[Weekender] Busan film fest beckons film buffs, star gazers

By Rumy Doo

Asia’s largest film festival tries hard to keep premier position

  • Published : Oct 13, 2017 - 18:47
  • Updated : Oct 14, 2017 - 20:09

Since its founding in 1996, the Busan International Film Festival has marked the transition from summer to fall in Korea.

Asia’s largest film festival is screening some 298 films from 75 countries from Thursday to Oct. 21 this year.

The main categories are New Currents, which awards the two best feature films by up-and-coming Asian directors; Gala Presentation, the screening of works by master filmmakers; and A Window on Asian Cinema, which showcases films that push boundaries by Asian directors. 


This year’s special exhibitions will spotlight veteran Korean actor Shin Sung-il and the late Japanese filmmaker Seijun Suzuki, known for his jarring visual style and irreverent humor.

For nine days and 10 nights, the Busan Cinema Center, CGV Centum City, Lotte Cinema Centum City and Megabox Haeundae as well as the surrounding areas will be filled with film buffs who come to watch films, engage in a bit of star spotting and just soak in the atmosphere.

Tickets can be reserved online at www.biff.kr or purchased on-site at ticket booths set up at the locations above. If you plan on buying tickets on-site, be advised that lines start forming early in the morning.

The festival opened with Shin Su-won’s “Glass Garden,” about an emotionally scarred woman who experiments with blood while hidden away in a dense forest. It will close with Taiwanese director Sylvia Chang’s “Love Education,” which follows three women from different eras of Chinese history.

It is the first time both the festival’s opening and closing films are being helmed by women filmmakers.

Out of the woods?

As the festival enters its 22nd edition, a peculiar mood shrouds the festivities. Over the past few years, BIFF has plowed through major crises that have threatened its very existence. It wrestled with the Busan Metropolitan Government over artistic freedom and funding after screening a controversial documentary against the government’s wishes in 2014; witnessed its leaders being investigated for misuse of funds; and saw a boycott of the festival last year by numerous Korean filmmakers and actors.
Despite the turmoil, BIFF has managed to amend its bylaws to ensure greater artistic freedom in its programming. Organizers came through to host the annual festival without fail, though many feared last year that the festival would be suspended.

Things are looking up with a new administration in place and the partial lifting of last year’s boycott. “We’re still going through difficulties within and outside the festival,” Kang told reporters at a press conference in Seoul last month. “Not everything has been resolved perfectly but I believe that nobody should doubt the future of the festival anymore. I’m glad to announce a wealth of programs this year despite difficulties.”

This year’s film fest features some 100 world premieres -- which mark the very first worldwide screenings of films -- and 29 international premieres, or first overseas screenings, as well as a roster of distinguished guests, a surge of Asian cinema and more. 

International film masters

While international guests were sparse last year resulting from a hurried organizing process marred by political struggle, a number of international film masters have blocked to Busan this year.

The list includes Darren Aronofsky, the American director of such films as “Black Swan” (2010) and this year’s much-debated “Mother!” screening in the Gala Presentation category.

On Friday, Aronofsky met with reporters and audiences to discuss his film after screenings.

Oliver Stone, the American screenwriter who penned “Snowden” (2016), “Evita” (1996) and “Natural Born Killers” (1994), among many others, is this year’s head juror for the New Currents section.

Stone will lecture at a master class for filmmakers at the Busan Cinema Center on Tuesday.

Also featured prominently are films from other Asian countries, including Hong Kong, Japan, India and the Philippines.

Chinese-born Hong Kong film director John Woo will be attending for his film “Manhunt,” which was invited to the festival’s Gala Presentation category. Actress Ha Ji-won, who stars in the film, will also be attending, and will meet with press and audiences on Saturday following screenings.

Outdoor talks

At various open talks hosted at Haeundae BIFF Village’s outdoor stage, audiences will be able to converse up and close with actors, including France’s Jean-Pierre Leaud, and directors, such as France’s Agnes Godard and Iran’s Turaj Mansuri.

On Friday, Korean actress Moon So-ri met with Japanese actress Miho Nakayama for an open talk at BIFF Village to discuss what it means to be a woman in film today.

Actor Jang Dong-gun, who hosted the opening ceremony, spoke with reporters about his recent noir-thriller “V.I.P.,” in which he stars as a South Korean agent tracking down a North Korean serial killer.

On Saturday, actor Lee Je-hoon will also meet with an audience at BIFF Village to discuss his recent film “I Can Speak,” which touches on the history of Korean “comfort women” forced into sex slavery during World War II.

Japanese director Yuri Sumino, whose romance film “Let Me Eat Your Pancreas” received much attention for its odd title, will be meeting with audiences on Sunday. Kwon Hae-hyo, Cho Yun-hee and Kim Sae-byeok, who starred in Hong Sang-soo’s “The Day After,” will also appear at BIFF Village on Sunday.

In Platform Busan, a newly installed program, indie directors from Asia will be able to share their experiences and know-how. Seminars and forums will take place from Saturday to Wednesday.

Korean stars Moon Geun-young (“Glass Garden”) and Lee Byung-hun (“The Fortress”) are also attending.

VR cinema

Virtual reality has risen as a trend in the international film festival circuit: Cannes showcased works that incorporated VR, while Venice became the first film festival to feature a competition category for VR films. BIFF is no exception, operating the largest virtual reality theater in Asia during the festival.

The VR theater has been built in Busan Cinema Center in cooperation with VR content company Barunson and telecom company KT.

Some 23 VR films from around the world will be screened from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every hour.

“This film festival will mark a new development for the experiment-oriented entertainment market in Korea,” said KT’s future business development team leader Ko Yoon-jeon. “We’re planning to cooperate with various industries to further develop VR cinema, based on a 5G network.”

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)