All the world's a screenAsia's premiere film event, the Pusan International Film Festival, begins next Thursday.
On tap are 228 works from 58 countries, enough to exhaust even the most ardent cinephiles.
Busan's 10-day festival began only seven years ago, decades after the Hong Kong and Tokyo fests, yet today it has more Asian and international premieres than any other showcase in the region. It draws larger crowds, more overseas directors and, perhaps most significantly, more investors and producers, who attend its private film-financing events.
Korea's answer to Cannes, with its open-air seaside theater, transforms this city into a sprawling festival ground. Screenings will be held in a score of movie houses stretching from the Haeundae beachfront to the Nampo-dong downtown.
The festival kicks off with the world premiere of "The Coast Guard," a harrowing film about a soldier haunted by an accidental shooting, directed by Kim Ki-duk. It closes with "Dolls," Japanese director Kateshi Kitano's exploration of love.
In between, seven sections and three special programs will explore a huge swath of cinema, from Korea, Asia and the rest of the world.
Six of the sections are the favorites that festival-goers have grown to love:
-- A Window on Asian Cinema. Featuring 34 films from around the continent, including the Asian premiere of Fruit Chan's "Public Toilet."
-- New Currents. Progressive and more experimental films, which suggest the future of Asian cinema.
-- Korean Panorama. A survey of the best of Korean cinema over the past year.
-- Open Cinema. More well-known and popular films, including the Asian premiere of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," the Asian premiere of the controversial "11' 09" 01 -- September 11," which was inspired by the terrorist attack in New York, and the world premiere of "Jailbreakers," the latest release by Kim Sang-jin, the director of the quirky, frenetic hit "Attack the Gas Station."
-- Wide Angle. A huge range of short films, documentaries and short films from Korea and the world.
-- World Cinema. Bigger than ever before, this section includes the Asian premiere of Atom Egoyan's "Ararat."
This year also introduces a new section: World Cinema -- The Critics' Week. Five respected, local film critics have gotten together to choose 10 films from the World Cinema section for special screenings and heated debates and discussions.
The special programs this year include a retrospective of the works by the Korean director Kim Soo-yong, a portrait of Japan's Korean-Japanese community through the films of Nagisa Oshima and an overview of the Taiwan's New Wave and independent movements from 1982 to present.
Mr. Kim has directed 109 films over the past four decades, many significant. Unfortunately, more recently Mr. Kim has more made a name for himself as a censor, most recently banning the much-praised "Too Young to Die," a film about an old couple in love that also has graphic sex scenes (the film has just recently overcome the ban by making several changes). Mr. Kim will discuss his works with the audience at the Daeyoung 5 cinema at 2 p.m. on Nov. 15.
The phenomenal success of the Pusan Film Festival has tracked the growth of Korea's film industry. Last year, domestic movies enjoyed an unprecedented 47 percent of the local box office (more than double what it took in 1995), the second-highest in the world. Domestic hits like "Friend," "My Wife is a Gangster" and "My Eccentric Girlfriend" outgrossed such Hollywood imports as "The Mummy Returns," "Pearl Harbor" and "Harry Potter."
Hong Kong's quarter-century-old festival, meanwhile, has followed the city's film industry into decline. Since the handover to Chinese rule in 1997, film production has dropped from roughly 200 releases to fewer than 60. The city government-backed festival, which had been a showcase for Chinese cinema, has shown fewer daring works in recent years, presumably as the bureaucrats in the Leisure and Culture Services Department heed to Beijing's call. (Hong Kong, nevertheless, shows more movies than any other festival in Asia.)
All the while, the Pusan International Film Festival's director, Kim Dong-ho, has been making the rounds at international fests, promoting both the Busan fest and Korean films.
"It's gratifying that the Busan film festival, as well as Korean films, have gained such wide recognition in the international market," Mr. Kim says.
Mr. Kim attributes the success of Korean films overseas to the role of the Busan festival. "Following premieres at the festival, the films have been invited to 10 or 20 special events at international film festivals," he says. "And, more importantly, they have brought home awards."
That's for sure. This year alone, "My Beautiful Girl, Mari" won the grand prize at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, "Chi-hwaseon" snagged Im Kwon-taek a share of the best director award at Cannes and "Oasis" earned Lee Chang-dong best director at the Venice Film Festival.
"The Coast Guard" (Korea, 2002, directed by Kim Ki-duk, starring Jang Don-gun)
Korea's enfant terrible returns with his first big-budget movie, so expect extreme, fierce and disturbing.
A coast guard mistakes a man having sex on the beach for a spy and shoots him. The woman goes mad. The guilt-stricken soldier is discharged, but keeps on hovering around the base like a ghost.
"Dolls" (Japan, 2002, directed by Takeshi Kitano, starring Miho Kano)
Behind the tranquility and reticence lie three love stories seen through the eyes of dolls. Tragic love, nostalgic love and obsessive love all adopt the conventions of melodrama, but their events are distinctively Takeshi Kitano-style. The landscape of Japan becomes the director's tool to express both the insanity and beauty of love.
