Spirits high on the wet carpet at Pusan

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More news from the Pusan fest

BUSAN, South Korea -- A Sino-Korean filmmaking alliance marked the opening of the Pusan International Film Festival on Thursday as "Assembly" director Feng Xiao-gang and PIFF director Kim Dong-ho touted their neighbors' achievements, undaunted by a rain delay.

Nor did the first opening-night downpour in the festival's 12-year history stop the three leading candidates in Korea's Dec. 19 presidential election from walking the red carpet to cheers from hundreds of wet, screaming fans, who also hoped for a glimpse of cinema celebrities Feng -- China's most bankable director -- and Kim, Korea's senior statesman of cinema.

Introducing "Assembly," Kim said, "It displays Korea and China's superior technical skills and Feng Xiaogang's outstanding directorial ability."

At a press screening earlier in the day, Feng praised the Seoul-based team that aided his $10.8 million modern Chinese war epic in special effects, make-up, art direction and sound.

"Thanks to my Korean crew, I've been able to produce a beautiful war film on par with Hollywood," Feng said.

Kim thanked Feng for granting the world premiere of "Assembly" -- part of which takes place during the Korean War -- to Busan, the beach resort that was once the last South Korean foothold against the invading communists from the North.

"We are pleased and honored to have picked Feng Xiaogang's 'Assembly,' " Kim said. "This is the first war epic blockbuster made in China, and it is also a Korean co-production."

The recent growth of cinema in Korea, which has made it the world's fifth-largest boxoffice earner, has seen many local companies look to neighboring China to tap a larger, nascent market (HR 9/28).

The premiere, attended by lead actor Zhang Hanyu and his co-stars, was set to draw more than the 6,000 ticketed guests to an outdoor screen at the local marina.

Outside the Pusan Yachting Center, a wet crowd of hundreds of fans lined the red carpet, swelled by screaming schoolgirls awaiting celebrities, rumored to include Korean pop band Super Junior.

"This is my first year here, but I don't care about the rain," said Kim An-na, standing sans umbrella in hopes of seeing film and TV actress Song Hye-kyo.

Others treading the wet carpet included Festival de Cannes general manager Thierry Fremaux, Korean fashion designer Andre Kim and legendary film composer Ennio Moriccone, whose appearance prompted Jeon Jae-duh to belt the themes from "The Mission" and "Cinema Paradiso" through his harmonica, accompanied by the Busan Symphony Orchestra.

The rain stopped, and the movie started.

The collaboration between Feng's producers, Beijing-based Huayi Bros. Pictures, and MK Pictures began at MK's Seoul offices in the Korean capital in June 2006, and continued as Huayi began preselling the film at Pusan last October. It opens in China on Dec. 20.

Feng said he was pleased to be leading China to work with Korea in movies, adding he had told his friend, Korean director Kang Je-gyu ("Brotherhood"), that he had wanted to use Hollywood crews but could not afford them.

"I was fortunate to have 'Brotherhood' as a role model," Feng said, adding that the director of the Korean War epic had introduced him to the Koreans on his "Assembly" crew.

"I welcome all Koreans wishing to make movies in Beijing and offer them my help," Feng said, adding, however, he was now afraid too many Chinese filmmakers would hire Koreans instead of local crew.

Running until Oct. 12, PIFF features more premieres than ever before. Of its 275 films, 66 are world, 26 international and 101 are Asia premieres.

Mark Russell and Gregg Kilday contributed to this report.
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