At least half a dozen of the world's top sales companies havejoined the frenzied chase for the next Wong Kar-wai film The LadyFromShanghai, which stars Nicole Kidman and Gong Li.

The sellers range from Studiocanal, TF1, Wild Bunch, Pathe andWong's regular sales and finance house Fortissimo Film Sales to US powerhouseSummit Entertainment.

The film is being put together by Jean-Louis Piel, a Frenchproducer who recently worked with Kidman on Jonathan Glazer's Birth andwhose Asian credits include Purple Butterfly, Chinese Box and ShanghaiTriad.

Piel, who arrives in Santa Monica today, is understood to beseeking sellers who will put up the majority of the $25m budget and handlerights in most international territories. Piel, who hopes to move the discussionssignificantly forward this week, may keep back Japan andNorth America forhimself.

Although Fortissimo has been through thick and thin with Wong, theFrench companies are expected to have a strong chance as all four have in-housedistribution capacity and three have TV connections. Wong's recently released 2046was co-produced by France's Paradis/Ocean Films, but Piel is understood to feelthat he does not need to offer the boutique production and distribution groupany more than territorial rights.

The dark horse remains Fox,which handled a number of Asian territories on 2046 and whose subsidiaryFox Searchlight last year signed a three-picture deal covering upscaleEnglish-language films produced by Wong's other company Block 2 Films.

Although Wong has a reputation for ultra-prolonged production andfor shooting without a script, Lady is understood to be sharplydifferent. Although there is still little more than a treatment, Wong appearsakin to being a director for hire and his company Jet-Tone Productions is notthe lead producer. In fact, Gong Li has already shot her role in five weeks,Kidman will shoot her role in spring next year after completing Eucalyptusfor Jocelyn Moorhouse in Australia.

One of the rival sellers said yesterday: "Even without a script,who wouldn't want in on this one. It's got Kidman, one of film's greatestartists, 1950s Shanghai and espionage."