Attendance up for '07 HK fest

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The 31st annual Hong Kong International Film Festival, set for March 20-April 11, already has sold 25,000 tickets, 60% more than last year, organizers said Monday.

Part of the 23-day Hong Kong Entertainment Expo for a third year running, the HKIFF will open, as is tradition, with a double feature: Hong Kong director Ay Nai-hoi's Tony Leung starrer "Eye in the Sky" and South Korean helmer Park Chan-wook's "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK." Tickets for "Cyborg" sold out in half an hour, organizers said.

Wilfred Wong, chairman of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, said Monday that Josephine Siao will receive the inaugural Asian Film Award for outstanding contribution to Asian Cinema, which will be presented March 20 at a ceremony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Siao will be honored for her extraordinary contribution to Asian cinema, a statement said.

Prominent film theorist David Bordwell will be honored with this year's Asian Film Award for Excellence in Scholarship in Asian Cinema.

Organized by the Hong Kong International Film Festival and held in conjunction with Entertainment Expo, the film awards recognize the best of Asian cinema during the past year.

Awards will recognize films and filmmakers from all of Asia — from Iran to India to China. There will be 10 categories: best film, director, actor, actress, screenwriter, cinematographer, production designer, composer, editor and visual effects.

Celebrated filmmakers confirmed to present at the Asian Award Gala include Luc Besson and Ninagawa Mika, director of "Sakuran," joined in presenting the awards with his film's stars Narimiya Hiroki and Kimura Yoshino.

The AFA's red-carpet gala and award ceremony will pay tribute to 33 nominated Asian films. The event will be broadcast throughout Asia on Television Broadcasts Limited and other regional channels including Astro TV and Phoenix TV, with guests in attendance from around the world.

Responding to an overwhelming number of requests, the festival has added additional screenings. They include the Asian premiere of the 2007 Berlin Golden Bear winner "Tuya's Marriage," by Chinese director Wang Quanan; "Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust," by Japanese director Baba Yasuo; and "Sakuran."

Festival attendance is expected to surpass the 12,000 visitors recorded in 2006 and additional screenings could be added as demand arises, said Peter Tsi, executive director of the HKIFF Society Ltd.

"There are the ticket holders and then there are the trade buyers and sellers, who are already at 1,000 this year, double the 2006 number because we're opening at the same time as HAF," Tsi said, referring to the concurrent Hong Kong Asian Film Financing Forum, known locally as HAF. "Overall attendance will be up because we timed the events right."

Tsi noted that HAF's 25 projects in development this year have drawn 15% more preregistered meetings between filmmakers and would-be financiers at the event hall, the Hong Kong Convention Center. "The timing definitely makes more sense," Tsi said.

One such HAF project is mainland director Zhang Yuan's "One Night in Beijing," a drama about a group of strangers who meet and then go their own ways on a single night. Zhang ("Little Red Flowers") is seeking to secure half of the $1 million budget for his latest project at HAF.

On the program of completed films at the HKIFF are 300 titles and 16 world premieres, including "The Obscure" by Lu Yue ("Shanghai Triad"), one of China's best known cinematographers, and "The Case," a domestic comedy by Wang Fen, a rising female director from southwest China's Yunnan Province.

Among the nine international premieres scheduled are documentaries "Nanking," American directors Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman's story of a group of expatriates who tried to protect Chinese from Japanese invaders just before WWII, and Soraya Nakasuwan's "Final Score," about Thailand's rigorous educational exams and their lasting effect on the lives of boys.

The 22 Asian films premiering include "Carla's List," a documentary from Switzerland's Marcel Schüpbach about mafia-busting Swiss attorney general Carla del Ponte, and Malaysian drama "The Elephant and the Sea," from director Woo Ming-jing.

Expected to lend a little celebrity to the event is the touted attendance of French helmer Besson, top Hong Kong director Johnnie To ("Election") and mainland actress Zhou Xun, star of last year's "Perhaps Love."

Animation will get its own red carpet in a new sidebar called Animation for All, which will include "Happily N'Ever After," a spoof on classical fairy tales from the producer of "Shrek," and "Yobi: The Five-Tailed Fox," by South Korea's Lee Seong-gang. Lee's film revolves around a 100-year-old fox who stumbles into a human village and finds she's been transformed into a 10-year-old girl.

Jonathan Landreth reported from Beijing; Steve Brennan reported from Los Angeles.
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