Asian talents to amaze public at this year's Hawaii Film Festival

In the film world, China is "red hot." Japan is making a comeback, and Thailand has the scariest horror films around. But South Korea may be the biggest draw of all.

Organizers of this year's Hawaii International Film Festival say they have a deep pool of talent for the event, which will showcase more than 150 feature films, documentaries, shorts and animations from across the Asia-Pacific region and is expected to draw some 70,000 people.

"The buzz in Cannes was that China is red hot," festival executive director Chuck Boller said Thursday. "But Korean cinema has really taken off in a huge way and is fueling Asian cinema throughout the world."

Promoters are hoping to draw tourists to the event, first held in 1981, with promises that it will not be like other festivals, where the closest guests get to the stars is a glimpse of them on the red carpet.

"It's Hawaii," Boller said. "It's more casual, there is more access."

To give it a distinct Asian flavor, organizers are pursuing several Korean stars to attend the event, which runs from Oct. 18-28. Boller said he could not yet confirm who will headline, but added that organizers also "have feelers out" for actress Scarlet Johansson.

Past headliners have included Samuel L. Jackson and Japanese star Ken Watanabe.

Asia is without a doubt on a roll, film-wise:

-South Korean actress Jeon Do-yeon won the best actress award at this year's Cannes Film Festival for her role as a widow struggling to cope with her husband's death in "Secret Sunshine." Her award garnered front-page news coverage and drew congratulations from President Roh Moo-hyun.

-The Cannes' grand prize, its No. 2 award, went to "Mogari No Mori" (The Mourning Forest) by Naomi Kawase of Japan, about an elderly man at a retirement home and a caretaker at the center and their attempts to overcome personal losses.

-Taiwanese director Ang Lee won the best director Oscar in 2006 for the gay romance "Brokeback Mountain." Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi received an Oscar nomination this year for best supporting actress as a deaf and frustrated Tokyo schoolgirl in the movie "Babel."

Boller said there is much more coming out of Asia and the Pacific than catches the eyes of most viewers outside the region.

"Some of the scariest horror films are from Thailand," he said. "And, because of the lack of distribution, many of the Chinese films that we screen you couldn't even see in China, unless you were in Beijing."

The Hawaii International Film Festival, the largest and one of the first to focus on Asian-Pacific films in the U.S., will be held mostly in Honolulu and Waikiki.

"We are a gateway to the U.S.," Boller said.

The films that are shown are selected from about 1,000 submitted.