In the first pre-emptive purchase of this year's Cannes, Miramax Films has bought North American, Latin American, Scandinavian and South African rights to super-hot Un Certain Regard film Tears Of The Black Tiger (Fata Lai Jone). The swoop comes amid surging international buying interest in Thai cinema here at the market.

Tears, by first time director Wisit Sasanatieng is a melodramatic Thai Western involving heavy use of digital recolouring and emblematic Thai western music. Miramax clinched the film, which came to Cannes with a full compliment of ready-made marketing gimmicks, even before its first screening early yesterday afternoon. Other domestic buyers found themselves stopped at the door.

The deal was negotiated by Andrew Herwitz, Dede Nickerson and Virginia Treole of Miramax, and Wouter Barendrecht and Michael J Werner, co-chairmen of Fortissimo. The domestic rights alone were put at a high six figures in dollars.

The film was previously sold to Pathe Distribution for the UK, Dendy Films for Australia and New Zealand, Shani Films for Israel, Frenetic for Switzerland, Cine Libre for Belgium and Blanco Y Traviesa for Venezuela.

Meanwhile, the biggest ever Thai film - the $20 million Suriyothi - is also generating some heat among US studios. And First Look Pictures has just acquired US rights on Fortissimo's Bangkok Dangerous, a contract killer film directed by by Oxide and Danny Pang. The brothers' first film is described as being in the action mould of John Woo.

Warner Bros, Sony, New Line and Miramax again are understood to have shown differing degrees of interest in acquiring worldwide distribution rights in Suriyothi. Teasers and trailers of the film are being presented in Cannes by distributor Mongkol Cinema, which has a local output deal with New Line. Delivery of the completed picture is expected in August after post-production at the Zoetrope studios in Napa valley.

"We are very confident that there is a global audience for Suriyothai," said Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol, its director. "There cannot be many films where elephants go into battle." The film tells the true story of Queen Suriyothai who waged war against Portuguese mercenaries in the 16th century.

Made at the initiative of the present day Queen of Thailand, the film boasts unparalleled access to palaces, battlegrounds and other locations. Technical credits are also impressive; the cinematographer is Schloendorff-regular Igor Luther with music scored by Richard Harvey and performed by the Budapest Symphonic orchestra. Production is by Prommitr Production with finance from private sources and from Thai International.

"There apprear to a growing appreciation and understanding of Thai cinema," said Mongkol executive vice president Gilbert Lim. "We hope that Suriyothai will enlarge the audience still further."

At Cannes, Lim is also selling Behind The Painting, a drama based on one of the best selling novels from the 1930s that is directed by Cherd Songsri, and Daughters II, a sequel to the Prince's first HIV-themed picture which was previously handled by Golden Harvest.