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The phone rang two months ago and what to my wondering ears do appear, but none other than Ms. San Diego Asian Film Festival herself, Lee Ann Kim (pictured). I would like to think that she knew the answer before the question was asked.

After chiding me for the gruff manner in which I answered the phone (it wasn't until I heard her voice that I perked up), she asked, "We have a chance to show a 35mm print of Hou Hsiao-hsien's A City of Sadness. What do you think?"

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Shufen Xin and Tony Leung Chiu Wai in Hou Hsiao-hsien's A City of Sadness.

Seriously, Lee Ann: One of world cinema's premier practitioners and 35mm in the same sentence? What do you expect me to say? "That's nice, but how about that revival of They Call Me Bruce? (with an in-person appearance by Johnny Yune) that you've been promising me for years?"

Being an old programmer, I understand her consternation and tried to allay her fears by reminding Lee Ann that when the festival screened HHH's Three Times, it played in one of UltraStar's smaller houses and they had to tack on a second show to accommodate the overflow. Hou Hsiao-hsien is not an easy sell and A City of Sadness comes with a high price tag attached. The print has to be shipped from Taiwan and screened under the stipulation that no admission is charged. Why bother when you can defray the shipping cost by simply popping a disc in a tray and pressing play? Because for once someone in this weatherless cow town is putting the art of cinema first!

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Goh Nakamura and Chadd Stoops in Dave Boyle's Surrogate Valentine. (I love this movie!)

A City of Sadness screens Tuesday, October 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Mission Valley UltraStar Cinemas, the home of SDAFF. Did I mention THE ADMISSION IS FREE? And while you're there, make sure you pay for tickets to other terrific movies like Dave Boyle's Surrogate Valentine (October 23, 7 p.m.); Dante Lam's The Stool Pigeon, and Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest, a short film animated by San Diego's 11-year-old wunderkind, Perry Chen. I mention these three titles because they are the only ones that I can personally vouch for. So far. There are a stack of screeners atop my TV that won't be gathering dust.

Consider yourselves fortunate to have SDAFF and so many other outstanding festivals in our cultural dry socket. You need to support them with more than just lip service. Those who can't produce ticket stubs when I stop them on the street or in line at the Chicken Pie Shop are forever forbidden from reading The Big Screen.

What: THE 12TH ANNUAL SAN DIEGO ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL

When: October 20 - 28.

Where: Mission Valley UltraStar Cinemas.

Cost: General Admission is $7.50. Festival packages range from $25 to $175.

Click for more information concerning SDAFF. Click for an A to Z list of titles.

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