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Korean Films Shine at 21st BiFan

Aug 01, 2017
  • Writerby Pierce Conran
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NAFF Celebrates 10th Anniversary

On July 23rd, the curtain came down on the 21st edition of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan), an event that continues to grow, particularly since the introduction of its B.I.G (BiFan Industry Gathering) program last year. 2017 was a promising year for local films in Bucheon while on the business side of things, the Network of Asian Fantastic Films (NAFF) celebrated its 10th anniversary. 

Impressive Screenings of the Korean Selection

One of the highlights of this year’s BiFan was undoubtedly the quality of the Korean selection, which included a number of impressive low-budget efforts, classic genre fare and a high profile local release in the opening slot. LEE Yong-seung, who debuted to great acclaim at Busan with the indie 10 Minutes in 2014, stepped up to the commercial realm with the high concept comedy-thriller Room No.7. Featuring SHIN Ha-kyun and DOH Kyung-soo, the film places a uniquely Korean comedy of errors in a DVD Bang (DVD screening room rental shop).

JUNG Byung-gil’s kinetic action title The Villainess, which stars KIM Ok-vin and debuted in the midnight section of the Cannes Film Festival this year, was the most high profile picture among the nine to screen in the Fantastic Features competition, but ultimately it was the no-budget debut Behind the Dark Night which scored this year’s LG HiEntech Best Korean Fantastic Film.

From director SHIM Chan-yang, Behind the Dark Night is a mockumentary about students setting out to make a great superhero film. It follows the trials and tribulations of their efforts and ends by showing the fruits of their labor, a short that pays loving tribute to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

Just as well received by viewers and critics was JANG Hyun-sang’s Coffee Noir: Black Brown, which imagines a coffee prohibition in Korea. By all accounts uncategorizable, this unusual film has drawn notice for its comedy, strong lead performance from JO Soo-hyang and contemporary themes.

Acting awards went to PARK Ji-soo, the actress who lead the dark mystery-drama The End of April, while the Best Actor prize was shared by OH Ryoong and RYU Seong-hyeon, who co-star in The Gravity of Acting, an engaging tale of rivalry between a has-been actor and his promising junior. Though perhaps the least befitting of the ‘fantastic’ label, Factory Complex (2015) director IM Heung-soon earned the Audience Award for his latest documentary, the North Korean refugee reverie Ryeohaeng.

Also in competition was the lo-fi animation I’ll Just Live in Bando, which surprised with its intense and snappy story of an acting professor torn between a chance to land a big audition or secure a permanent job at his university. Play of Hostage packed several twists in its unusual take on the bank heist thriller and Outdoor Begins, which debuted at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival earlier this year, dialed up the sleaze and gore for its tale of a campsite slasher.

Reviewing the Old and Discovering the New

Among the retro screenings were KIM Ki-young’s dark and austere masterpiece Ieoh Island (1977), GO Yeong-nam’s erotic horror Suddenly in the Dark (1981) and PARK Chul-soo’s rarely screened serial killer thriller Mother (1985).

Looking at the main lineup, it was the US indie The Endless that picked up the main Best of Bucheon prize. The film was directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who have screened both of their previous works (Resolution and Spring) at the the festival and taken part in the NAFF Project Market in the past. The Jury’s Choice award went to the Spanish film Black Hollow Cage by Sadrac González-Perellón while You Are the Apple of My Eye (2011) director Giddens KO picked up the NH Audience Award with the Taiwanese high school horror Mon Mon Mon Monsters

Outside of the main jury, the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation (EFFFF) bestowed its Asian Award to BiFan regular CHUNG Mong-hong with his drug deal gone bad road movie Godspeed, while the NETPAC Award went to another Taiwanese film, The Village of No Return. German films Roby and Toby’s Fantastic Voyager and The Legend of Timm Tyler or The Boy Who Sold His Laughter took home the Save Energy, Save Earth Film Award and BiFan Children’s Jury Award, respectively.

For its second edition, the BiFan Industry Gathering (B.I.G) expanded on its ‘Korea Now’ program, which featured a broad array of programs, including a Filmmakers’ Workshop, the SF Fantastic Forum, a case study of Asian Co-Production, the BiFan Scenario Showcase, the D.O.P.’s Visual Language Seminar, a Korean Film Policy Roundtable, a Smartphone Short Filmmaking Project and the Fantastic Marketing Funding program. Top Asian hits and their producers were once again assembled for ‘Made in Asia’ while VR and OTT (Over the top) platforms were the focus of the ‘New Media’ strain.

Under the B.I.G umbrella was also NAFF, which has now been supporting genre film projects from across Asia and the world for a full decade, while also nurturing new talent through its Fantastic Film School. Veteran and aspiring filmmakers alike can apply to take part in the event, which brings filmmakers together with potential co-producers, investors, distributors and festivals over the course of three days. Past projects include The Terror, LIVE (2013), The King of Pigs (2011), The Raid: Berandal and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?.

Thomas NAM (NAM Jong-suk), the Managing Director of NAFF, said that “the 10th anniversary ended with successful results. We recorded the highest meetings per company numbers in the project market’s history, we handed out the most amount of awards since our inception and in my opinion we welcomed the best group of industry guests and master classes for the Fantastic Film School attendees.”

24 projects were presented this year, 16 of which were part of the signature IT Project, four in Project Spotlight 2017: Vietnam, three from Nordic Genre Invasion, and the first Blood Window project from Latin America.

B.I.G has Record Number of Company Meetings

During this year’s closing ceremony, a special video was put together featuring several filmmakers, producers and festival directors who highlighted the importance of NAFF and wished it a happy 10th anniversary and a prosperous future. This year’s top prize at NAFF was won by the Finnish project The Twin by director Taneli Mustonen, who also had his film Lake Bodom screening at BiFan. The second place NAFF Award went to Eerie from the Philippines, from Mikhail Red, another filmmaker with a prior project in selection in Bucheon this year (Birdshot). 

The newly established Signal Pictures Award was given to Bu Wei’s Chinese project Man of Sin and the Aurora Producing Award went to the homegrown project The Legend by LEE Seung-won. KIM Jae-yeon’s A Teacher won the NAFF Korean Award and the DHL Award was given to the Japanese entry Femme Fatale by Miyake Kyoko. Another Japanese project, Nishimura Yoshihiro’s The Embalmer - Face of the Dead, will visit Sitges later this year after taking home the Sitges Pitchbox Award.

Regarding the future of NAFF and B.I.G, NAM “would like to establish an Industry Center with market and press screenings as well as two or three day visits by sales agents representing films at our festival, buyers and distributors in order to create active interactions between them on potential genre film deals.” In addition, he hopes “to get India as our next country for the NAFF Project Spotlight. A lot of work will be needed to get this done successfully but I am ready to get started!”
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