The PIFFsters’ guide to Busan: Our Top 10This week, the 10th Pusan International Film Festival brings to a close a decade in which Korean cinema went from infantile to international. Korean films have seen an enviably remarkable growth over the decade, leaving nay-sayers in the dust.
As Kim Dong-ho, the festival director, proudly declares, the festival promises to leap forward to the future while it also winds its clock backwards, to review and reevaluate the old, nearly forgotten, past in which Korean masters broke cinematic ground. It’s the perfect occasion for students of the human spirit to show off some of their greatest films and to look forward at the increasingly regional and international character of cinema. But hey, you’re also there to party. Here’s 10 things to do once you’re out of the dark cinema and out on the streets of Korea’s second largest city.
Be first in line for film
For movie lovers at an international film festival, premieres are dinner and everything else is hors h’oeuvers. The Pusan International Film Festival this year has a lot of sustenance to spread around: about 180,000 spectators are expected to see 307 films from 73 countries, of which 61 will be world premieres, 28 international premiers and 87 Asian premiers. Last year there were 17 theaters participating in the festival; this year there are 31, including the Haeundae Yachting Center Outdoor Theater, Megabox, PrimusCinema in Haeundae, and Busan and Daeyoung Cinema in Nampo-dong.
The festival kicks off with a highly artistic film, “Three Times,” by the Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao Hsien, who has cut the film’s final version after its premier at Cannes earlier this year. The event ends with the highly entertaining “Wedding Campaign,” pictured above, a directorial debut by Korea’s own Hwang Byung-kuk.
Of the nine categories, New Currents is the only competitive section, and a field likely to produce future big names in Asian cinema. One of the four world premiers in the section, “Big River” (2005), pictured below, was made by the U.S.-educated Japanese director Atsushi Funahashi and was supported by Pusan Promotion Plan. The film is about Ali, a Muslim, looking around Arizona for his lost wife, Nadia. Along the way, he meets two hitchhikers, a Japanese and an American.
Asian Pantheon, a special section commemorating the festival’s 10th anniversary, brings 30 previously hidden works back to the screen. The section offers exquisite works from places as diverse as France, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Uzbekistan.
Go back to the retro
The festival’s programmers strongly suggest that moviegoers catch up on classic Korean films at the Korean Cinema Retrospective: “Lee Man-hee, the Poet of the Night.” The program showcases 10 of the late director Lee’s masterpieces, including “Mullebanga” (“Water Mill,” 1966 below), “Hyuil” (“Holiday,” 1968) and “Gwiro” (“A Road to Return,” 1967).
Outdoor screenings, or “Open Cinema,” are the way to spend balmy, breezy evenings in this port city. While Hong Kong’s “The Myth,” starring Jackie Chan and Kim Hee-sun brings a dollop of romance, Korea’s first animated feature, “Robot Taekwon V,” pictured above, turns the clock back to Korea’s not-so-distant past. The 1976 movie had been badly damaged but was revived for the Busan screening.
Tickets can be purchased offline at Busan Bank from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Busan Bank’s ATM from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and PIFF Box Office from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Bathe in starlight
What could be more thrilling than seeing a star in the flesh? In Busan, you’ll get the chance: international stars like Vivian Hsu of “The Shoe Fairy,” Chang Chen of “Three Times” and Jackie Chan, whose current film is “The Myth” but needs no introduction, are scheduled to appear at major events and post-parties. Watch also for heavyweight movie moguls whose message ― either in film or in person ― could hit the hearts of cinephiles.
There’s more. The director Hou Hsiao Hsien will be in town for the opening ceremony, as well as the dean of the Asian Film Academy. The honorees for the hand-printing ceremony are Britain’s Peter Greenaway and Seijun Suzuki of Japan. Dieter Kosslick, the director of the Berlin International Film Festival, and Thierry Fremaux, the artistic director of the Cannes Film Festival, have been selected as recipients of the Korean Cinema Award for their promotion of Korean movies.
Get Saturday night fever
Mark your calendar for the big night, “Cinematic Love” in Busan, because the leading force in the Asian electronic music scene is making a one-night stopover to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the festival.
Pumping up at 10 p.m. Saturday night at the Measuring Room of the Haeundae Yachting Center is a dance party organized by the festival. The all-night event will feature some of the hottest Korean DJs: Clazziquai, W, Jinu of Roller Coaster and DJ Kuma, all from Seoul’s hip clubs in Apgujeong-dong and Hongdae.
A trip to Busan can take you to Japan ― Tokyo’s top DJ, Towa Tei, pictured above, is also flying in for a live performance. Tei’s gigs are famous for their artistic inspiration, both musical and visual.
The Pusan International Film Festival plans to go out with a bang, as its Closing Party, usually reserved for a select audience, will be open to everyone. At the Measuring Room, the event starts at 10 p.m. on Oct. 14 after the world premiere of the closing film, “Wedding Campaign,” by Korean director Hwang Byung-kuk.
