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Ko - production in Busan
  • BIFF Audiences Recover 17% in 22nd Edition
  • by Pierce Conran /  Oct 24, 2017
  • Busan New Currents Awards Go to AFTER MY DEATH and BLOCKAGE

    The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) has been weathering problems for several years but despite a few major setbacks in 2017, the festival was able to recover for its 22nd edition, which welcomed 193,000 spectators, a 17% jump over last year. Major guests returned to the festival, with Gala presentations of new films by Darren Aronofsky (mother!), John WOO (Man Hunt) and KOREEDA Hirokazu (The Third Murder) attended by cast and crew, while MOON Jae-in became the first sitting Korean president to visit BIFF and offer an official statement in support of the festival. Also notable were two titles directed by women filling the opening and closing slots for the first time, SHIN Su-won’s local indie drama Glass Garden, and the cross-generational Chinese-Taiwanese drama Love Education from Sylvia CHANG.

    The festival has been in mourning since May of this year, when Executive Programmer KIM Ji-seok suddenly died of a heart attack during a trip to the Cannes Film Festival. A memorial service was held in his honor on Sunday the 15th, which was attended by 400 film industry guests from around the world. BIFF has also been preparing for the forthcoming departures of festival chairman KIM Dong-ho and Festival Director KANG Soo-youn, who announced a few months ago they would be stepping down following the conclusion of this edition.

    This year’s New Currents Awards, from BIFF’s signature competition that includes first and second-time filmmakers from Asia, went to the local high school suicide-themed dramatic thriller After My Death from KIM Ei-suk and the Iranian feature Blockage by Mohsen GHARAEI.

    JEON Yeo-been, the lead of After My Death, also won the Actress of the Year Award while the Actor of the Year prize went to PARK Jong-hwan of Hit the Night, whose director JEONG Ga-young walked away with a Vision Director Award. February by KIM Jong-hyun also picked up a Vision Director Award, as well as the NETPAC award.

    In honor of KIM Ji-seok’s untimely passing, the KIM Ji-seok Award was introduced this year, which considered several films in the Window on Asian Cinema section. The inaugural awards went to Thai work Malila: The Farewell Flower by Anucha BOONYAWATANA and The Scythian Lamb from Japanese director YOSHIDA Daihachi.

    Among documentaries, this year’s BIFF Mecenat Award for Asia went to HARA Kazuo’s Sennan Asbestos Disaster from Japan, while the Korean Award went to PARK Bae-il’s Soseongri. The Sonje Awards for Best Short went to the Indonesian film Madonna by Sinung WINAHYOKO and the KWAK Eun-mi’s Korean production A Hand-written Poster.

    Elsewhere, the Citizen Critics' Award went to the Korean film Possible Faces by LEE Kang-hyun, Australian film Pulse by Stevie Cruz-Martin picked up the Busan Bank Award, JEON Go-woon earned the CGV Arthouse Award for Microhabitat, the FIPRESCI Award went to SHIN Dong-seok’s Last Child, the Busan Cinephile Prize was given to Andreas Hartmann's German-Japan co-production A Free Man, and ZHOU Quan's End of Summer walked away with the KNN Award.

    The Asian Film Market also stayed on track by welcoming 1,583 participants, 200 more than last year, from 658 companies from 45 countries. 163 companies from 45 countries set themselves up in 65 booths while 68 films were screened in the market, of which 43 were market premieres. Meanwhile, the Asian Project Market held a record 645 project meetings in its 20th year and other events such as the E-IP Pitching and Book To Film sessions also returned.

    Among Korean sales companies, the most significant new title on offer was Lotte Entertainment’s Along with the Gods - The Two Worlds, the first film in a big budget two-part fantasy epic by director KIM Yong-hwa which features a bounty of big stars, including HA Jung-woo, CHA Tae-hyun, LEE Jung-jae and DOH Kyung-soo. Lotte locked sales with 12 countries for the title, including with Well GO USA for North America.

    Korean sales agent Finecut reported several deals, including for its period drama Man of Will, which just opened at number three at the local box office. The film was bought by AV-Jet for Taiwan and Viva Communications for the Philippines. Viva also bought the upcoming thriller True Fiction by KIM Jin-mook and KIM Soon-mo’s BIFF-premiered and Busan-set melodrama Home. Altered Innocence also purchased KIM Yang-hee’s Jeonju Cinema Project The Poet and the Boy for the United States.

    M-Line Distribution sealed deals for its box office hit THE OUTLAWS, which has brought in 4.97 million viewers (USD 36.24 million), with buyers in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. They also finalized a deal with Taiwan for the gangster film A Special Lady, which hits screens next month. Meanwhile, CJ Entertainment reportedly sold their incoming Silent Witness remake with CHOI Min-shik, entitled Heart Blackened, to several Asian territories, while their political period drama 1987 drew lots of interest from buyers.

    As always, BIFF was a fertile ground for discovering new Korean talent. Among the three Korean films in the New Currents competition, both Last Child and After My Death were awarded. Coincidentally both films deal with the aftermaths of the death of children but both tackled the subject in different ways, with the former opting for a character-based realist style while the latter was constructed more like a thriller that exposed how trauma can ripple through a small community in unexpected ways.

    In the Korean Cinema Today - Vision, section, the standouts included Microhabitat with E Som, which is the debut of JEON Go-woon and the latest film from the Gwanghwamun Cinema collective, which has previously made The King of Jogku (2013) among others. JEONG Ga-young cemented herself as a fascinating new actor-director with Hit The Night and LEE Dong-eun followed last year’s debut In Between Seasons with Mothers, a drama which stars LIM Soo-jung

    A number of veteran filmmakers returned to the place that launched their careers, including LEE Kwang-kuk with the sharp character drama A Tiger in Winter, SHIN Yeon-shick with the theological Romans 8:37 and PARK Ki-yong with the mature lament Old Love. Festival regulars O Muel and JEON Soo-il also retuned with Mermaid Unlimited and America Town. Yet chief among the experienced filmmakers this year was Take Care of My Cat (2001) director JEONG Jae-eun, who was invited with two films, the Japan-Korea co-production Butterfly Sleep, a gala presentation about a middle-aged Japanese novelist’s affair with a younger Korean man, and the documentary Ecology in Concrete, which exposed the history of Seoul’s unique urban residential landscape.

    In all, this year’s BIFF screened 300 films from 76 countries, with 99 world premieres among them from Thursday, October 12th to Saturday, October 21st. Next year, the festival will return with new leadership and perhaps renewed confidence following a successful 22nd edition. At the very least, we know of one film to look forward to for the 23rd edition, as Alive (2014) director PARK Jung-bum will return with his third feature Not in This World, which was selected as the first recipient of the brand new Asian Cinema Fund Production Support Fund, which will fund the project to the tune of KRW 200 million (USD 177,000).
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