HongKong's first ever Entertainment Expo (March 22 - April 6) gets underwaytonight with a splashy opening ceremony attended by local stars including HongKong's "Entertainment Ambassador" Tony Leung Chiu-wai andsinger Coco Lee.

Starting from tomorrow, three of the film events within Expo- FilMart, the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) and the Hong KongInternational Film Festival (HKIFF) - will take place side by side. The HongKong Film Awards will be held this Sunday and the festival runs through toApril 6.

Four other entertainment industry events, including the IFPIHong Kong Top Sales Music Award and the Digital Entertainment Leadership Forum,are also being held as part of Entertainment Expo.

Facilitated by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council(TDC), the Expo follows years of lobbying by the local film industry to haveall the territory's film events take place concurrently - preferably in apre-Cannes rather than late June slot. "In the past we had nothing new toshow just a few weeks after Cannes," says Media Asia distribution chiefJeffrey Chan.

The move also seems to be welcomed by the internationalindustry. This year's FilMart is expecting a huge increase in overseasvisitors, particularly from the UK and France which are both sending largedelegations of companies. Executives from major US players such as New Line,Focus Features and Miramax are also registered to attend.

Korean and Japanese companies will also be out in force."We're looking forward to the synergy between the different events.This should be a very productive market," says Cinema Service head ofinternational sales Josh Lee.

One immediate outcome of combining events is a much busierschedule of screenings, seminars and networking functions. More than 100 Asian andinternational films will be screened in the market while topics including filmfinancing, Franco-Chinese collaboration and cross-media development will bediscussed in the seminar programme. The market also features a special sectionof "Asian Indie Screenings" including recent Silver Bear winners Peacock and The Wayward Cloud.

While the Expo looks set to be a huge success, the localindustry is hoping that the eight-in-one mega event hasn't come too late.With the mainland Chinese market about to take off and Korean and Japanese filmcompanies forming world-beating alliances, Hong Kong is conscious that it needsto reinforce its position as the traditional hub of the pan-Asian market. Ifexecuted correctly, both FilMart and the resurrected HAF financing market,could help place Hong Kong in a competitive position.

HAF, in particular, has the potential to increasecollaboration between the fast-evolving China market and the rest of Asia."Lots of younger Chinese filmmakers have proved in the last few yearsthat it's possible to find a lot of finance within China fromnon-traditional sources," observes Fortissimo Films' co-chairmanand HAF honorary advisor Wouter Barendrecht. "This could also beinteresting for other film industries in Asia."

But FilMart is striving to be an international, in additionto a regional, market and is also working on building ties to the West. Thesecond day of the market is dedicated to France - traditionally a champion ofmainland Chinese filmmakers - and will feature a seminar on Franco-ChineseCinema Partnerships and the local premiere of award-winning French drama AVery Long Engagement.