Pusan fest's best offered new look


BUSAN, South Korea -- With an avalanche of films and sections this year, even the most diligent viewer would feel snowed under. To give an overview of the quality of selections is difficult because it's still touching the tip of the iceberg even after watching 30-40 films.

It's worth taking one's eyes off competition films to check out showcases of Kazakhstan, the Philippines and Indonesia. The Philippines is particularly strongly represented, offering modestly budgeted films with alternative content and aesthetics from the gritty digital fest films set in slums. "Baby Angelo," "Confessional" and "100" give an idea of the versatility of Philippine independent cinema.

Similarly, Indonesian films develop subject matter distinct from the national mainstream, which is haunted by trashy horrors and satiated with saccharine romances. "Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly" voices the Indonesian-Chinese experience in the director's unique visual symbolism. "Fiksi" tries to play with the erotic-psychological thriller. "Chants of Lotus" is a female-staffed project that explores issues of women while situating their experiences in different regional and cultural contexts.

The omnibus retrospective program also is something that other festivals can help to expand in order to give more exposure to creatively and politically engaging works like "9808 Anthology of 10th Year Indonesian Reform."

Some festival regulars complain that to maintain a cutting-edge reputation, programrs are breeding a pseudo-genre of films that are self-consciously artsy, long and static. Taking a sampling from New Currents and Korean Cinema Today, what scores are works that don't set their artistic sights and production budgets too high but concentrate on character-driven scripts that use core protagonists and few locations yet manage to frame the characters within a strikingly cinematic topography.

"Oishi Man" one of the discoveries in Panorama, is such a film. Set in Sapporo and capturing breathtaking snowy scenery, it echoes the quirky humor and Zen rhythm of Japanese independent directors like Nobuhiro Yamashita but remains recognizably Korean in the leading role's development. "Naked of Defenses," in New Currents, uses a concise film language to tell a deeply emotional story of female bonding and is extraordinary in its use of music (or lack of it). The death-focused features "Members of the Funeral" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" display originality, and "Miao Miao" charms.

Viewing along these lines, one of the greatest delights of the festival turned out to be a market screening. "My Dear Enemy," by Lee Yoon-ki, who won in New Currents in 2004 with his debut "This Charming Girl." "Enemy" creates a warm rapport between knockout leads Jeon Do-youn and Ha Jung-woo in a mellow urban romantic interlude.

Since Pusan attracts such an international audience, the difference in taste has given rise to interesting dissension in opinion over certain films, such as "Cape No. 7," "Crush and Blush" and "100." While Asian audiences embraced them for the local humor, sharp dialogue (which does not translate well into subtitles) and melodramatic content, film professionals from Europe and the U.S. expressed exasperation with their "triteness" or loudness.

It would be interesting to hold informal talk events to foster greater exchange about viewing cultures and critical criteria.