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Forward-Facing Busan International Film Festival Wraps 24th Edition

Oct 22, 2019
  • Writerby Pierce Conran
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Asia’s Top Festival Embraces the Rise of Global Streamers

Following 10 days packed with 300 films from 85 countries, a parade of stars, a busy industry market and a wide-arranging selection of special events, this year’s 24th Busan International Film Festival closed its doors on October 12. 189,115 attendees were counted for this year’s edition, which kicked off on October 3 with an opening ceremony hosted by superstars JUNG Woo-sung (Steel Rain, 2017) and LEE Ha-nee (Extreme Job), and for which a bevy of stars marched the red carpet, including PARASITE star JO Yeo-jeong and EXIT lead and Girls’ Generation member Yoon-a.

The ceremony was followed by a screening of the opening film The Horse Thieves. Roads of Time from Kyrgyzstani director Yerlan NURMUKHAMBETOV and Japan’s Lisa TAKEBA, while LIM Dae-hyung’s homegrown film Moonlit Winter served as the closing presentation the following week. Both NURMUKHAMBETOV and LIM were participants in the festival’s signature New Currents competition at previous editions, for The Walnut Tree, which won the New Currents Award in 2015, and Merry Christmas Mr. Mo, a NETPAC Award winner in 2016, respectively. A total of 118 films had their world premieres in Busan this year.

Yet beyond the glitz of the red carpet and the scintillating new stories presented on Busan’s screens, one major noticeable change at BIFF was the festival’s embrace of new digital distributions models. While the Cannes Film Festival has opted not to consider Netflix projects since 2018, four of the films in this year’s Busan program came from the streaming giant, which included a prestigious gala slot for David MICHOD’s regal period drama The King, which brought even more star power to the city in the form of the young global sensation Timothée CHALAMET and Joel EDGERTON. Also invited were Noah BAUMBACH’s Marriage Story and Fernando MEIRELLES’ The Two Popes. HBO Asia was also in the mix, as they premiered their new Malaysian project The Garden of Evening Mists, which stars Malaysia’s Sinjee LEE, Japan's Hiroshi ABE, and Taiwan's Sylvia CHANG.

Beyond screening films developed for streaming platforms, the festival also demonstrated its embrace of new formats by launching the Asian Content Awards. In a ceremony hosted by Vertigo star YOO Teo and Miss Korea KIM Se-yeon, the Best Creative Award went to KIM Yong-kyu, the chief producer of Studio Dragon’s Mr. Sunshine. Among other prizes, joint winners in the Best Asian Series category were The Hormones, The Series from Thailand and Singapore’s Faculty.

Looking at the festival’s main prizes this year, in the New Currents competition the winners were Vietnamese film Rom from director TRAN Thanh Huy and Mohanad HAYA’s Iraqi picture Haifa Street. Leaving Las Vegas director Mike FIGGIS, who presided over this year’s New Currents jury, shared comments for Rom, praising it for its “amazing energy, and this combined with excellent performances and some spectacular camera work to make a standout film. The use of real, live locations impressed the jury greatly and the ending was very satisfying.” Referring to Haifa Street, the jury offered that “This is a mature, grown-up movie and the director exhibited a confidence and understanding of cinema language which set the film apart. Good to see a strong gender-balanced cast.” Meanwhile, FIGGIS revealed during the festival that he is working with the leading local talent agency Saram Entertainment on a #MeToo-themed three-part Korean omnibus called Shame.

Other main prizes included the Kim Ji-seok Awards, which went to Circus of Life, from Pakistan’s Sarmad Sultan KHOOSAT and the Indian film Market from Pradip KURBAH, the BIFF Mecenat Awards for the documentaries Underground by KIM Jung-geun and the Chinese work Noodle Kid from HUO Ning, and the Sonje Awards for short films, won by JIN Seong-moon’s local film Hello and Saeed KESHAVARZ’s Dragon′s Tail from Iran.

Among new local films screening, some of the standouts included YUN Dan-bi’s Moving On which picked up four prizes, including a Directors Guild of Korea Award, NETPAC Award, KTH Award and the Citizen Critics’ Award. Coming away with a trio of awards was KIM Cho-hee’s Lucky Chan-sil, which also got a Directors Guild of Korea Award, as well as the CGV Arthouse Award and the KBS Independent Film Award. Among the Korean competitors in the New Currents section, the Actor & Actress of the Year Awards went to KIM Jun-hyung and MUN Hye-in in KIM Duk-joong’s The Education, while LIM Sun-ae’s An Old Lady won the KNN Award.

Taking place alongside the festival was the Asian Film Market, which had a strong year with nearly 2,200 participants, including 983 companies from 56 countries, which was a 22% increase over last year. 47 market premieres were held, while a record 568 meetings took place during the E-IP Market, across the Book To Film, E-IP Pitching and Asian IP Showcase events.

Among the key local titles that launched sales at this year’s market were the espionage action-thriller sequel Summit: Steel Rain, with returning stars JUNG Woo-sung and KWAK Do-won, as the franchise moved from Next Entertainment World and its sales arm CONTENTS PANDA to Lotte Cultureworks. Meanwhile, Showbox presented their upcoming disaster comedy Sinkhole, with CHA Seung-won (CHEER UP, MR. LEE), KIM Sung-kyun (FENGSHUI, 2018), and LEE Kwang-soo (Tazza: One Eyed Jack), which is currently in production.

Another set of awards presented this year were the Etoile du Cinéma awards, which were presented by the French Embassy to Korean star BAE Doo-na and Barunson E&A CEO KWAK Sin-ae. BAE was also in town for the world premiere of the French-Korean co-production #iamhere, from La Famille Bélier director Eric LARTIGAU. She features in the film with veteran French star Alain CHABAT.

One of the sidebars in BIFF’s program in 2019 that drew the most attention was ‘The 100 Year History of Korean Cinema: 10 Great Korean Films’ program, which featured 10 of the country’s most beloved classics, from KIM Ki-young’s The Housemaid (1960) all the way to PARK Chan-wook’s Old Boy (2003). Director PARK was present for a screening and masterclass and also took part in an Open Talk with French-Greek cineaste Costa-Gavras, during which he revealed that he is working on an English-language adaptation of Donald E. WESTLAKE’s novel ‘The Ax’. The work was previously adapted in French by Costa-Gavras, who owns the rights to the novel with his producer wife Michèle RAY, both of whom will produce Director PARK’s version.

Looking ahead to the future, the festival is also planning to establish a Korean cinema museum, while attendees will have at least one additional event to look forward to in next year’s program as it was announced that the Asian Film Awards, previously held for 13 years in Hong Kong and Macau, will be shifting to Busan starting in October 2020.
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