Italy's Far East Cinema Festival, one of the biggest Asian film events in Europe, is to withdraw invitations to 22 Chinese guests who were due to fly in to the country later this month, because of fears of the killer SARS virus.

The festival, whose fifth edition will be held in the northern town of Udine from April 24 to May 1st, said it would revoke invitations to all directors, actors, actresses and producers from Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.

"We have never underestimated the problem linked to this terrible illness and we would never put public health at risk," said the Centro Espressioni Cinematografiche (CEC), which organises the event.

"We had hoped the decision to withdraw the invitations would be taken by the local government authorities, and not the CEC - particularly due to the diplomatic consequences linked to this kind of decision. But the local authorities have still not given a clear response to the crisis, and we were forced to assume our own responsibilities," the CEC said.

Organisers added: "We do expect, nevertheless, to receive a formal letter from the Italian government's Health Department declaring its intention to withdraw invitations to these guests, so as not to jeopardise in future the public relations between the festival and film companies in the areas that are considered "at risk" from the virus."

The festival said it would have been "impossible" to postpone the event, although it had already been "penalised by the absence of US collaborators and critics who are afraid to fly because of the possibility of terrorist attacks linked to the war in Iraq."

The festival will screen 52 Asian titles, all of which will have their European or international premiere at the event.

These include hit crime thriller Infernal Affairs by Hong Kong's Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, PTU by Johnnie To, Saving My Hubby by Korea's Hyun Nam-sup, and Japan's Oscar candidate Out, by Hideyuki Hirayama.

Sidebar events include a retrospective dedicated to Korean cinema from the 1960s, and a tribute to Japanese cult director Ishii Teruo, who will be making one of his first appearances at an international film festival.

Full line-up:

Hong Kong
Infernal Affairs by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
Frugal Game by Derek Chiu
Just One Look by Riley Ip
New Blood by Soi Cheang
PTU by Johnnie To
Shark Busters by Herman Ya
The Stewardess by Sam Leong
Summer Breeze of Love by Joe Ma
Visible Secret II by Abe Kwong
The One-Armed Swordsman by Chang Cheh

Bet On My Disco by Kim Dong-won
Conduct Zero by Cho Keun-shik
Jail Breakers by Kim Sang-jin
No Blood No Tears by Ryu Seung-wan
A Perfect Match by Mo Ji-eun
The Phone by Ahn Byung-ki
Saving My Hubby by Hyun Nam-sup
Sex Is Zero by Youn Je-gyon
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance by Park Chan-wook
The Way Home by Lee Jeong-hyang
Yesterday by Jeong Yun-su

Gone Is The One Who Held Me Dearest In The World by Ma Xiaoying
Life Show by Huo Jianqi
Man Hole by Chen Daming
Me And Dad by Xu Jinglei
Red Snow by Zhang Jianya
Where Have All The Flowers Gone by Gao Xiaosong

Turn by Hyrayama Hideyuki
A Laughing Frog by Hyrayama Hideyuki
Out by Hyrayama Hideyuki
Graveyard Of Honour by Miike Takashi
Shangri-La by Miike Takashi
Dark Water by Nakata Hideo
Ju-On: The Grudge by Shimizu Takashi
Ping Pong by Sori Fumihiko

999 - 9999 by Peter Manus

Better Than Sex by Su Chao-pin

Prosti by Erik Matti

Talking Cock The Movie by Joyceln Yen Yen Woo & Colin Goh