- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
The Busan International Film Festival kicked off in South Korea’s bustling southern port city Wednesday night with the world premiere of Heaven: To the Land of Happiness from veteran director Im Sang-soo (The Housemaid).
Despite a smaller scale (with theaters at 50 percent capacity) and a mask mandate for all visitors, about 1,200 audience members filled the seats of the outdoor theater of the Busan Cinema Center, the festival’s main screening venue. The event was hosted by South Korean stars Song Joong-ki (Vincenzo) and Park So-dam (Parasite), giving the country its first red carpet ceremony since the coronavirus pandemic began.
A range of local and international film professionals were on hand for the celebrations, including Oscar winner Bong Joon Ho and his Parasite star Park, French auteur Leos Carax (Holy Motors, Annette) and rising Japanese art house director Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Drive My Car).
“I was really homesick and missed this moment,” said veteran Korean actor Choi Min-shik (Old Boy), lead of the opening film, on opening night. “What more can I say?”
Heaven: To the Land of Happiness was included in the selection of the aborted 2020 Cannes Film Festival and had to wait until this moment in Busan to finally premiere. The film is a road movie about two men — a prisoner known by his inmate number “203” and Nam-sik, suffering from terminal brain cancer — who happen to get their hands on a large amount of money and search for their last moments of happiness.
On opening night, the festival gave its Asian Filmmaker of the Year award to director Im Kwon-taek (Seopyeonje), one of Korea’s most renowned and prolific directors. The prize is presented each year to an Asian film artist or organization that has made significant contribution to Asian film industry and culture. Director Im Sang-soo presented the filmmaker with his trophy, while Bong was on hand to give him a bouquet of flowers.
“I made my debut film in the early ’60s and shot over 100 films so far,” said Im from the stage. “But I still haven’t made a film that feels complete. Now that I’m older, I think that there might not be an opportunity for me to shoot such a film. Still, I am so happy that I have lived my life making movies that I have loved so much.”
This year’s Busan festival will screen 223 films, about 70 percent of the usual program from the pre-pandemic period. But the event has tried to add festive elements. Aside from a red carpet ceremony, there will be “Open Talk” events between directors and audiences, a hand-printing ceremony and a Q&A session with actors. As a satellite event, the organizers have also installed screens in neighborhoods throughout the city to screens festival titles for the movie-loving public.
It’s also evident that Busan is trying to embrace the industry’s expanding platforms and balance its weight between art house films and commercial content. This year, the festival added a new program called “On Screen,” which features new drama series from streaming platforms such as Hellbound, director Yeon Sang-ho’s Netflix original series, and Forbidden, an original series from HBO Asia. Busan’s film market, which was originally known as the “Asian Film Market,” also changed its name to Asian Contents and Film Market in 2019 as a way of including content that are distributed through non-traditional platforms, such as streaming services.
The recent leadership changes at the event – both the festival and market director are new to their roles this year — will also shed light on the creative direction of Busan’s future. Busan suffered a major political strife with the government in 2014, when it refused to cancel the screening of the controversial documentary Diving Bell, which delves into the failed rescue of the Sewol Ferry, which sank and killed 250 Korean school children and ultimately led to former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment in 2017. As a result of the conflict, many in leadership roles were forced to leave the festival and Busan’s budget was slashed significantly. That wound from Busan’s recent past remains in the minds of many at the top of the festival leadership and in the local government.
Heo Moon-young, Busan’s newly appointed festival director, said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, that he feels “the view of the festival was more friendly and warm” when he was a festival programmer in early 2000s. “Now people seem more cold and strict. You could say that it’s a natural transition, but I think these are the barriers we need to overcome.”
In an interview with a Korean press, Park Hyeong-joon, the new mayor of Busan, seemed clearly aware of the impact of the government’s interference on the festival’s reputation, and said, “Film festivals should not be swayed politically.” On Wednesday, Park, who attended the opening-night event, said: “As an avid fan of BIFF, I watched what was happening to the festival over the years and cheered [for its success]. Now as mayor, I will spare no effort to support the festival for it to become the center of world cinema.”
The Busan International Film Festival runs Oct. 6-15, closing with Anita, Hong Kong director Longmond Leung’s biopic about Cantopop star Anita Mui.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
the banshees of inisherin