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Ko - production in Busan
  • Busan Film Festival Back on Track for Strong 23rd Edition
  • by Pierce Conran /  Oct 10, 2018
  • Broad Program Satisfies Every Cinephile Craving

    Following the reinstallation of LEE Yong-kwan as Festival Chairman and Jay JEON as Festival Director and an end to all of the industry boycotts against it, the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) returned with a powerhouse 23rd edition early this month. Opening on October 4, BIFF launched a strong lineup of 323 films from 79 countries, all the more impressive given the truncated preparation time following the late executive reshuffle earlier this year. 

    Kicking off proceedings following an opening ceremony hosted by KIM Nam-gil and HAN Ji-min which featured a performance from world-famous composer SAKAMOTO Ryuichi, the recipient of this year’s Asian Filmmaker of the Year award, was the opening film Beautiful Days, the narrative feature debut of filmmaker Jero YUN. Starring local celebrity LEE Na-young in her first screen role since 2012’s HOWLING, the film impressed with its strong visuals and its fascinating portrait of a North Korean defector who leaves her family behind in China when she starts a new life in Seoul.

    Following the opening ceremony, top on the minds of many festival goers were concerns over the incoming Typhoon Kong-rey, which was scheduled to batter Southern Korea with strong winds and rain over much of the weekend. Luckily, the typhoon passed through quicker than expected as the sun returned to Haeundae Beach by Saturday lunchtime, though gale-force winds briefly caused havoc in the morning. 

    Top Asian filmmakers filled this year’s three gala slots. ZHANG Lu returned to the festival with the lyrical and breezy art drama Ode to the Goose starring PARK Hae-il, MOON So-ri and a host of other local stars, two years after he opened the festival with A Quiet Dream (2016). From Hong Kong, Stanley Kwan debuted his new drama First Night Nerves while Japanese genre auteur TSUKAMOTO Shinya came for the Asian premiere of his acclaimed samurai drama Killing.

    Beyond Beautiful Days and Ode to the Goose, dozens of new Korean titles filled up the Korean Cinema Today programs while also featuring heavily in the Wide Angle and New Currents lineups, the festival’s signature competition for first or second-time filmmakers.

    Among the local New Currents selections, KWON Man-ki’s Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA) project Clean Up drew strong notices for its impactful tale of a cleaner who is forced to face her past when an ex-con, to whom she did a terrible thing in the past but who doesn’t recognize her, joins the team. Yet it was House of Hummingbird, the much-anticipated feature debut of acclaimed short film director KIM Bora that really made its presence felt in Busan. A sprawling indie drama that explores Korean society through the eyes of a young girl in mid-90s Seoul, the work is expected to enjoy a healthy life on the festival circuit.

    Other notable Korean works included HAN Ka-ram’s Our Body, another KAFA feature project, which impressed Busan viewers following its premiere last month at the Toronto International Film Festival. CHOI Hee-seo (aka Moon CHOI) of Anarchist from Colony (2017) leads the film as a young woman who struggles to get her life together and takes up running when she meets a striking young jogger in her neighborhood. Meanwhile, A Dream of Iron (2014) director Kelvin Kyungkun PARK debuted his new documentary ARMY in Wide Angle.

    Hot titles from Cannes and Venice were in abundance, with films like Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War, Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro, Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazarro, JIA Zhang-ke’s Ash Is Purest White and ZHANG Yimou’s Shadow, among many others, quickly selling out their screenings.

    One thing that stood out among Busan’s program selections this year was a stronger than usual presence for genre cinema. BIFF has curated a small ‘Midnight Passion’ section for many years, but a broad array of genre titles found their way into just about every program section this year. This included an invitation for the remake of Halloween, due out in theaters around the world at the end of the month, which prompted the festival to stage a masterclass with its producer Jason Blum, founder of the hit horror production company Blumhouse Productions. 

    Other major genre titles included Joe Penna’s Arctic, which was projected on BIFF’s large outdoor screen in the ‘open cinema’ section, and Gaspar Noe’s Climax. Westerns (Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers, the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) and space dramas (Claire Denis’ High Life, Damien Chazelle’s First Man) were also particularly noticeable in Busan’s marquees this year.

    Also taking a turn for the better was the Asian Film Market, which enjoyed a 56% year-on-year surge in pre-registrations for its 2018 edition, taking place from October 6 to 9. All told, 1339 film professionals from 50 countries signed up for the market to meet with the 425 buyers in town, take in one of the 69 market screenings or take part in one its many programs, such as the Asian Project Market (APM), Entertainment Intellectual Property Market (E-IP Market) and the Book to Film event. 

    Meanwhile, we’re only just past the halfway mark of the festival, which will hand out various awards later in the week and close with YUEN Woo-ping’s Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy on Friday ahead of a weekend of encore screenings. Yet, given the more festive spirit, the return of the popular Korean studio parties and the festival’s impressive guest list, it’s already clear that the Busan International Film Festival is back and better than ever.
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