Han Entertainment, Thomas Chung's nascent media empire, is to appoint fellow Hong Kong outfit Fortissimo Film Sales to handle outstanding territories on big-budget extravaganza The Touch.

Produced by superstar Michelle Yeoh through her Mythical Films, which has a deal with Han, the film is the English-language directorial debut of Oscar-winning cinematographer Peter Pau. Starring Yeoh, Ben Chaplin, Richard Roxborough and Brandon Chang the romantic action drama is the story of a family of acrobats chased by an unscrupulous villain as they seek to rediscover the Buddhist treasure their ancestors guarded for centuries. Pau Previously directed The Temptation Of Dance and Misty in the 1990s.

The film is likely to be the biggest and most commercial ever handled by Fortissimo, which has a wide-ranging slate including Sergei Bodrov's The Bear's Kiss, the Pang brothers' The Eye and Wong Kar-wei's forthcoming 2046.

"I am delighted that Fortissimo will be handling outstanding sales and worldwide servicing of The Touch," said Han managing director, Chung. "[Fortissimo principals] Wouter Barendrecht and Michael Werner are really passionate, professional film people. I hope our relationship goes further than sales in the long term."

"We are honoured and excited to have the opportunity to work with two of Asias most dynamic and forward looking producers, Michelle Yeoh and Thomas Chung, who also happen to be our personal friends as well," said Fortissimo co-chief Wouter Barendrecht.

The film, which is to be released in Hong Kong on July 22, was pre-sold to Miramax for the US, UK and Italy and a number of other territories have been closed. Those outstanding include Japan, Korea, Germany, Scandinavia and East Europe.

More problematic is the film's release status in France, where Han and M6/SND have not seen eye to eye. Although M6 was the first distributor to commit to the picture, and announced it during The Touch launch party at Cannes last year, the two "have not seen eye to eye since the production process began. And the film was screened by Han for other French buyers attending the recent Hong Kong Asia Screenings.

The dispute appears to date back to last autumn when M6 disagreed with one element of the casting. According to Han, M6 had not been given influence over casting and that its objection came too late to change. They had already signed binding heads of agreement and the film was only days away from shooting.

M6 chief, Thierry Desmichelle says that it attempted to negotiate a reduction in the price of the French rights as the casting choice meant a cut in the budget from the one just shy of $20m originally announced.

Chung says that the two agreed a middle ground price in December last year, once the film had begun shooting in Tibet, but that at the AFM in February M6 was again calling the price too high.

Desmichelle told Screendaily: "we have a deal memo. They cannot release the film in France without us."

Chung retorts: "My legal advice is that the deal is off and that we can hold M6 responsible for any shortfall between the price we agreed and that we may eventually receive."

While the rustle of lawyers' letters is alarming, some observers suggest that the two will soon settle amicably. With the French distribution market currently weakened by slow pay-TV buying, a sale to a group that has access to free-TV as well as theatrical distribution may be as good a partner as any.