Film festival celebrates ten years in Pusan with glamour and big plans

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Film festival celebrates ten years in Pusan with glamour and big plans

Flags fluttered in the ocean breeze as the Pusan International Film Festival’s 10th-year anniversary celebration kicked off with suitable pomp at the Yachting Center near Haeundae beach last Thursday.
Like a fast-growing child, the 10-year-old event has begun to rapidly mature, defining itself and laying ambitious plans for its future. This year’s festival also has been better organized than in the past. The birthday bash started with much improved security and an orderly protocol for the opening ceremony hosted by veteran actors Han Seok-gyu and Kang Soo-yeon.
At the entrance to the opening ceremony, there were no embarrassing wrestling matches between screaming fans, angry bodyguards and reporters rolling around on the red carpet. And for the first time, camera-shy Korean stars were instructed to stand still for a few minutes for a photo session, even if photographers later complained that the celebrities didn’t know how to pose like real stars.
But when Kim Min-jeong, the star of the television drama “Fashion 70s,” walked down the red carpet in her stunning white hanbok-inspired evening gown, Korean Internet users plastered her photo across the Web.
This year was also more glamorous, with the onscreen team of Hong Kong star Jackie Chan and Korean sweetheart Kim Hee-sun, the stars of “The Myth.” Their presence in the first row proved that the Busan festival was no longer a regional gig suffering from a canceled guest list but a true international event with cinematic glamour and recognition.
For the wow factor, festival director Kim Dong-ho brought in a gigantic tilting screen from Switzerland, which worked its magic displaying the singer BoA’s slim waistline, the spectacular fireworks that embroidered the Busan’s night sky and the highly artistic film “Three Times” by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao Hsien.
Much like an ambitious adolescent, the festival mimicked its older and richer mentor, Cannes, by bringing in a ferry boat for a party that tried to capture the feel of the French Riviera.
While Nampo-dong drew thousands of movie fans for a hand printing ceremony and signing events, the sandy beach in Haeundae was the center for most of the outdoor events, exhibitions and night parties that turned into morning parties.
However, most of the parties are off-limits to the public, and a certain cockiness at some venues had movie fans like Sung Kyu-ri, 26, feeling left out. “My friend and I went to Haeundae beach to check out the festival booths that we saw in the program, only to find out that the guards in black suits won’t allow in anyone without a special pass,” she said.
The silence over the young age of the Pusan International Film Festival was broken last weekend when Jean-Jacques Arnaud, the French director of highly-acclaimed films such as “The Lover” (1992) and “The Bear” (1984), warmly embraced the emergence of the Korean film industry, which is quite young compared to Europe’s 100-plus years of filmmaking. He pointed out that European creators today look for new subjects that can be seen through different perspectives; on the other hand, Asian directors ― Koreans in particular ― have made films with modern themes and often foreign influences, while maintaining distinctively Asian elements.
Already impressed with Chinese and Japanese films before he discovered Korean films, Mr. Arnaud said he was hopeful for the future of Korean films. But he stressed that piracy, one of the biggest current concerns in the American and European film industries, must be rooted out for local talent to be properly nurtured. He said that his own works have been copied and distributed across southeast Asia.
“Honestly speaking, I feel relieved that my work can be viewed by people who cannot afford to go to a theater,” he said, speaking in English. “But, it is not [the industries in] France nor in the United States that will ultimately be in jeopardy because of piracy. Piracy will kill the industry in its entirety where it’s cultivated. If Cambodians make pirate DVDs off their own director, Rithy Panh, for example, how can he afford to make films?”
Jackie Chan was one of the first Asian stars to bring up the war against piracy during the festival. At a press conference for “The Myth,” the Hong Kong actor attributed the phenomenal success of Korean films to the enviable enthusiasm of Korean movie fans, whose support for domestic films has translated into box office hits.
The strength behind many of the emerging films can be attributed to the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP), a market event for film producers and screenwriters that played a critical role in the promotion and distribution of Asian films to the world market. Some of the hottest Asian directors, including Fruit Chan and Kim Ki-duk, are two examples of PPP beneficiaries.
This year, over 23 Asian production companies applied for inclusion in the event. Of the 150 or so entry submissions, 27 projects were selected for the official line-up in this year’s PPP project. The number of participating countries has increased to 19 from 15 countries this year, with a number of co-production projects underway between Asia and America or Europe.
Pierre Rissient, a French film critic and one of the senior advisors to international festivals including the Cannes, Berlin and Pusan, is among the long-time supporters of “great films that happen to be Korean in the world.”
His advice to the young film industry was that Korea should continue to support small films and that Korean actors not work with agents.
During Korean Film Night on Sunday, which was organized mainly to stress the importance of the screen quota system, a law that forces local theaters to screen Korean films for 146 days a year, Korean actor Ahn Sung-ki and Mr. Rissient gave speeches saying the system should be maintained to protect cultural diversity. The quota was originally introduced to prevent Hollywood films from dominating the local market, but it has been disputed in recent years because of free trade negotiations.
“It’s a system against a cultural war,” said Shohreh Golparian, an Iranian producer, speaking about the quota. “[Movies are] the only political weapon in the hands of the global superpowers.”
The southern port city seems ready to host another decade of festivals. The director, Kim Dong-ho, said he believes that the Asian Film Academy, newly established to educate young filmmakers, will help support both emerging filmmakers and the industry in the future.
Mr. Kim said that by the time the festival turns 13, it will have a brand new film center called “Dureraum” (“The center of entertainment for all”). The center will house six theaters, a museum and exhibition halls and related offices, and is due to open in 2008.
Design proposals have been submitted by seven renowned international architects and groups, including Bernard Tschumi from Switzerland, Erick van Egeraat from the Netherlands and TEN Arquitectos from Mexico; the designs are currently on display at the PIFF Pavilion Zone set up on Haeundae beach.
The winning design will be announced at the closing ceremony this Friday.


