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BIFF premieres opener ‘Heaven: To the Land of Happiness’

From left: Choi Min-sik, Im Sang-soo and Park Hye-il pose after a press conference to promote “Heaven: To the Land of Happiness” at the 26th Busan International Film Festival, in Busan on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
From left: Choi Min-sik, Im Sang-soo and Park Hye-il pose after a press conference to promote “Heaven: To the Land of Happiness” at the 26th Busan International Film Festival, in Busan on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

BUSAN -- The 26th Busan International Film Festival kicked off with the world premiere of “Heaven: To the Land of Happiness" from director Im Sang-soo.

The South Korean buddy drama made it to the Cannes Film Festival’s 2020 Official Selection list.

Im’s movie centers on two men: No. 203, played by Choi Min-sik, and Nam-sik, played by Park Hye-il. The aging No. 203 is a longtime prisoner who only has a few months left until he is released. One day while he’s still waiting, No. 203 finds out he only has two weeks to live due to a brain tumor.

Upon learning the news, he escapes from prison. While on the run, he meets Nam-sik, who suffers from an incurable disease. Unable to afford the expensive medicine that could extend his life, Nam-sik has been stealing it from hospitals. Their trip takes an unexpected turn when the two men accidentally steal a large sum of ill-gotten money from Madame Yoon, played by Youn Yuh-jung.

Im, 59, known for films with bitter and critical viewpoints, said at a press conference held Wednesday at the festival that his new film is a bit different.

“This movie is warm,” the director said. “As I get older I have started to think more about death in greater detail. I created the film with those thoughts.”

While making the film, Im said, he took time to share his thoughts about death with Choi, also 59.

“We talked about how, as we grow older, we have to deal with the death of someone close to us or our parents’ death. Death is natural, but to the people around, it can be terrible. Since we are at the age when one usually thinks about death in greater depth, we shared our thoughts,” Im said.

The director added that although his new film deals with money, like his previous work “The Taste of Money” (2012), it does so differently.

“I used money in the film because I thought it is something that the audiences can relate to. The movie follows money’s whereabouts, but at the end, it does not show who possesses it,” Im said.

He explained that this is because money is not the main topic.

Although the movie centers on two men and their journey, it also includes quite a few female characters, like Madame Yoon. The director explained that this was intentional.

“We started with the idea of two men’s journey but I wanted to find a balance. So I included Youn Yuh-jung and Lee El’s characters (as antagonists). Also, other key roles like the police chief and the police officer No. 203 encounters on the rooftop are all set as female characters to strike a balance,” he said.

To develop the bromance between the two characters, Choi said he spent a lot of time with co-star Park.

“Alcohol bottles piled up between us. There were times when we talked while sober but 10 out of eight times we got drunk and had a conversation,” Choi said. “Anyway, it was comfortable working with him and I don’t know how well the movie will do but I had fun making it.”

The film fest will run through Oct. 15 in Korea’s second-largest city, Busan. All invited features are being shown at six selected theaters in Busan, without online screening. Only short films are made available online on YouTube and Naver Series On. A total of 223 films were invited for this year’s program.

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)
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