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For Oh Seok Geun, who was newly appointed as Busan International Film Festival’s director of the Asian Contents & Film Market (ACFM), this year’s market is an opportunity to reflect on Busan’s identity and prepare for a post-COVID market.
“There are three key functions of a film market — networking, sales and project market,” says Oh, a former chairman of the Korean Film Council, the country’s main film body. “The first two functions are important, but we want to expand on the project market as a way to engage with films that have not been invited to Busan’s official screenings and stay integrated with the film festival. That’s a slightly different approach from other markets like Cannes and Hong Kong FILMART that are very independent from the festival and business-focused.”
Busan’s embrace of the industry’s diversifying platforms is another sign that the festival is seeking for a expand its identity, which was heavily focused on the arthouse genre.
In 2019, the market changed its name from the original Asian Film Market to ACFM, to expand trading content distributed on TV, OTT and other platforms, and include non-traditional film-market mediums such as novels and webtoons, or digital comics that are hugely popular in Asia. The market also launched the Asia Contents Awards (ACA) which recognizes outstanding TV and OTT dramas across Asia. This year’s festival, which opens on October 6th with Im Sang-soo’s Heaven: To the Land of Happiness, added a new program called On Screen which showcases new drama series on OTT platforms such as Netflix’s Hellbound, a fantasy thriller from director Yeon Sang-ho, and Forbidden, HBO ASIA’s original series co-directed by Thailand’s Anucha Boonyawatana and Josh Kim, a Korean-American director.
“It’s true that Busan once prided itself of being ‘a conservative cinemaphile,’ clinging onto the classic notion of cinema and distancing itself from other forms of contents such as TV dramas,” Oh says. “But during the pandemic, the film industry underwent a period of confusion with dramatic changes happening to how contents are being created and distributed.”
The ACFM, which opens on October 11th and marks its 16th edition, is largely keeping its online format from last year, while also holding onsite business meetings for domestic participants. Despite being a virtual event and changing its name, ACFM achieved moderate success last year, attracting 205 companies from worldwide and trading 833 contents, a slight increase from the previous year. The organizers are expecting a better turnout this year.
“ACFM is a good market if you are launching a new film or have a line-up that releases in the latter part of the year, since it is participated by many film programmers and key buyers from around the world,” says a local distributor. “It’s unfortunate that we’re going to have another online market, but it uses convenient tools that are effective in introducing new works on sale and provides good networking opportunities with buyers and programmers.”
The organizers are generally optimistic about the organic growth of ACFM and its role as a gateway to Asian content. Corporate giants including Disney, Apple and Netflix have flocked in to Busan in recent years to buy license rights of the original works, and used the market as a networking platform with Asian filmmakers and artists. Delivery Man, a new drama series by Netflix which is scheduled for a release next year, was a recipient of Busan’s E-IP Pitching Award from 2018. Entertainment Intellectual Property (E-IP) Market, which expanded its previous concept of “Book to Film” that matched publishers with film producers, now bring original works published on multiple platforms including radio scripts, digital comics and even video games.
While the current focus of ACFM is mainly on films from Korea, Japan and Taiwan, the market organizers are hoping to expand the territory and include films from Southeast Asia, the largest buyer market of Korean content, and even China, who has expressed interest in Korean IP.
“There is a fierce battle over entertainment IP,” says Daniel Kim, ACFM’s general manager. “There is a high demand for curated contents, especially among small and medium-sized companies, as more streaming services are picking up a majority of good local films.”