Progressive and experimental films that look to the future of Asian cinema
"Jealousy Is My Middle Name"
Korea, 2002, 123 min, color
Directed by Park Chan-ok
Starring Mun Sung-geun, Bae Jong-ok
World Premiere, showing Nov. 15, 18, and 21
Won-sang, a graduate student, discovers that his girlfriend has cheated on him with Yun-sik, the chief editor of a magazine. Won-sang gets a job at Yun-sik's company as a reporter. Yun-sik sees himself as a mentor to Won-sang, who becomes his trustworthy protege. The film may begin as melodrama but it ends up with a paradox that denies cause and effect. Despite director Park's casual camera work and slow editing, the film delivers a mysterious sense of tension.
Special Programs in Focus
Kim Soo-yong: An Aesthete Bridging Tradition and Modernism
"Nonsense of Jung-kwang"
Korea, 1986, 99 min, color
Directed by Kim Soo-yong
Starring Jung Dong-hwan, Lee Hye-sook
Showing on Nov. 22
A young man, Go Chang-yul, who went though a rebellious and anguished adolescence, decides to become a Buddhist monk. He receives a new name, Jung-kwang, meaning "Mad Monk." He tries to start a new life as a priest, but the physical desires won't go away. Based on Jung-kwang's autobiography, the film, when released, caused controversies in religious sectors and the film industry.
Korea, 2002, 80 min, color
Directed by Hong Hyung-sook
World Premiere, showing on Nov. 16, 21
Song Du-yul, a Korean-German professor of philosophy, was accused of being a secret agent for North Korea and was banned from South Korea. Now he has a chance to come back home after 33 years. Can he really come back to Seoul, the "Border City" -- just like Berlin in the formerly divided Germany -- of Korea? Will he be welcomed in a city that still has the remains of the Cold War and that is considered the last "Border City" on the planet?
"From New Wave to Independent: Taiwanese Cinema 1982-2002" looks back on the past two decades of Taiwanese films. A total of 13 works will be screened.
"Somewhere Over the Dreamland"
Taiwan, 2002, 93 min, 35 mm, color
Directed by Cheng Wen-tang
Showing on Nov. 19, 21
A middle-aged man, Watan, receives a letter stating that his long-lost wallet had been found inside a block of cement. Every time he drinks his wine, he reminisces about his old days. In search of his wallet, he heads to a field of millet. A young man, Xiao Mo, toils in a Japanese restaurant, knowing his life is not going anywhere. He receives a sad phone call from a strange young woman, who wants to talk about her love story in that field of millet.
As part of Wide Angle, 14 Asian animators are showing their works this year. Most works are short, running about 10 minutes.
"My Life as McDull"
Hong Kong, 2001, 75 min., 35 mm, color
Directed by Toe Yuen
Showing on Nov. 15, 18
Based on Brian Tse and Alice Mark's animation titled "McMug," "My Life as McDull" is a cheerful story centering around a cute, perfectly created piglet. The detailed description about the episodes taking place in shopping centers and tourist spots is noteworthy. McDull, who possesses a humble nature, sets out on a journey to the Maldives. His mother, McBing, cleverly keeps their actual destination hidden from her child. To make his mom happy, McDull learns Hong Kong's traditional sport, bun snatching.
World Cinema includes 55 films from 42 countries. The highlights this year include award-winning works by celebrated masters, as well as newcomers from Australia.
Russia, 2002, 100 min, 35 mm, color
Directed by Alexander Rogozhkin
Asian premiere, showing on Nov. 21, 22
"The Cuckoo" won the director's award and the best actor's award at the 24th Moscow International Film Festival.
A few days before the end of World War II, Willie, a Finnish sniper and Ivan, a Soviet Army captain, escape and hide inside a Finnish farm. A woman named Anni shelters both men, who are supposed to be enemies, but to her they are just men. "Cuckoo" refers to the Finnish sniper and also is the nickname of Willie.
France/Israel, 2002, 100 min, 35 mm, color
Directed by Amos Gitai
Asian premiere, showing on Nov. 20, 22
Eight days before the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, hundreds of concentration camp survivors are crammed on board a ship named Kedma, sailing for Palestine. Upon arrival, instead of being welcomed, they face British soldiers who are positioned to intercept the ship's unauthorized landing. The weary and hungry refugees have no choice but to take sides with the Israeli defense force. As the violence ensues, each hour becomes a very struggle for survival. Kedma, like "Exodus," is a symbolic tale about the transportation of Jewish survivors to Palestine and the conflict between two enemy states.
-- Tickets are available at the festival's official Web site (www.piff.org) or the Pusan Bank Web site (www.pusanbank.co.kr), until Nov. 23. Business hours from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
-- A ticket booth is available in Seoul at the Megabox cinema at the COEX mall (02-6002-1200) until Nov. 13, from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily.
-- Opening/closing screenings cost 10,000 won ($8, but don't worry, they're officially sold out already), general screenings 5,000 won.
-- Refunds can be processed at Pusan Bank branches or online before Nov. 13. After the opening day, a 20 percent processing fee will be charged.
-- There are three Seoul branches of Pusan Bank: (02) 777-6191 (downtown), (02) 783-6191 (Yeouido) and (02) 598-6191 (Gangnam)
-- For airline reservations (about 70,000 won each way): Korean Air (1588-2001), Asiana (1588-8000)
-- Hotels: Paradise Hotel Busan (051-749-2000), Busan Marriott Hotel (051-743-1234), The Westin Chosun Beach Busan (051-749-7000), Haeundae Grand Hotel (051-740-0114) and Tower Hotel (051-241-5151)
by Inēs Cho