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BIFF to heat up Busan

A night view of Busan Cinema Center, which will be used as the official venue of the upcoming Busan International Film Festival. (BIFF)
A night view of Busan Cinema Center, which will be used as the official venue of the upcoming Busan International Film Festival. (BIFF)
Guide to the 17th edition of one of the biggest film fests in Asia

Moviegoers and cineastes will head to Busan next week, as one of the biggest film festivals in Asia is kicking off its 17th edition in the southern port city.

This year, the Busan International Film Festival features a total of 304 films from 75 countries, including a romantic comedy shot entirely in North Korea.

Hong Kong’s police action film “Cold War” opens this year’s edition, while Bangladeshi filmmaker Mostofa Farooki’s satirical film “Television” will close the festival.

Not everyone has the time or budget to really take in everything at BIFF. But here’s a brief overview of this year’s edition: this year’s most anticipated films, the foreign guests you may run into, and things you can enjoy in Busan outside the theaters.

■ Films

“Dangerous Liaisons”

One of the most anticipated films of this year’s BIFF is certainly “Dangerous Liaisons,” Korean director Hur Jin-ho (“Christmas in August,” “One Fine Spring Day”)’s star-studded drama. Based on an 18th-century French novel of the same title, the sensual movie features Korea’s top star Jang Dong-gun (“Good Morning President,” “My Way”), Chinese heavyweight Zhang Ziyi (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) and Hong Kong actress Cecilia Cheung.

The novel, which tells the story of two ex-lovers getting into a cynical sexual game, has been made into a number of films in many different counties. Famous film adaptations of the novel include American director Roger Kumble’s 1999 drama “Cruel Intentions,” which starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon as upper-class high-school teens. Korean director Lee Je-yong also made the novel’s film adaptation in 2003, with top stars Jeon Do-yeon and Bae Yong-joon as a man and a woman in the 18th-century Joseon period.

Hur’s upcoming movie takes place in Shanghai in the 1930s, and features Jang as the city’s popular, charismatic libertine Xie Yifan. The plot of the film develops as he makes a bet with Mo Jieyu, the city’s affluent femme fatale, that he can seduce a demure widow (Zhang Ziyi) who runs a charity business. The film was previously featured at Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month.

“The Weight”

This year’s “Korean Cinema Today” section includes director Jeon Kyu-hwan’s drama “The Weight.” The director won the Queer Lion prize at Venice International Film Festival this year for the movie. He is the first Korean director to have won the prize.

It stars actor Cho Jae-hyun, who is known for his frequent appearances in local director Kim Ki-duk’s early works. It tells the story of a hunchback mortician who accepts corpses of those who died without family members to pay for the funeral.

Most of Jeon’s previous films, including Berlinale-featured “Varanasi” and “Dance Town,” have dealt with the underbelly of society. His characters include a struggling North Korean defector, a migrant worker being exploited in Seoul, and an ex-con pedophile. “The Weight” is his fifth feature-length film.

The film is being screened for the first time in Korea at BIFF.

“Comrade Kim Goes Flying”

A joint project of North Korea, Belgium and the U.K., “Comrade Kim Goes Flying” is the first North Korean film to be screened in South Korea. The film is said to be a humorous and heartwarming tale of a young coal miner who dreams of becoming a trapeze artist. Kim Gwang-hun, a graduate of Pyongyang University of Cinema Studies, collaborated with British director Nicholas Bonner and Belgian filmmaker Anja Daelemans. The film is said to have captured the beauty of Pyongyang, as well as other regions of North Korea.

■ Foreign guests

Tang Wei, Cecilia Cheung and Zhang Ziyi

Three heavyweight Chinese actresses will be in Busan to attend the film festival. Tang Wei, star of Korean director Kim Tae-yong’s drama “Late Autumn,” will be hosting the opening ceremony, becoming the first non-Korean person to host the event.

The actress rose to international stardom starring in Ang Lee’s 2007 erotic wartime thriller “Lust, Caution,” and became popular in Korea by winning Paeksang Arts Awards for Best Actress in 2010 for her performance as a Chinese-American prisoner in Kim’s “Late Autumn.” The actress attended BIFF in 2010 and 2011, for “Late Autumn” and Peter Chan’s action drama “The Swordsman,” respectively.
Chinese actress Tang Wei (second from left on stage), along with other guests, speaks during an outdoor Q&A session at BIFF last year. The actress is said to be hosting the opening ceremony of this year’s edition. (BIFF)
Chinese actress Tang Wei (second from left on stage), along with other guests, speaks during an outdoor Q&A session at BIFF last year. The actress is said to be hosting the opening ceremony of this year’s edition. (BIFF)

BIFF this year also welcomes Zhang Ziyi and Cecilia Cheung, two of the most prominent actresses from China and Hong Kong. The two actresses together starred in Korean director Hur Jin-ho’s upcoming drama “Dangerous Liaisons.” Zhang became well known in the West after appearing in Ang Lee’s 2000 martial-hero flick “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” She also appeared on “House of Flying Daggers” (2004) and “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005). Her last visit to Korea took place in June last year, when she attended a fashion show hosted by Fendi in Seoul.

Cheung, on the other hand, is one of the best-known Hong Kong-based stars in Korea. She starred as a Chinese migrant woman living in Korea in director Song Hae-seong’s 2001 drama “Failan,” along with Korean actor Choi Min-sik. Her last visit to Korea was back in 2006, during a promotional tour of her 2005 fantasy film “The Promise.” In the 2005 movie, she starred with Korean actor Jang Dong-gun, whom she reunited with while shooting Hur’s upcoming drama “Dangerous Liaisons.”

Takanashi Rin

Japanese actress Takanashi Rin, who is also a member of idol group Pink Jam Princess, will be in Busan for the premiere of her film “Like Someone in Love.” The actress, who rose to stardom with 2007 crime drama “Goth,” starred in Iranian director Abba Kiarostami’s romance film “Like Someone in Love.” In the movie, Rin plays a young university student in Tokyo, who gets romantically involved with an old man. The film is to be featured at BIFF’s “A Window on Asia Cinema” section this year.

Yang Yong-hi

Japanese-Korean director Yang Yong-hi will be in Busan to showcase her feature-length drama “Our Homeland,” which is based on her real-life family. The director was in Korea last year with her personal documentary “Goodbye Pyongyang,” a cinematic account of her young niece who lives in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Yang’s father, who suffered severe poverty in the 1960s in Japan, became a pro-North Korean figure after receiving financial aid from the communist state. He sent three of his own sons there in the 1970s, in support of Japanese-Korean repatriation program organized by North Korea.

“Our Homeland” is Yang’s first fiction film, though also based on her personal story. It tells the story of her real-life brother, who returns briefly to visit his family in Japan after 25 years in exile in North Korea. The film has been selected as one of Japan’s Academy Award foreign-language submissions.

■ Explore Busan

Aside from the festival, Busan is an eventful city with a lot of things to explore. If you want to get active, try sea kayaking in at the Soo-young Bay Yacht Arena in Haeundae (, 1599-5972). For art lovers, Busan Biennale ( is worth checking out. The major culture and art festival is open throughout this year’s edition of BIFF.

Also fascinating is Busan’s Gamcheon village (, which is often called the “Machu Picchu” of Busan. A picturesque art-adorned town in Gamcheon-dong, it used to be a slum area before its transformation.

By Claire Lee (