Problems give way to a glittering launch and strong sales for a 240-film programme The International Film Festival got off to a star-studded red-carpet start last night, glowing with satisfaction that it has proved a sellout despite sponsorship problems and a cut in government funding. Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping and Hong Kong's own superstar Jackie Chan 'cut the ribbon' before the crowd settled in for the programme opener, The Hidden Blade, with its Japanese director, Yoji Yamada, in attendance as a special guest. The festival features 240 films, 20 fewer than last year, but the response from the public has been stronger than ever, buoyed by the festival's inclusion in the first ever Entertainment Expo, which aims to cement Hong Kong's role as an international entertainment venue. Along with the hotly anticipated The Hidden Blade, the film festival opened with famed cinematographer Gu Changwei's directorial debut, Peacock, and Stephen Fung's House of Fury. Yamada, whose Blade is about the realities of life as a samurai, told the Post yesterday before the launch he wondered why all the laughter had left the cinema world. 'Why do you think there are so few comedies produced around the world?' the 74-year-old veteran asked. 'It seems nobody wants to make them anymore. I wonder why. But people still want to laugh, especially at a time like this in the world.' He hoped audiences would find warmth in the lighter moments in his films. 'My wish is that when the audience sees my films that they might smile, chuckle from time to time and once in a while have a really hearty laugh.' Yamada achieved long overdue international recognition when his The Twilight Samurai was nominated for best foreign film at the 2003 Oscars. Blade traces similar themes surrounding the code of honour that ruled the samurai as their era was dying 150 years ago. A veteran of four decades as a film-maker, Yamada made a name for himself directing the majority of the light-hearted Tora-san series of films, which followed the trials and tribulations of a loveable but luckless tramp and stretched to 48 films, beginning in 1961. Yamada said he became drawn to the samurai genre because he wanted to set the record straight. He said the thousands of samurai films produced in Japan were usually mass-produced and did not tell the true story of the samurai. 'They were not portrayed properly, the people, the lifestyles, even the sword fights. So I wanted to challenge myself to portray these people as they were, with a certain amount of realism. It is important that the younger generation see what these people were really like.' The International Film Festival continues until April 6.