Huo Jianqi's beautifully photographed tale of lost loves. The director and producer Dong Fan were on hand as special guests of the festival, which was also attended by Chinese and Philippine embassy officials. Huo's equally stunning Life Show was paired with Zhang Bingjian's psychological thriller Suffocation (Zhixi). Other highlights included an early peek at Kim Ji-woon's A Bittersweet Life (billed locally as 'this year's Oldboy', but proving a pale imitation), as well as the first London screening of Hayao Miyazaki's latest masterpiece, Howl's Moving Castle. But the pleasure of the festival lay in exploring some of the more refreshing, unusual offerings. Pattaya Maniac, a laid-back comedy from Thailand, proved to be fine, untaxing fun, while La Visa Loca, one of several Filipino offerings, was a slapdash affair that nonetheless proved difficult not to like. The festival also turned its attention to some older films that had somehow slipped through the net. Screened for the first time in Britain were the likes of Green Fish, Lee Chang-dong's 1997 debut, and Inner Senses, the Lo Chi-leung horror film that was Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing's final screen role. Less appealing was Ryoo Seung-wan's rambling crime piece No Blood No Tears, although the South Korean wunderkind redeemed himself with the closing-night Crying Fist. Ryoo's latest outing again showcases the talents of his younger brother, Ryoo Seung-beom (best known from the pair's other action hit, Arahan), alongside Oldboy star Choi Min-sik. It's a hard-hitting boxing film that flaunts convention by setting up two, equally sympathetic protagonists and then pitting them against each other. Somehow, the result is satisfying. Perhaps the greatest pleasure of the festival, however, was in the Firecracker Classics programme, which offered a small tribute to director Im Kwon-taek. Best known for 2002's Chihwaseon (Strokes of Fire), Im is, perhaps, South Korea's greatest filmmaker, with 99 films to his credit - the vast bulk of which have not been seen by English-speaking audiences. The programme, titled The History Man, was partly inspired by Im's Honorary Golden Bear at this year's Berlin Film Festival, and focused on three of his classics. The highlight was Im's masterpiece, the rarely seen and haunting Seopyeonje. Following a man as he searches for his long-lost sister, Seopyeonje is an ode to the traditional Korean art of pansori folk-singing, and one of the most beautiful films made. Rarer still were the screenings of Gilsoddeum and Jokbo, the latter of which had to be specially subtitled for the Berlin festival - presumably because no English-titled print existed. The programme offered a rare glimpse into the rich work of this ignored filmmaker, and provided a counterpoint to the violent revenge tales that typify the new South Korean cinema. With such eclectic and, at times, esoteric programming, it was always going to be tough to maintain audience interest, but Franklin doesn't think it was too much to ask of London filmgoers. 'Audience response has been fantastic,' she says. 'Both from people who aren't familiar with Asian cinema and from people who consider themselves real Asian cinema buffs. In both cases, we were presenting films of a type they hadn't seen before.' The festival has also spawned a web-based magazine, www.fire cracker-magazine.co.uk, which will be used with the annual festivals to promote the diversity of Asian cinema in Britain. Based on this year's Firecracker lineup, the material is out there, and it's only a matter of time before London wakes up to the excitement and ingenuity of eastern cinema.