Outside of Korea, where the influx of funds and venture capital helped the local film industry grow to become a regional force, film funds have had a few false starts across the rest of Asia.

Several funds have been announced but failed to leave the starting blocks or to fill their coffers. And the longer-established funds that invest in filmed content - such as the IDG China Media Fund and Taiwanese entrepreneur Alan Lin's Media Vantage - only dabble in film, while they focus on internet start-ups or less risky forms of content such as drama and reality shows for TV.

In many ways, this is not surprising. Although the growth story in the Asian industry is a compelling one for investors, film is still considered an alternative asset class and there are other booming sectors from which to choose.

It also takes a long time to raise equity, and Asia has many other sources of film finance, including private investors and corporations both in and outside the industry.

And yet the announcements of new film funds just keep on coming. Three funds were announced this year in Singapore alone - by Japan's Entertainment Farm, Singapore-based RGM Entertainment and Los Angeles-based Hyde Park Entertainment - bearing testament to the proactive nature of the Singapore government.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based Global Entertainment Group (GEG) is also planning to launch a $100m fund to invest in film and TV projects across Asia.

And while its funds are not open to retail or institutional investors, Japan's Avex Group has established two separate financing vehicles with Hong Kong players - a $17m fund with producer Bill Kong and a $50m fund with Media Asia - both designed to build long-term, pan-Asian investment strategies.

All of these funds are born of a desire to help producers finance slates of films rather than one-off projects and enable investors to spread their risks. Most are still in the planning or money-raising stages and none apart from the Avex/Bill Kong fund, Irresistible Films LP, has made any investments to date.

But they have one huge precedent in The Weinstein Company's $285m Asian Film Fund, which is backing 31 Asian-themed films over the next six years.

Already up and running, the fund has bank-rolled its first two projects - action adventure The Forbidden Kingdom, which pairs Jet Li and Jackie Chan and has so far grossed $114m worldwide, and Mikael Hafstrom's epic Shanghai, which recently wrapped in Bangkok.

Next up is The Seven Samurai, a contemporary remake of the classic Kurosawa film, which will also shoot in Asia.

Asia bucks the trend

Neither the global credit crunch nor the retreat of hedge funds from film financing in the US have -dampened the optimism of Asia's new funds.

'World financial markets have been on a rollercoaster ride which affects the way investors and banks look at an investment in the film industry,' says Hyde Park CEO Ashok Amritraj, who is finalising paperwork on a - $55m-$72m (S$75m-S$100m) fund that includes both debt and equity components.

'That said, there is still quite a lot of funding available for the right company or projects and I believe that will continue.'

GEG chairman Johnny Hon believes a downturn in world markets could even spur investment in Asian film: 'When the market is hot, no-one is willing to make the long-term capital investments the film industry needs. They can make money faster on the stock market.'

But Hon acknowledges the market with the biggest growth potential, mainland China, still requires careful handling. In addition to headaches around piracy and censorship, Chinese costume epics such as Red Cliff and The Warlords may be doing gangbusters at the local box office, but are too expensive to recoup in their home market alone.

Rather than rely on international territories to turn a profit, Hon's fund will focus on smaller films such as $5.4m drugs thriller Protege in which he invested last year. In fact, around half his fund will be used to provide mainland TV producers with debt financing, and the film projects it invests in will mostly be based on proven TV properties.

The advantage of TV programming is that it is easier to churn out in large quantities, in contrast with the Asian film business where good scripts are difficult to come by.

Although Asia is extremely prolific, there is still a lack of emphasis on development, which leads to the film funds' biggest problem. Although they aim to facilitate slate financing, slates have been in short supply.

'It's not a situation where people have a slate of projects for a bank to lend against,' says Lee Beasley, head of creative industries at Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong. 'A lot of people approach us, but the slate is not there.'

And of course it is not healthy to have money sat waiting for good projects in which to invest, especially if there is a large debt component, not least because it increases the pressure to finance bad films. But the fresh crop of funds all claim they either employ or have strong links to producers with a track record in sourcing viable projects.

'We have long-standing ties to the industries in the US and Australia, which enables us to source material. We're also working with Asian film-makers,' says Stephen Clark, general manager of RGM Entertainment, which has financed projects such as ensemble drama Winged Creatures and Jan de Bont's Point Break Indo through its Singapore outpost.

Meanwhile, the two Avex funds have tapped some of Hong Kong's leading producers - Bill Kong and Media Asia - in addition to Infernal Affairs producer Nansun Shi who is managing the Irresistible fund. In addition to slate financing, both funds have as much to do with pooling resources as with pooling equity.

Avex, a Japanese music giant that recently moved into film, and Media Asia, one of Hong Kong's most active producers, both have deep pockets but admit they do not have access to talent, material and distribution networks on a regional scale.

'Rather than just throw money at films like a hedge fund would, we have a wider strategy to identify companies that can match our -thinking,' explains Buddy Marini, managing director of Hong Kong-based Avex Asia.

Avex/Media Asia will finance larger projects aimed at the China market, while Irresistible is backing films from new directors, such as Ivy Ho's Claustrophobia.

But both involve end-users (ie, distributors) and have a focus on marketing and distribution. 'It's important the people involved are strong in distribution because it's no longer good enough to make a good film - it's all about the opening weekend,' says Shi.

Shaking up the region

The entry of Japanese companies such as Avex and Entertainment Farm (see box, above) into financing at a pan-Asian level could shake up the region, as Japan has traditionally been focused on its huge local market. Likewise, Indian financiers are starting to look beyond their borders, although their focus has so far been on Hollywood.

Two film funds aiming to finance South Asian product have sprung up recently in India: a $50m (RUP2.3bn) fund established by financial services group Religare Enterprises and Vistaar Entertainment Ventures; and the Cinema Capital Venture Fund of around $110m-$150m (RUP5bn-RUP7bn) launched by Indian producers and media professionals including Samir Gupta.

The money they are raising may be a drop in the ocean compared to the financing available from new corporations such as Reliance Big Entertainment. But they demonstrate the booming South Asian film industry is also shifting its focus towards slate financing and long-term strategic thinking.