Suriyothai, the most expensive Thai film ever to be produced, lived up to the furore surrounding its release with a three day opening gross (Aug 17-19) of $2.47m (Bt110m). According to distributor Saha-Mongkol, this shatters the previous opening record for a local film of $996,000 (Bt 43m) grossed by Nonzee Nimitbutr's hit Nang Nak.

Gilbert Lim, executive vp of Saha-Mongkol said, "This is not the final figure since all the results for the 400 screens playing the film have not been received. But we estimate $1.57m (Bt70m) was earned in Bangkok and $898.000 (Bt40m) in the rest of the country."

Although no comparable opening figure is available for Titanic - the country's highest grossing film - Suriyothai is expected to surpass Titanic's $4.8m (Bt213m) by the end of the week.

But with Suriyothai's Hollywood-style budget of more than $20m and an equally fantastic marketing spend equivalent to $5.6m (Bt250m), international sales and box office bucks are a must if the film is to break-even. However, hefty sponsorship from at least eight major companies, including the producer of Singha beer, Boon Rawd Brewery, have helped to mitigate the huge advertising costs.

The lavish film, produced by Prommitr Productions, is a labour of love for director and script-writer Prince Chatri Chalerm Yukol who first began researching the project seven years ago after getting the go-ahead from Queen Sirikit. Financed through private sources including the Thai Royal family, the Prince's connections have given him unprecedented access to grand palace grounds and props.

The story takes place in the sixteenth century during the early Ayutthaya period when the kingdom is under attack from the Burmese. The young Queen Suriyothai - played by unknown actress Piyapas Bhirombhakdi - is glorified for sacrificing her life to protect King Maha Chakkraphat.

No international sales have been signed as yet although the sales drive begins next week in the US where several distributors are reported to be interested. Start-up sales company GMT Entertainment (Screendaily 2 August 2001) headed by Gerald Dibbayawan will be handling international rights. Part of the discussions is likely to focus on how to cut the film to make it more palatable for the international market.

As well as the critical success of current festival favourites such as Jan Dura and Tears Of The Black Tiger, Thai films are now certain to have a bonanza domestic box office. At the beginning of the year Bang Rajan, a historic epic also set around the Ayutthaya period, became the highest grossing Thai film ever when it grossed $4.5m (Bt 200m) and ousted Nang Nak from the top spot (see table below). As many as 12 local films will be released this year compared to only eight in 2000.

All time Top 5 Thai movies

Title''''''..Release Date'..Gross to date
1. Bang Rajan''.Dec 2000 .''.$4.5m
2. Nang Nak''...July 1999'''.$3.36m
3. Suriyothai''...August 2001''.$2.47m *
4. Iron Ladies''.March 2000 '' $2.22m
5. Daeng Bireley'April 1997 ''. $1.68m

* still on release

Source: Screen International