Homegrown talents - fresh and veteran - will account for close to a quarter of the 42 acts at this year's festival TO THOSE WHO have cast the unfair judgment of 'cultural desert' on the city's vibrant arts scene, the 2005 Hong Kong Arts Festival stands as a glowing testament to the contrary. Homegrown Hong Kong stars will shine among the selection of internationally acclaimed acts. Among the 42 acts in the festival, 10 are local, and these include classical musicians, a brass quintet, original theatre productions and indie music acts. One of the highlights of the local lineup is The French Kiss, a play commissioned by the festival and written by Hong Kong playwright Chong Mui-ngam, named best playwright at this year's Hong Kong Drama Awards. Based on real events, the play tells the story of a forbidden union between a priest and his secretary, which leaves the priest's life in ruins after the woman files and wins a sexual harassment suit against him. Five years later, the two meet at a party and this is where the play opens. The ensuing action takes place in a locked room, where the two characters debate, question and sift through their memories of the incident. Two of Hong Kong theatre's best actors, Lee Chun-chow and Faye Leung, will star in the play under the direction of theatre veteran Gabriel Lee, back in Hong Kong from Australia. According to Lee, the essence of the play is about the ability of individuals to forgive and forget. The challenge of communicating this profound human dilemma, combined with his respect for playwright Chong's strong, text-based writing, were what attracted him to the project, Lee said. In a play that hinges so much on what characters say, the most difficult task for Lee will be accentuating the symbolic aspects of the play - the fragmentation of memory and fleeting nature of truth - through creative staging and effects, he said. Lee said the piece was a good choice for a festival commission because it would challenge audiences. 'The audience can't just sit back. They have to work with the characters and care about them,' he said. Performed in Cantonese with English surtitles, Lee said the play would have broader appeal to non-Cantonese speakers who would be interested to see how Hong Kong people grappled with the theme of sexual harassment. Another local festival commission, i-City, presented by the Class 7A Drama Group, also focuses on Hong Kong. Inspired by a novel by well-known author Xi Xi, the group will perform four independent plays staged two at a time in two separate performances over 16 days of the festival, which recreate Hong Kong according to the four directors' sentiments. In music, Fresh Air Brass Quintet, a group of some of the most active brass players in Hong Kong, will perform a varied programme that includes Chinese instruments and the world premiere of a commissioned work by local composer Tang Lok-Yin. Another local production, Come out & Play, will showcase the work of Hong Kong's independent artists in a multimedia extravaganza.