South Korea's Bucheon Fantastic Fest to Spotlight Horror Masters, Women in Film

The Underdog Still 1 -Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival

Asia's largest genre event will pay homage to Wes Craven, George A. Romero and Tobe Hooper, while women filmmakers will feature heavily in its main competition.

The Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan) will open its 22nd edition with South Korean animated feature The Underdog and close with Indian drama Secret Superstar, organizers announced Thursday in Seoul.

Asia's largest genre event will present 290 films from 53 countries July 12-22 in Seoul's satellite city of Bucheon.

Opener The Underdog is by the creators of Leafie: A Hen Into the Wild, a landmark animated feature that broke domestic records for the genre at the 2011 Korean box office ($13.7 million).

"The Underdog has high artistic merit, appeals to a wide range of audiences with its upbeat yet moving storyline and makes its world premiere at BiFan. It was an easy decision to choose it," said festival director Choi Yong-bae.

The film follows a group of stray dogs that meets a gang of wild dogs, and their struggles to travel to the utopian "The Place." The lead characters are voiced by a popular set of actors including Do Kyung-soo, a member of the K-pop band EXO who has won critical acclaim for his roles in local productions such as 2014 Toronto Film Festival title Cart.

"The film took six years to make, which was a year less than Leafie," said Oh Sung-yun, who co-directed the movie with Lee Chun-baek. He added that the long production process is due to the lack of major animation studios in the country equivalent to Pixar or Japan's Studio Ghibli. "My dream is to be able to create one feature every two to three years, and I hope that The Underdog's exposure as opening film for BiFan will help its box-office performance this summer against some big-time competitors."

This year's festival will also salute the horror genre, reflected in BiFan's official trailer and poster, which pay homage to Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street. That 1984 film will be featured in a special program alongside other titles by Craven as well as titles from two other late American genre icons, George A. Romero and Tobe Hooper. "The focus on horror reflects BiFan's determination to restore its identity as a genre film event," said programmer Kim Bongseok.

This year's Korean box office has also seen a resurrected interest in domestic horror flicks, most notably with the success of Jung Bum-shik's Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum ($20 million). Epitaph, the 2007 horror melodrama directed by Jung, will be shown at the fest.

Festivalgoers will also be presented with a strong representation of women filmmakers and onscreen personas. "Bucheon Choice, the main competition section for emerging genre filmmakers, features an unusually high number of female talent," said BiFan's head programmer, Ellen Y.D. Kim.

"I wouldn't say this is the result of the #MeToo movement, but rather the result of how there happened to be a lot of works by women that we chose to invite to the film festival. It is true that many of these films were by rising young directors, so we decided to include them in the competition, because we believed it would be meaningful to show the unique visions of women. Genre films are after all the voice of the minority that makes a gesture toward diversity in cinema," Lee added.

Last year's edition featured a section on female villains and monsters, and this summer will see a showcase of how women are represented in sci-fi films such as The Stepford Wives (the original 1975 film, not the 2004 remake with Nicole Kidman).

Industry insiders will be able to partake in a diverse range of programs in the Big Industry Gather (BIG), including panels on new media such as virtual reality formats and South Korea-China co-productions. The 11th Network of Asian Fantastic Films (NAFF), launched in 2008 for the purpose of promoting genre film production and development in the region, will be held July 14-18.