ACFM is largely divided into project and sales market. Asia Project Market, which is largely seen as ACFM’s main program, introduces new feature film projects by emerging and established directors and connects them with global film investors, producers, distributors and coproduction partners. This year, APM selected 25 film projects out of 429 submissions, the largest since APM launched. It highlights a strong line up of female directors, including director Kamila Andini’s Before, Now & Then, Zoe Sua Cho’s upcoming collaboration with Nepali-American director Nani Sahra Walker in The Silence of Birds and a directorial debut of Nguyen Phan Linh Dan, the first female Vietnamese cinematographer If Wood could cry, it would cry Blood. Seven projects by emerging Korean directors were also selected including Christmas Carol by Kim Sungsoo, Where Would You Like to Go by Kim Hee-Jung and Hallucination by Lee Choonghyun,
“Our market should not only focus on buying and selling ready-made products, but also play a role in finding guardians for films by discovering hidden gems and films with potentials,” says Huh Moon-young, the newly appointed director of Busan International Film Festival, hinting at the role of Asia Project Market. “ACFM will play a role of the latter as much as the former.”
This year’s market also hosts online conference and forums about the post-Covid industry prospects with panelists made up of experts in Korean contents industry. There will also be expert panels by the heads of global film markets, discussing ways to strengthen business through partnership and exploring the role of a film market for filmmakers and artists.
“Last year, when South Korean government unveiled a rescue plan for the film industry, sales and marketing companies were excluded,” says Oh who was Korean Film Council’s chairman at the time of the announcement. “It was an inevitable decision, because many film professionals were facing the risk of survival. I’m just grateful that companies are able to participate in this turbulent period. During the market, I want to send my gratitude and encouragement to every one of them.”
Is Toronto Ready for The Hellbound?
Yeon Sang-ho, the mastermind behind global zombie hit Train to Busan, brings his latest genre outing to TIFF.
In the new Netflix original series The Hellbound, people are told the exact time of their death and dragged to hell by grim reapers. Set in the city of Seoul, South Korea, the story depicts a society in the throes of chaos, with the victims struggling to survive, as a local cult group called The New Truth tempts people to believe that the occult-like events are part of a divine plan.
The confusion and fear surrounding a mysterious event is nothing new for director Yeon Sang-ho, whose previous film, 2016’s Train to Busan, about a zombie outbreak that takes place on a high-speed train, was largely viewed as a social metaphor for the class divide in a highly conformist Korean society. The film struck a chord, drawing more than 11 million theatergoers in South Korea and grossing more than $92 million globally.
“Hellbound is a work about supernatural occurrence,” says Yeon, who adds that he grew up watching videos of Hong Kong action flicks and Japanese animation. “But it also delves into my views on various phenomenon in a Korean society and how we struggle to cope with these events.”
Yeon’s new work, the first three episodes of which will premiere in the Toronto International Film Festival’s Primetime section, was also invited to Busan International Film Festival’s On Screen section, the festival’s new program featuring new drama series on OTT platforms. “I was at TIFF with my earlier film The Fake  and there were a lot of deep, interesting questions during the Q&A,” he recalls. “I hope the work evokes a lot of discussions.”
Yeon’s latest effort is based on a popular digital comic of the same title and one of Yeon’s earlier short films from 2003. In the Netflix series, he collaborated with his close friend and a popular comic artist Choi Gyu-seok, who co-wrote the script.
“We’re such good friends, and the main motive behind the collaboration was to spend more time together as we work on the same project,” Yeon says. “We also share common interests in depicting stories about social phenomenon. The process of collaboration, however, was trickier than we had imagined. He was very attentive to details, and we learned our perspective was quite different.”
Hellbound is Yeon’s first drama series, but already there is increased interest in the original comic among the market insiders. Futabasha, a Japanese webtoon publisher, purchased Japan’s publication rights, and Dark Horse Comics, the U.S. publisher of Hellboy, took on the work’s worldwide distribution in English.
While Yeon believes that platforms like Netflix offer a valuable opportunity to reach a global audience, he is aware of the inherent risks of how storytelling on such a large scale can create cultural challenges.
Says Yeon: “Since it will be released to global audiences, I wanted to make sure that there aren’t any settings or expressions in the drama series that might be offensive to some audiences from other cultures.”
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Sept. 11 daily issue at the Toronto International Film Festival.
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