Thailand's largest exhibitor Major Cineplex kickedoff the official opening of its latest 16-screen multiplex at upscale SiamParagon shopping centre with the premiere of Mission Impossible III - amid political and business uncertainty.

"The political chaostogether with high oil prices has been creating a big negative impact on thegroup's business,' says Kittsanan Ngamphathipong,who assumed the CEO post of the Major Cineplex group in January.

In late March,the protests against then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra led to a 1.5days closure of Siam Paragon (its cinema was partially opened at that time) andSiam Discovery Centre, where the exhibitor operates a seven-screen multiplex.

Ngamphathipong says that the group, which accounts for70% of the country's box office, suffered a 5% loss in daily revenues duringthe closure.

Although lastyear saw total box office exceed $79.6m (three billion baht), the first fourmonths of 2006 was sluggish with no film crossed the $2.7m (100m baht)benchmark for a box office hit. The highest grossing film is Sahamongkolfilm's Nong & Teng: Sons of the Golden Mountain with $2.4m (91m baht)while the top foreign film is Underworld:Evolution, which grossed $1.7m (65m baht) through M Pictures.

With the upcomingsummer blockbusters, however, Ngamphathipong isconfident that the box office downturn will be reversed. "May is going to begood month, with M:i:III,Poseidon, The Da Vinci Code and X-Men:The Last Stand all due to open,' he says.

The 5,000-seatnew cinema at Siam Paragon is part of the $26m (one billion baht) entertainmentcomplex.

In addition, MajorCineplex is set to invest $18.6m (700m baht) on up to six new sites this year,including Koh Samui island's first cinema, a three-screen complex due to openlater this week, and a 12-screen complex scheduled to open in October at Bangkok's Esplanade shopping centre.