Busan: Asian Stars Convene to Celebrate Festival’s Return to Normalcy

Busan city view - Getty H 2016
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The South Korean event has bounced back after four years of being rocked by a censorship scandal.

The 23rd Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) kicked off Thursday with a glitzy opening ceremony, boasting a star wattage that loudly announced the festival's return to normalcy.

Oscar-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto — recipient of the annual Asian filmmaker of the year award — as well as superstar Jang Dong-gun and veteran filmmaker Im Kwon-taek lit up the red carpet at Busan Cinema Center.

Popular local screen actors Kim Nam-gil and Han Ji-min co-hosted the event, which saw the arrival of international film fest VIPs from Cannes, Berlin, Tokyo and Singapore.

Other powerful local filmmakers in attendance included Kim Yong-hwa, Lee Myung-se, Lee Joon-ik, Bong Man-dae and E.J. Yong. Their presence officially confirmed the end of a boycott by major local film organizations including the Directors Guild of Korea. During the past two years, the likes of Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon Ho were conspicuously absent from Busan as they refused to attend amid a censorship controversy.

The issue dates back to 2014, when the festival refused to cancel a screening of the politically sensitive documentary The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol against the wishes of then-Busan mayor and BIFF chairman Suh Byung-soo.

Busan city, which funds about half of BIFF's annual budget, responded with drastic funding cuts and unprecedented state audits. Leading local film organizations then said they would boycott the festival because of the government's obvious attempts at censorship and political interference.

Local filmmakers also boycotted the event in a gesture of support to its co-founders, former fest director Lee Yong-kwan and deputy Jay Jeon, who were forced out. To make matters worse, BIFF then lost another beloved co-founder, head programmer Kim Ji-seok, who died suddenly during last year's Cannes Film Festival.

Organizers have since introduced the Kim Ji-seok award. This year also sees a new addition honoring the late programmer-cum-deputy director: Platform Busan. Kim is known to have planned the networking event for several years, and this year’s inaugural edition will allow some 180 indie filmmakers from around the Asian region to meet and share ideas.

This year's festival opened with the world premiere of Beautiful Days, a film by South Korean helmer Jero Yun about a North Korean defector who reunites with her son after 14 years of separation.

"I've been coming to Busan for many years, and the last few years it was very sad back to see the festival go through such difficulties. So it's wonderful to see that things are not only back to normal, but are even better. [The opening ceremony] was the one of the best opening ceremonies I've seen in many years, with support from many people," said Hong Kong star producer Shi Nansun.

BIFF's 2018 edition features 323 films from 79 countries, which is a significant increase from last year’s lineup of 300 films from 76 countries.

BIFF will continue through Oct. 13, closing with the latest in the Hong Kong martial arts franchise, Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy. The Asian Film Market will be held Oct. 6-9 in conjunction with the festival.

Updated 9:46 p.m. Oct. 4 Quote by Shi Nansun added.