As the 2003 Bangkok International Film Festival (BKKIFF) gets underway this week (Jan 10-21), local hopes that it will become the premier southeast Asian platform for global filmmaking remain high. But a number of late-stage changes to the proceedings have given the festival a shaky start.

Among the upsets are the cancellation of a film funding marketplace and the subsequent retraction of invitations to some international industry figures. High-profile films such as Zhang Yimou's Hero, David Cronenberg's Spider, and Stephen Daldry's The Hours have also been lost.

The BKKIFF's line-up nevertheless remains strong enough to satisfy local audiences starved of the sort of European filmmaking which dominates this year's line-up. But the ambitions of organisers Patrick de Bokay (the festival's worldwide executive director) and Juthamas Siriwan (festival president and governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the event's main sponsor) to establish the BKKIFF as a must-attend venue on the worldwide festival circuit, have yet to be fulfilled.

The festival hoped to launch a film finance platform to rival the long-established Hong Kong festival and the dynamic festival in Pusan, Korea. But a focus on programming should perhaps be the top priority. For all that the renaissance of Thai film-making is attracting international attention, the greatest hits selection of features from other recent festivals assembled by programmer Kriengsak "Victor" Silakong seem a touch predictable. The highlight is the world premiere of the highly-anticipated Sayew, a new sex-and-politics-laced Thai film by first-time directing team Kongdej Chaturanrasamee and Keart Kongsananta,

Touristy distractions included an Agnes Varda retrospective which will see French composer Maurice Jarre conduct the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, and a celebrity golf tournament with Malcolm McDowell.

The BKKIFF, now in it's fifth incarnation, has also seen the establishment of a rival, which had its own problem-plagued debut last October, by deposed festival founder Brian Bennett.