When Lights Go Down, Busan Lights UpBUSAN － November in Busan, the southern port city famous for scenic beaches and seafood, is not usually a busy season, but this year the city is bustling with cinephiles from all over the world. The sixth Busan International Film Festival kicked off Friday amidst droves of eager movie fans and volunteers hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars.
While the opening ceremonies at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center near Haeundae Beach featured fewer high-profile film stars than last year, the 5,000-person turnout was bigger than ever.
The event was hosted by one of the stars of Korea's blockbuster "JSA" (2000), Song Gang-ho, and the actress Bang Eun-jin, and the festival director Kim Dong-ho declared the nine-day film fete officially open to a roar of applause.
Among the VIPs in attendance were Thierry Fremaus, the director of the Cannes Film Festival, Christy Chung, the main actress of the Thai film "Jan Dara" (2001) and Shunji Iwai, the director of the popular Japanese film "Love Letter" (1995). But by far the most dramatic entrance belonged to the director of "Millennium Mambo" and jury member Huo Hsiao Hsien.
The festival opened with the world premiere of the film "Last Witness." Directed by Korea's veteran filmmaker Bae Chang-ho, the mystery-action film explores an incident at a prisoner of war camp during the Korean War. "Last Witness" gained mixed reactions from the audience, which had perhaps expected to see something more in the style of Bae previous works like "Hwang Jin-yi" (1986) and "My Heart" (2000). The new film, however, used a more mainstream approach, with big-name actors such as Lee Jung-jae and Ahn Sung-ki, and lot of action.
One of the noteworthy aspects of the Busan International Film Festival is how much the festival has grown since its beginnings six years ago. The festival now features 202 films from 60 countries, and the official invitation list showed more than 1,300 guests from abroad. All told, the cinematic event brings the city of Busan about 40 billion won ($30.8 million) annually.
The majority of visitors came to enjoy the festival's discerning selections of the latest Asian films, which the festival is particularly known for. Of the six categories － A Window on Asian Cinema, New Currents, Korean Panorama, World Cinema, Wide Angle and Open Cinema － five heavily feature Asian films.
There was also a great number of foreign film investors and distributors who came to partake in this year's Busan Promotional Plan － a project which helps films, distributors and financial backers meet each other and make deals.
Nampo-dong, a congested cinema district in central Busan, was the site for most of the public screenings. Temporary booths set up by the local film magazines lined the street, attracting the passersby with souvenirs and samples of their magazines. Every wall was plastered with movie posters featuring the biggest stars and the newest up-and-comers.
Photographers and videographers recorded (and added to) the maddening throng. Various street performances and political protests only made the occasion more festive than ever. "It's like an early Christmas here," said Kang Su-jin, 19, a resident of Busan who came to see her Japanese teenage idol, Yosuke Kubozuka, who stars in the film "Go."
This year, the festival is highlighting contemporary Thai cinema and the icon of Korean film, the director Shin Sang-ok. Shin has a 50-year history of filmmaking, and uniquely has made films in South Korea and North Korea. The festival will even be showing his controversial "Phantom Queen," which has never been seen in Korea since its first run in 1967.
On Saturday there will be an international premier of the Thai film "Suriyothai" directed by Chatrichalerm Yukol. It is the most expensive Thai movie ever made.
Describing the dramatic growth and success of the festival, Kim Dong-ho said, "The genuine rise of interest about Korean cinema in the international film scene brings the guests back to Busan every year."
by Chun Su-jin
The actress Christy Chung, known as Jong Ryeosi in Korea, was born in Vietnam, raised in Quebec and is now based in Hong Kong. She was recently selected by the men's magazine FHM as the world's sexiest woman. Single, she lives with her 3-year-old daughter. She was in Busan to promote two films: "Samsara" from India, about a Buddhist monk's search for truth; and "Jan Dara" from Thailand, about a boy's coming of age.
IHT-JAI: How do "Samsara" and "Jan Dara" compare?
Chung: If "Samsara" is beautiful, "Jan Dara" is controversial. I know that "Jan Dara" is considered sexually graphic by Asians, but I hope audiences watch the film with an open mind.
IHT-JAI: How was it working with the Thai filmmakers?
Chung: The Thai industry is hugely improved. I was a little worried that the lead actor was too inexperienced for the sex scenes, but he turned out to be very professional. And the chemistry between me and (director) Nonzee Nimibutr was fantastic.
IHT-JAI: Recently, a book that features photographs of you naked was published in Hong Kong and will soon be released in Korea. Why?
Chung: I want people to see beyond the pictures, for the pictorial is the expression of my emotions. Every chapter has its own storytelling, and I also wrote some part.
IHT-JAI: They say you have plenty of ambitions other than acting.
Chung: Yes, I want to sing, write, open a Vietnamese restaurant. The best is yet to come.
by Park Soo-mee
Kazuki Kaneshiro, 33, is the writer of the Naoki Award-winning novel "Go" and a self-proclaimed "Korean-Japanese." His book, which was recently made into a film, deals with a third-generation Korean, Sukihara, who experiences an identity crisis when he goes from a school for ethnic Koreans to a regular Japanese high school. There, he falls in love with a Japanese girl and worries how she will react to his ancestry.
JAI-IHT: How autobiographical is the story?
Kaneshiro: The love story with Sakurai was all fiction (laughs). But it's true that my father was a great boxer. It's also true that my mother frequently ran away from home.
IHT-JAI: The film mentions several times that this is a "love story." That sounds as if you refuse this story to be read within the political context.
Kaneshiro: Korean-Japanese literature has always been very dark and thick with socio-political content. There hasn't been any love stories, when that is one of the main concerns of teenage boys anywhere in the world.
IHT-JAI: There are frequent references to names in the film. Sukihara reads a phrase from "Romeo and Juliet"－ "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Kaneshiro: Names add irony. Asian names often have specific meanings. Sometimes the kids don't quite turn out the way the names suggest and sometimes they do.
IHT-JAI: What does a Korean-Japanese identity mean to you?
Kaneshiro: Ambiguity and also fluidity.