For film fans in Korea, 9 days of blissThere are film festivals, and then there are film festivals. The Pusan International Film Festival is by far the biggest and sexiest film event of the year in Korea ― and, arguably, all of Asia.
For nine days, from next Thursday to Oct. 10, nearly 200,000 people are expected to gather in the southern port city of Busan for the eighth annual festival, which will feature a total of 244 films from 60 nations. Some will wonder why Busan is also spelled Pusan (or vice versa), but the thoughts of most will focus on the world of cinema.
Calling any cultural event a “Mecca” for its fans is one of the more tired cliches in journalism. However, for PIFF, the cliche has often been strangely appropriate. Certainly any film lover in Korea is urged to make the journey at least once. And in past years, with most of the films being screened in theaters around one small block in Nampo-dong in the middle of Busan, the overcrowded hordes, shuffling in circles through the bursting streets, gave the days a certain hajj-like quality.
Such blasphemous analogies, however, are likely to wane this year, as PIFF’s center of gravity shifts from the crowded, shabby confines of Nampo-dong to the more picturesque Haeundae Beach area. (Those who liked the cramped charm of Nampo-dong can rest assured that plenty of films will still screen in the old location, too). The new Megabox multiplex that recently opened near the beach is now one of the major screening venues, and the outdoor theater at the Yachting Center can hold up to 4,000.
When PIFF began, the outdoor screenings were one of the festival’s most popular events. But in recent years, the festival has moved later and later into the fall. By cold mid-November, outdoor screenings were no longer a realistic option, and so they were cancelled. This year, however, PIFF returns to early October, and the outdoor screenings return to PIFF. The opening and closing films will be screened at the outdoor theater, and each evening there will be one film shown outdoors.
PIFF kicks off with the new film from Japan’s Kurosawa Kiyoshi. “Doppelganger” is a moody thriller about a man named Hayasaki who meets his exact physical double. But this double is more violent and free than the protagonist, and Hayasaki finds himself both intrigued and repelled by his other self.
The festival closes with the Korean director Park Ki-hyung’s third film, “Acacia,” an art house horror film about a couple who adopt a six-year-old boy, only to find everything going terribly wrong.
Other films showing on the outdoor screen include New Zealand’s “Whale Rider” and the over-the-top martial arts hijinks of “Ong Bak,” from the Thai filmmaker Prachaya Pinkaew.
For those who prefer their movies indoors, however, there are another 235 perfectly good options. Afghanistan is the focus of one special section, featuring several films that have already been much lauded (including Sedigh Barmak’s “Osama” and Michael Winterbottom’s “In This World”) as well as a few world premieres (Majid Majidi’s “Barefoot to Herat”).
The Chinese Independent Films section is a good chance to look for the next Wong Kar Wai, and PIFF brings you the movies the Chinese government doesn’t want you to see (but then, the Chinese government didn’t want us to see “Tomb Raider 2,” so maybe it’s not all bad).
Other special sections will feature the Iranian filmmaker Forough Farokhzad and a retrospective of Canadian films.
Korean Panorama once again features the best in local cinema, with a rare opportunity to catch some fine Korean movies on the big screen with English subtitles. Korean films have been doing well at the box office locally for several years, but the selection in the Korean Panorama section vividly shows just how usually creative and strong homegrown movies are at the moment. “A Good Lawyer’s Wife,” “Memories of Murder,” “A Tale of Two Sisters” and “The Uninvited” were all well received. In addition, you can catch Kim Ki-duk’s recent release “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter? and Spring” as well as “Untold Scandal,” the Joseon Dynasty retelling of “Dangerous Liaisons.”
In addition, this year, for the first time, non-Koreans are able to reserve tickets over the Internet at the festival’s Web site (www.piff.org). Monolingual English speakers should note that not all festival films will have English subtitles, and would do well to check the Web site ahead of time.
One thing that makes PIFF different is its film market, called the Pusan Production Plan (or PPP). What began as a local pre-market has grown into an Asia-wide film market ― a place where filmmakers and investors can meet and try to work on new projects. What does this mean for you, the average movie fan? Well, not much, at least not directly. The PPP isn’t open to the general public, and anyway, there is not much to see. But the market means that more filmmakers and producers come to Busan each year. And when their films finally get made, they often show their appreciation by debuting their films in Busan.
Getting to and from Busan is fairly simple. There are several flights each day - each takes about an hour and costs just 65,000 won ($57). Trains and buses are cheaper but take about five hours each way, depending on traffic. The biggest advantage of the train is that it takes you right into the heart of Busan. From the station, you can take the subway to either Nampo-dong or the Haeundae Beach area. The airport, on the other hand, is located way to the west of the city, and taking a bus through Busan’s horribly congested roads can take a long time (figure 60-90 minutes from the airport to the beach).
Hotels can be hard to find during the festival, especially with a major auto show booked at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center that same week. Fortunately, the festival’s Web site has plenty of hotels listed. If you can’t find a room near the festival, you might try one of the many cheap inns, or yeogwan, located closer to Busan National University, near Somyon.
For a good pre-movie meal in Busan...
First time in Busan? Here are some dining-out suggestions. Listed are the cuisine, the phone number, the general location, the specialties and the price range.
On Dalmaji hill; curries, tandoori chicken
20,000-30,000 won ($17-$26)
Behind Grand Hotel
Samsun nurungjitang, dumplings
Rice noodles, spring rolls
Family restaurant, 051-740-6531
Near Haeundae Beach
Fajitas, burgers; 20,000-30,000 won
Outback Steak House
Family restaurant, 051-243-2800
Near Gukje Market, Nampo-dong
Tenderloin, teriyaki chicken
Marriott Hotel, Haeundae, Sushi
Bar and grill, 051-743-1234
Beer, buffalo wings
Youngduk King Crab
Near Busan Lotte Department Store
40,000-50,000 won (for three)
Grand Hotel, Haeundae
Spicy chicken, yangjangpi
Jungdong; set meals; 15,000-35,000 won
Donglae Halmae Pajun
Bokcheon-dong; seafood pancake
Bar / pub, 051-749-2230
Paradise Hotel; beer, assorted sausages
On Dalmaji hill; rice dishes
Behind Grand Hotel; set meals
On Dalmaji hill; set meals
by Mark Russell