New Look Busan Film Festival Draws to a Close

Nathan Willock/

The Cinema Center impresses but the Asian Film Market remains a question mark.

BUSAN, South Korea -- The Busan International Film Festival drew to a close on Thursday, with the 2011 edition featuring numerous firsts, but leaving question marks about the festival’s direction going forward.

This year marked the inauguration of the new $150- million Busan Cinema Center, designed by Austrian architects Coop Himmelblau, a dedicated facility that will serve as the festival’s permanent home.

The new facility drew rave reviews as it hosted the opening film, Song Il-gon’s melodrama Always. Chinese actress Fan Bingbing called it “just perfect,” while New Currents jury head Yonfan was full of praise as well: “It’s an enviable structure. It’s modern, impressive, and practical.”

It also saw Lee Yong-kwan take the reins from Kim Dong-ho after 15 years at the helm as festival director. Both were among the festival’s co-found- ers. Despite officially retiring, Kim was in attendance at the event, and was regularly seen in Lee’s company.

A significant and controversial change was the move of the Asian Film Market from the Seacloud Hotel to the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO). Some market veterans said they missed the more cozy hotel setting, and felt that despite badge numbers being up — 1,100 this year compared to 2010’s 789, according to festival organizers — the market still seemed quiet.

“I think BEXCO is too big, it looks empty. If you’re in the hotel it looks more crowded. The good thing about it is the transparency. All the stands are more visible,” said Andreas Struck, project director at European Film Promotion.

“We set up the event hall inside the exhibition hall this year, it’s good for the event par- ticipants, but some feel it was too noisy. So next year we’re going to put the exhibition hall in the second floor. There are some things to change but this kind of set up is better than hotel,” said Nam Dong-chul, manager of the Asian Film Market.

Some buyers, however, seemed quite pleased. “I don’t know how other countries or booths are going, but Taiwan has had a good year; we have two films in New Currents, three projects in PPP and APM and three films in Wide Angle, along with strong box office,” said Jennifer Jao, director of the Taipei Film Commission, approving of the new set-up.

“Traffic-wise and structure- wise it’s better than last year,” said Sonya Kim, manager of international business for Showbox. “For us, because we’re a Korean company, there is definitely a reason to be here. [When the Asian Film Market was at the Seacloud] there was no benefit to being in Busan for international sellers. It was so quiet, no one was around. But now that everything is combined it’s better.”

Noticeably absent from the festival was a significant Holly- wood presence. Despite having previously welcomed the likes of Oliver Stone, Bryan Singer, Willem Dafoe and Josh Hartnett, this year none of BIFF’s gala presentations were from Hollywood and no top actors or directors were in attendance.

However, representatives from Greater China appeared in force this year. Appearing at the festival for the first time was Chinese actress Fan Bingbing. Fan walked the opening night red carpet not once but twice, in two different outfits, with her film Yang Gui Fei’s Taiwan- based co-star Wang Leehom, also a BIFF newbie, and then later with My Way co-stars Oda- giri Joe and Jang Dong-gun.

Returning to BIFF after a 10-year absence were directors Peter Chan and Dayyan Eng, bringing with them their films

Wu Xia and Kevin Spacey-starrer Inseparable, respectively. Wu Xia star and media darling Tang Wei delighted Korean film fans and media for the second year in a row. Johnnie To cancelled his planned appearance at a gala presentation for his film Life Without Principle.

BIFF's final big event came Thursday night, with a screening of Harada Masato’s Chronicle of My Mother.