Pusan fest opens with light and song


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BUSAN, South Korea -- Usually a quiet corner of South Korea's bustling port city, the Haeundae Yachting Center – the Pusan International Film Festival's traditional opening night venue -- came to life once again with throngs of gasping fans, a star-studded red carpet prelude, fireworks, and a little opera to kick off its 13th edition.

Echoing Cannes and Venice, the lead-in to the ceremony was a virtual fashion show, with Korean actresses dressed to the nines. Last to enter were the cast and director of "The Gift to Stalin," the first Kazakh film to open PIFF. Helmed by Rustem Abdrashev, and set in 1949, it tells of the Soviet government's forcible relocation of ethnic minorities to Central Asia.

The film's 9-year-old lead, boy actor Dalen Shintemirov, won hearts by attentively shaking hands with audience members along the way to the stage. Festival director Kim Dong-ho made the introductions for the 13th year, followed by a blast of fireworks and soprano Shin Young-ok singing Ennio Morricone's "Gabriel's Oboe" and "Habanera" from the opera "Carmen."

Next were bows from the New Currents jury headed by French new wave actress Anna Karina, but minus Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf who dropped out due to illness. Karina, who had herself canceled as a PIFF jurist in 2006, exclaimed how delighted she was to be at PIFF, saying with trademark panache, "I hope it's gonna be like this forever."

Following the screening, guests were shuttled to the Grand Hotel, where a reception in the grand ballroom was soon underway and bustling with industry familiars posing for cameras in every corner. Indefatigable veteran Korean director Im Kwon-taek made the rounds, while members of Korea's A-list, such as Jang Dong-gun and Shin Min-ah were secreted away to a private dinner.

Chie Tanaka, the lead in Taiwan runaway hit "Cape No. 7," was making her first appearance at a major festival. Screening in PIFF's Window on Asian Cinema section, the film was one of the first to strike a sales deal at the festival. Tanaka said her excitement got the better of her nervousness, adding "Pusan seems like a very artistic city. I can't wait to return."

By midnight, guests began scattering to various after-after parties. Yet, in the hotel lobby youthful fans stubbornly remained. Conspicuous at PIFF each year in growing numbers are bands of star-struck teenage schoolgirls, often still in their uniforms, eager to catch a glimpse of and possibly ravage their favorite celebrities. Stout security and a phalanx of volunteers kept order as top stars and guests walked the rug at both the opening venue and the after-party.