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Rolling out the red carpet for the 30th Hong Kong International Film Festival is still weeks away, but fans are already snatching up the hot tickets online, showing a promising start for the gala event despite the cut in government funding.


The booking for the festival's opening film on April 4, the world premiere of Johnnie To Kei-fung's triad epic sequel, Election 2 was sold out within just two hours of the start of online ticket reservations, the fastest in the festival's history.


Online bookings for at least 12 other films are also sold out, according to the organizer of the festival. The festival's first day of online ticket reservations has reached 6,000, twice the record set last year.


Festival director Peter Tsi Ka-kei said 30 percent of the tickets were sold online, a further 30 percent through postal bookings, and the rest would be available at the box office later.


Jonnie To, also chairman of the Arts Development Council's Film and Media Arts group, said the HK$500,000 (US$64,103) cut in government funding to US$7 million (US$897,436) for the film festival was unavoidable.


"The government has been cutting overall funding for the Arts Development Council, so everyone gets less," he said.


To promote Hong Kong film culture, Hong Kong movie star Andy Lau, honorable ambassador for this year's festival, initiated a volunteer program to recruit a team of more than 100 students to provide volunteer work for the festival. He will lead the volunteer team. With this program, Lau aims to promote film culture among the young generation and at the same time encourage youth to take responsibility in promoting local film culture.


The festival will also feature a retrospective program "Milky way Image 1996-2005," which highlights Johnnie To, Wai Ka-fai and their creative team's contribution to the development of Hong Kong cinema in the last decade.


Other special programs to promote the film festival include "A Tribute to Action Choreographers," "The Great Outdoor Film Shows" at Tamar Site, "Inflatable Movie Carnival," "Jonnie To on Location," "Posters & Stills Exhibition" and a series of public seminars and forums.


The 30th Hong Kong International Film Festival will be held from April 4-19. This year's festival will feature 253 film programs from 42 different countries and regions, which provides a platform for film-goers worldwide to enjoy inter-cultural exchange.


World premieres


The festival will also be premiering award-winning films selected from worldwide cinema.


The films include:


The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, which won the Teddy Bear Award for Best Feature Film.


Filipino film-maker Auraeus Solito's first narrative feature is an unusually low-key drama whose neo-realist air generally triumphs over the script's violent, tearful contrivances.


Twelve-year-old Maxi (impressive newcomer Nathan Lopez) is the youngest child of widower Paca (Soliman Cruz). Like nearly everyone in their Manila slum, Paca, moody Boy (Neil Ryan Sese) and antic middle son Bogs (Ping Medina) survive through such means as selling stolen mobile phones and placing bets.


Occasionally teased but mostly accepted as a girl in a boy's body, super-femme Maxi dropped out of school to be surrogate "wife," cooking, cleaning and fussing over everyone.


He's smitten with handsome rookie cop Victor (JR Valentin), who takes him under his wing platonically, though vibe is near-romantic at times. When Boy kills a student during a bungled robbery, however, Maxi is caught between protecting his kin and Victor.


In Between Days, which won FIPRESCI Prize of the Berlin International Film Festival and Special Jury Prize of the Sundance Film Festival.


Based on her own experience moving to Los Angeles at age 12, director Yong Kim has created a documentary-like film of a young Korean girl's dislocation.


A first-generation immigrant, Aimie (Jiseon Kim) not only has to adjust to the teenage angst of dating and sex but also absorb a culture she doesn't really understand.


Although Aimie is inarticulate in either language, the director manages with intense close-ups and painterly composition to get under her skin revealing her inner feelings.


Aimie lives alone with her mother (Bokja Kim) in a low-income housing project in a frozen Northeastern city (the film was shot in Toronto).


Every morning, as she traipses off to school, she hears the ice and snow crunching under her feet. She's an indifferent student, spending most of her time doodling in class and only comes alive when a classmate, Tran (Taegu Andy Kang), starts showing some interest in her.


The film beautifully and impressively demonstrates what film-makers with more vision than money can accomplish.


Little Red Flowers, winner of the CICAE Award at the Berlinale.


Chinese director Zhang Yuan weaves a telling tale of conformity and the high price of independence in this screen adaptation of author Wang Shuo's popular novel concerning a young orphan's attempt to fit in among his new classmates and earn the respect of his stern teacher.


After being abandoned at a Beijing kindergarten, young Qiang has a difficult time adapting to the school's strict new set of rules. In a place where obedience and good behavior is rewarded with precious red flowers, Qiang's inability to conform is only highlighted by his glaring lack of the highly coveted blossoms.


Walking on the Wild Side (Lai Xiaozi), which garnered the Tiger Award of the Rotterdam Film Festival.


China's novice helmer-scripter Han Jie drew on his own experiences in the desolate mining areas of North China's Shanxi Province, and while he's flawlessly captured the unrelenting ugliness of the location, his slice-of-life objectivity offers little but random brutality and a hopeless future.


Something Like Happiness, which pocketed the Golden Shell Award of the San Sebastian Film Festival.


The story by Czech director Bohdan Slama is simple in its outline: Monika, Dasha and Tonik are friends or at least they all were at some point.


Set in surroundings grim and grey, with a smoking nuclear plant dominating the scenery, there is levity and a surprising amount of warmth in this movie as the characters strive towards the pursuit of something like happiness.


Dasha, who has two children by a man who has long since left, is in love with a married man. She is mentally unstable and doesn't know very well how to care for her two children.


The acting is very natural. It feels like Monika and Tonik are playing themselves rather than their roles, and there is real chemistry between the two.


Sunflower, which won the awards for the Best Director and the Best Cinematographer of the San Sebastian Film Festival.


The film is very much related to personal experiences of the Chinese director Zhang Yang.


The story focuses on the relationship between a father and son in a changing society between the 1970s and the 1990s.


The father, an artist, returns home to be reunited with his wife and his 9-year-old son after spending six years in prison during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).


But the son does not recognize his father and is deeply disturbed by this new presence in his life. The father is traditional and holds onto principles that don't mean much to his son. This fuels confrontations between parent and child.


The son becomes a renowned artist in the end of the movie. Eventually, he begins to understand his father after he becomes a father.


Taking Father Home (Bei Yazi de Nanhai), which won the Special Jury Prize at Tokyo International Film Festival.


The powerful debut by Chinese helmer Ying Liang revolves on 17- year-old Xu Yun's search for his father in the big city.


Penniless and carrying only a couple of white ducks in a basket, Xu searches for the Happiness Hotel, his father's last known address. In the city, a scarred man (Wang Jie) initially hurls abuse in typical urban style, but then relents, offering to help the kid find a place to stay.


But the Happiness Hotel is now just an empty building site. Further clues lead to another dead end, and only by pure chance does he find his dad, a building speculator, just before the entire city is forced to evacuate in expectation of an impending flood.


(China Daily March 13, 2006)

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