Brunch in paradise
So you need a break from the red-hot seafood breakfast whose name you can’t pronounce, a live octopus that crawled out of the frying pan, or “Wonder” coffee, so named because it makes one wonder if a simple warm croissant and a cup of dark, foamy coffee can be found in Busan?
Cafe Terrace, located on the first floor of the new building of the five-star Paradise Hotel, pictured above, serves basic and not-too-fancy international dishes ― club sandwich, pasta and sirloin steak ― and beverages, including French wine, campari orange and coffee. The cafe also serves an American-style breakfast buffet for 20,000 won (plus 10 percent service charge and 10 percent VAT) from 7 to 10 a.m. For reservation, call (051) 749-2232~3.
The hotel has a 144-seat buffet restaurant called Escoffier around the back of the building. The restaurant serves a variety of international dishes, from sushi to steak to fondue, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Lunch costs 29,000 won, dinner 38,000 won. For a reservation, call (051) 749-2234~5.
Both places can offer not only English-speaking staff and full sets of silver utensils and porcelain plates but also a peaceful time ― complete with a small but beautiful sculpture garden in front of Haeundae Beach.
Find, and eat, Nemo
Jagalchi market, which opened in 1876, lies at the heart of the port city and got its name by combining the word for pebble, jagal, from the roads with the most common suffix for the names of local fish, -chi. The place is always bustling, packed with 450 registered merchants as well as shoppers from all over the country, making it the biggest fish market in Korea. Noseplugs are optional.
More than 300 species of fresh fish arrive every day at dawn. Merchants, shoppers and tourists alike quickly fill the aisles, browsing the 30 different kinds of anchovies, whale and shark meats, and currently in season, mud shads (jeoneo), mullets (sungeo), sea bream (domi) and flatfish (gwnageo).
Busan natives recommend that visitors try out the barbequed pike eel, or kkomjangeo-gui in Korean, at the night market. Enough eel for two persons costs between 10,000 won and 30,000 won, depending on the fish and how it’s cooked.
The market is located at Jagalchi station, exit 10. For more information, call (051) 245-2594~5 or visit the market’s Web site, www.jagalchimarket.org.
Dalmaji-gogae, also known as Dalmaji-gil (Moon Watcher’s Road), located east of Haeundae, is where Queen Jinseong of the Silla dynasty spent her holidays. On a clear night, visitors can watch the moon at its closest and brightest from Haewoljeong pavilion. The winding road, good for a stroll, is known for its artsy cafes and restaurants with spectacular views of Haeundae beach against a backdrop of jagged skyscrapers, as well as small galleries and the Dongbaek Art Center, which exhibits local and international contemporary art.
The nearest subway is Haeundae station line No. 2 , exit 5. Take a taxi ― it’s too far to walk, too close to worry about the fare.
Jump over Jaws
Things are also fishy on the other side of the town. Busan Aquarium, designed and built by Australia’s Oceanis Group, is located along Haeundae Beach and is the largest and most modern aquarium in Korea. It features approximately 35,000 aquatic specimens of about 400 species from all over the globe. The ones to watch, according to the curator, are the grey nurse shark, called “Big Mama,” the Canadian chimaera, jackass penguins from South Africa, otters from Thailand and Australian sea dragons.
The shark tank tour is cool. Through the transparent floor, guests can watch the sharks swim around the tank. Visitors who come at noon and 4 p.m. can watch divers feeding the sharks with frozen mackerel. The “Touch Pool” gives children the chance to touch far less vicious sea creatures, such as starfish.
The aquarium is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. Admission is 15,000 won for adults and 10,000 won for children. The nearest subway station is Haeundae station, exit 3: walk for 10 minutes towards the Marriott hotel. For more inquiries, call (051) 740-1711 or visit www.busanaquarium.com.
Lose the landlubbers
Head to Mipo pier, east of Haeundae, to take a one-hour cruise of the waters around Busan. The ship sails around Dongbaek Island and Gwangan bridge, the longest bridge in Korea. The cruise costs 12,100 won ($11) for adults. Mipo pier is at Haeundae station, exit 5. To make a reservation, call Haeundae Cruise at (051) 742-2525 or visit its Web site, www.coveacruise.com.
The perfect way to spend a weekend after the festival is to take an overnight cruise along the southern coast. PanStar Cruise departs from Yeonan port at 4 p.m. on Saturday and passes key features of the coastline, including the Gwangan bridge, Haeundae beach, the cliffs at Taejongdae, Oryukdo islet, stopping mid-way for the sunset at Morundae. The cruise returns to Yeonan by 9 a.m. Sunday.
The Royal Suite, at 220,000 won, is equipped with a private bath and a double bed; most rooms between 108,000 won and 128,000 won have a simple shower and singles beds or Korean-style futons. Budget rooms start at 76,000 won and have bunk beds with a shared bathroom. All stays include buffet breakfast, dinner and sauna access. The nearest subway station to Yeonan Port is Jungangdong station, exit 8. For more information, call PanStar Cruise at (051) 464-6400 or visit the Web site, www.panstarcruise.co.kr.
by Ines Cho, Kim Kyoung-mo