Directed by Kamada Yoshitaka
Japan / 2004; Asian Premiere
This low-budget road movie is the second work of Kamada Yoshitaka, a 40-year-old Japanese director who used to make soft-core porn films and TV dramas. Yumeno proceeds with aggressive youth and warm sentimentalism.
In the story, a man named Yoshiki beats up a mobster’s girlfriend by mistake and needs money to save himself from retaliation.
He remembers a girl named Yumeno he met not long before and decides to rob her apartment. In the process, he unintentionally kills her parents, and takes Yumeno, and later a young boy, hostage. As he flees with them across the snowy island of Hokkaido, the three form a truce.
by Choi Sun-young


Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson
Iceland / 2005; Asian Premiere
In this modern interpretation of Beowulf, the famous 8th-century epic poem, the renowned warrior Beowulf is portrayed as compassionate.
As he discovers the secret behind Grendel’s aggression, Beowulf feels sympathy for the monster he is summoned to slay ― the monster, it seems, is a tragic victim of human selfishness.
The film otherwise follows the original story, but is rather long for its simple plot.
However, the scenic shots of the foggy and rough Nordic seas and green hills create a suitably mysterious atmosphere for this medieval epic. Even the deaths of the monsters leaves a lingering sadness.
by Choi Sun-young


Directed by Grace Lee
U.S.A. / 2005; International Premier
Have you ever met someone named Grace Lee? Chances are you have, as there are over 2,000 of them in North America. One of these Asian Jane Smiths has pulled together the amazing stories of other Grace Lees who are anything but “quiet and obedient” as they are commonly described.
The documentarian also delves into the cultural ideals behind the name, from Grace Kelly to the Christian concept of grace as she travels from coast to coast and to her parent’s homeland of Korea.
“The Grace Lee Project” was part of Pusan’s “Wide Angle” section. This was the film’s first screening outside of the United States.
by Park Soomee


Directed by Thom Fitzgerald
Canada / 2005; International Premiere
In this tryptych on the ravages of AIDS, the conclusion of each story is the same: the disease kills its victims, and panics everybody else.
The three shorts are set in China, Canada and South Africa. The disease can destroy an entire town, infecting everyone, as it does in the Chinese storyline. It can ravage an already destitute family, as it does in the Canadian story, in which a porn star fakes a blood test and infects his fellow actors. In the South African story, a Catholic nun compromises her religious ideals to save a group of children orphaned by AIDS.
Chloe Sevigny and Lucy Liu star in the film, adding some energy to an otherwise stiff production.
by Lee Min-a


Directed by Nubuhiro Yamashita
Japan / 2005
A high school girl band is trying to re-group after one member was injured and the band nearly broke up. A Korean girl, Sohn (played by Bae Du-na), gets picked as the band’s vocalist, but she can barely speak Japanese.
The film features some of the great Japanese pop hits of the 1980s, while the friendships and attention to details such as the four girls hanging out in supermarkets to kill time fondly depicts the nostalgia and confusion of girlhood. “Linda, Linda, Linda” is the name of a song by the epochal Japanese punk group The Blue Hearts which the girls sing in the school festival ― the song is definitively ’80s, a neat encapsulation of the film’s spirit.
by Park Soomee


Directed by Yang Yong-hi
Japan / 2005; World Premiere
This heart breaking documentary depicts the story of an ethnic Korean family in Japan that remains affected by Cold War ideologies. In the 1970s the filmmaker’s three brothers left Japan and moved to North Korea. In the film, she repeatedly visits her brothers in Pyongyang, where they say little and have changed much. However, the emotional core of the film is in the relationship between the filmmaker and her father, who although living in Japan remains a devout supporter of North Korea. The film provides a lot of background on the history of Korean zainichi, or descendants of ethnic Koreans in Japan, and the return of 90,000 of them to North Korea in the 1960s.
by Lee Min-a

by Ines Cho

Additional reporting by Park Soo-mee
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