The Korea Herald


BIFF opener conventional, yet charming


Published : Oct. 6, 2011 - 20:12

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The 16th Busan International Film Festival opens with Korean tearjerker “Always”

BUSAN -- Two young souls with traumatic pasts fall in love. While the man is a former prisoner, the woman is losing her eyesight. As conventional as it may sound, this year’s BIFF opener on Thursday turned out to be a beautiful cliche paired with its warm and color-conscious mise-en-scene. 

 Directed by Song Il-gon, “Always” was the first film ever to be screened in the Busan Cinema Center, the official venue for BIFF, kicking off the 16th edition of the country’s premier film fest. This year, BIFF will feature 307 films from 70 countries.

Previously known as Pusan International Film Festival, Korea’s first and largest international film bash’s opening ceremony was held at the outdoor property of its newly opened venue. A 167.8 billion won ($156 million) project, the Busan Cinema Center houses four movie venues, cafes and restaurants. Its outdoor screening space can house up to 4,000 viewers.

As this year’s program includes 135 world premiers, the opening event welcomed highly acclaimed movie figures from both home and abroad.

Local guests included renowned director Im Kwon-taek, veteran actor Shin Young-kyun, and actor Ahn Sung-ki. Korea’s highly popular film stars Go Soo, Kim Ha-neul, So Ji-sub, Han Hyo-joo and Kang Hye-jeong also attended the event.

Renowned Hong Kong director Tsui Hark, who is best known for “A Chinese Ghost Story” (1987) and “Once Upon A Time in China” (1991), received the Asian Filmmaker of the Year prize during the ceremony. Tsui‘s first 3-D production, “The Swords of Dragon Gate,” the sequel to Raymond Lee’s 1992 film “Dragon Inn,” will premier in December.

Co-starring actor So Ji-sub and actress Han Hyo-joo, “Always” tells a love story between a former boxer and a car accident victim who works as a telephone operator. It presents two reckless souls who would risk everything -- literally everything -- for love. And because they’ve got not much to lose to begin with, the characters are surprisingly convincing in spite of the film’s awfully simple and predictable plot.

Song, who won the New Currents prize at BIFF back in 2001 with his film “Flower Island,” has made a comeback with this conventional melodrama, which manages to be a solid tear-jerker deftly woven with epic action and various social issues from the underbelly of urban life.

“Such conventional love stories have been made into different variations throughout the history,” Song told reporters during a press premier held prior to the festival’s opening ceremony, Thursday. “I wanted to make another conventional version which takes place in today’s urban city. In the end, I really wanted tell a story of a man who devotes his life for the woman he loves, and of a woman who loves and waits with a genuine heart.”

Song also said it is important to acknowledge that the movie takes place in a present-day urban setting, which he thinks is “filled with greed and desire.”

“The fact that Cheol-min (So Ji-sub) delivers water and Jeong-hwa (Han Hyo-joo) connects people as a telephone operator mean something,” Song said. “These are not the most important things in the film, but carry certain significance as I also wanted to talk about present-day urbanity.”

Both So Ji-sub and Han Hyo-joo present captivating performances, bringing depth and reality to the film. Han, who is best known for her appearance in 2010 hit “Dong Yi,” said she is “completely a woman” in the movie “Always.”

“It’s because I am in love throughout this piece,” Han said. “I’ve never been so thoroughly in love with one person from the very beginning till the end in any of my previous works.”

This year’s BIFF closes with Japanese director Masato Harada’s 2011 work, “Chronicle of My Mother.” It tells a story of a successful author whose mother suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and the secrets of her life that ironically unveil as she begins to lose her own memories.

The festival’s Gala Presentation will feature seven new films by renowned directors in Asia. They include director Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host 3D” -- the 3-D version of Bong’s famous 2006 movie of the same title -- and “A Reason to Live” by director Lee Jeong-hyang, which stars big-name actress Song Hye-gyo as a young female producer whose fiancee has been murdered by a teenager.

The festival runs until Sept. 14 at five venues in Haeundae including the Busan Cinema Center.

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By Claire Lee (

Stars walk the red carpet during the official opening ceremony of BIFF at an outdoor property of the Busan Cinema Center, the newly opened exclusive venue for BIFF. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald) Stars walk the red carpet during the official opening ceremony of BIFF at an outdoor property of the Busan Cinema Center, the newly opened exclusive venue for BIFF. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)