Busan: Asia's Stars, Industry Giants Gather for Festival Opening Gala

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Chinese director Jia Zhangke is among the big names from the Asian film industry attending the Busan film festival.

The 18th edition of the Asian fest puts the spotlight on regional talent, such as Japanese star Ken Watanabe, South Korean actress Kang Soo-yeon and Chinese director Jia Zhangke.

BUSAN, South Korea – Some of the biggest names in Asian cinema gathered here on Thursday evening for the launch of the region's biggest film festival, which kicked off with the world premiere of Bhutanese musical drama Vara: A Blessing.

Box office revenues are booming in Asia, and the region's premier film event, which takes over the city's Haeundae beachfront, is attracting more attention than ever this year.

"I’d like to welcome film fans from Busan and cineasts from near and far to the festival," said Busan mayor and Busan International Film Festival chairman Hur Nam-sik. "The festival has established itself as a global event thanks to your passionate support. We are happy to present quality works in return."

The director of the opening film, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, Khyentse Norbu, from Bhutan, was in retreat in the mountains, but some of the biggest names in Asian film are attending the festival, including Academy Award-nominated Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Chinese director Jia Zhangke, as well as Hong Kong actor Aaron Kwok, who co-hosted the opening ceremony with South Korean actress Kang Soo-yeon.

"At Busan, audiences will be able to see and experience the rise and growth of Asian cinema," said festival director Lee Yong-kwan. "As a major Asian film festival, we feel it is our responsibility to represent and introduce the diversity and potential of Asian cinema, how Asian cineasts are creating new markets and new film genres out there."

Busan will also "look into the future of Korean cinema, as well as the cooperation we have with non-Asian regions," he said.

The Busan event aims to showcase new Asian talent, with more than 300 films to be screened over 10 days, including 95 world premieres.

The New Currents competition offers two prizes of $30,000 for first- or second-time Asian directors from a shortlist of 12 productions.

Veteran filmmaker Im Kwon-taek, who is being honored in his largest retrospective to date, and maverick director Kim Ki-duk made appearances, but the media spotlight was reserved for the screen stars, including Joe Odagiri and Atsuko Maeda from Japan and local actresses Ha Ji-won and Han Hyo-joo, who showed off glamorous red-carpet looks.

Stealing the limelight, however, was the lesser-known Korean actress Kang Han-na, who wore a daring back-revealing dress.

The competition's Asian Filmmaker of the Year honor will go to Cambodian director Rithy Panh for his work in preserving his country's films and audio-visual materials.

The director, who lost his family in a refugee camp during the Khmer Rouge regime, won the Un Certain Regard prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival with The Missing Picture, in which he retold the history of Cambodia.

Representing the international film world will be Oscar winner Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) and six-time Oscar-nominated director Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father), both of whom are attending the festival in support of a segment on Irish cinema.

Various events in Haeundae will give fans the chance to interact with stars, including Watanabe, as well as veteran Hong Kong actor Jimmy Wang, who is in Busan for a screening of his 1967 martial arts classic The One-Armed Swordsman.

Buzz has built around the first screenings of maverick South Korean director Kim Ki-duk's ultra-violent and dialogue-free Moebius, as well as the director's cut of Bong Joon-ho's English language sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer, starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, which is yet to be screened overseas.

The festival closes on Oct. 12 with the world premiere of the Kim Dong-hyun drama The Dinner.