H.K. int'l film fest kicks off with double feature

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BEIJING -- The 31st annual Hong Kong International Film Festival , which kicks off on March 20 and runs to April 11, has already sold 25,000 tickets, 60% more than in 2006, organizers said Monday.

Part of the annual 23-day Hong Kong Entertainment Expo for a third year running, the HKIFF will, as is tradition, open with a double feature: Hong Kong director Yau 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.

Due to overwhelming requests, the festival has added additional screenings including the Asian premiere of 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," by Japan's Ninagawa Mika.

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 pre-registered 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 total 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, one of China's best known cinematographers ("Shanghai Triad"), 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 sotry 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 Schupbach 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 Luc 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 at the festival in a new sidebar called "Animation for All," set to 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.

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