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The Busan International Film Festival: Asia's Numero Uno Film Festival



The  Biggest, Best-organised Film Festival in Asia 


The Busan International  Film Festival, held in the lush beach-town of Busan in Korea, and now in its 18th year ,is  easily the biggest and best-organised festival in Asia.

With nearly 300 films from 70 countries, including  94 world-premieres, a guest-list of 1000 from around the world, an audience-number of  200,000, media of 2,000, this $ 10 million festival  has much to be proud off.

Add to this, other important  film-activities like the Asian Film Market, Asian Cinema Fund,  Asian Film Academy, Asian Project Market, all of which make this festival one of a kind, in Asia.

Where else would one find a 1000-odd  number of volunteer-staff- students,  studying everything from Business Management to Foreign Languages, doubling up as drivers, usherers ,bus-attendants , only because of their supreme love for cinema?

The soft-spoken but  quietly dynamic  Festival Director Lee Yong-kwan, admitted that he had an excellent team, including eight knowledgeable Programmers, which was why he could take over the festival easily, when his predecessor, the legendary Kim Dong-ho retired, after staying at the helm for  nearly two decades.

“ We founded the Festival together ,and are still closely in touch ”  stated Lee, about the genial Kim, who was himself the subject of a docu-film, screened at this year’s festival, called ‘Ongoing Smile’ directed by famous Iranian director Mohsin Makmalbaf. The Paris-based Iranian film-maker admitted that this was one of his favourite  film festivals in the world.

It is indeed, the favourite  festival of film-directors from around the world, especially Asia, which is why we had luminaries like Hirokazu Koreida from Japan, Jia Zhangke from China, Elia Suleiman from Palestine, Rithy Panh from Cambodia, Mani Ratnam from India, Aditya Assarat from Thailand, Amos Ghitai from Israel, Adolfo Alix from Philippines, and many others attending the festival, this year.

From America, the biggest name was Quentin Tarrantino, who did a talk-session  with  the Korean Director most-in-the-news,  Bong Joon Ho.

The latter’s  latest film ‘Snowpiercer’ is a mega international production, starring Hollywood stars   Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, John Hurt. The film is the biggest ‘hit’ in Korea, and  will also be globally released soon.

The other Korean film that created a stir, at the festival was ‘Moebius’ by their best-known (and controversial) director Kim ki Duk. Taking off from his 2012 Venice Festival award-winner ‘Pieta’, the film is another Oedipal tale, but endowed with more violence, as it centres around the cutting off the son’s penis by the mother! This is the starting point for  another cruel and ironical tale of sex, revenge, and vengeance. At the Q & A, after the film, the Director said that the story was his way of  destroying the myth of male superiority vis a vie the  penis !

When questioned about how a mild ,soft-spoken individual like him, could make such a tough, violent film, the director quipped that he was  “ Honest, which is why I can make movies that others don’t dare to do-!”

‘Green Chair’ an erotic drama by Park Chul-soo, also attracted attention, as it was the last film of  the young Korean director, who died tragically, in a road accident, earlier this year.

At the other end of the spectrum, was a grand Retro by Korean master film-maker Im Kwon-taek, nearly 80 years old, and still outstandingly creative, currently working on his 102 nd film!

The  World Cinema section boasted of  award-winning films from the top festivals of the world, from Cannes to Berlin, Locarno, Sundance.

There was also a vibrant Irish film-package, and top directors like Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan attended the festival.

From India, came an  interesting assortment of films,  which included ‘Kadal’ from veteran Tamil  Mani Ratnam, ‘hit’ Bollywood movie ‘Run Milkha Run’ , the Cannes-entry ‘Lunch Box’, and brand-new indie films ‘Quissa’ and ‘Queen.’

Thailand had two movies in the Competitive ‘New Currents’ section-  well-known editor Lee Chatametikool,’s debut film ‘Concrete Cloud’, with top actor Ananda Everingham playing the lead, and   ‘Isthmus’, the debut feature of academics  Sopawan Boonnimtra and  Peerachai Kerdsint,

There was also ‘Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy’ directed by the talented  Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, which was premiered at the Venice Festival, and centred around  the 421 tweets of a young girl ( the director’s earlier film ‘36’ which won an award at the Busan festival in 2011, centred around 36 camera-shots saved  in a computer.)

The Thai super-hit ghost film ‘Phrae Mae Nak’ ,  was part of the popular Midnight screenings in the  festival.

Thai indie director Aditya Assarat was one of   six top SE Asian Directors who contributed to the omnibus film ‘Letters from the South’ , about the Chinese diaspora in SE Asia. The other well-known directors in this film, included Roystan Tan ,Sun Koh (Singapore), Tsai Ming Liang (Taiwan), Midi Z ( Myannmar),Tan Chui Mui (Malaysia).

Another  important film  was the  Laos-Australian film ‘The Rocket’ which was shot in Thailand. It won a Special Jury Award at the Berlin festival, and is  Australia’s Oscar-entry, this year.

‘The Rocket’ is the Opening Film of the World Film Festival of Bangkok, in November.

Infact, most of the Thai films screened at  the Busan film festival, will be screened at this indie  festival.

The award-winners in the ‘New Currents’ section included Pascha from Korea( a strong tale of a love-affair between a 40-year-old woman and 17-year-old youth), ‘Remote Control’ from Mongolia (very creditable for the remote mountain-country) ,‘Transit’ from Philippines ( the country’s Oscar-entry,this year).

Needless to say, the  highlight of the Festival is always the  huge selection of films from the host-country. These included  noted director Hong Sang Soo’s Venice-entry ‘Nobody’s Daughter’ , and other interesting movies like ‘Thuy’, Han Gong Ju.’

The Netpac Award was won by ‘Ten Minutes’ and the Fipresci Award by ‘Shuttlecock’, both from Korea.

Other Asian movies that this writer enjoyed, were  ‘ Toilet Blues (Indonesia), The Nightingale, Einstein & Einstein  ( China), Once upon a time in Vietnam (Vietnam),The Missing Picture (Cambodia), Ilo Ilo ‘ (Singapore.

My favourite movie of the festival, was Hirokazu Koreida’s ‘Like Father Like Son’ ,which created waves at Cannes. The director’s incredible capacity to cull out a family-drama and wring out our hear-strings, seems pretty unmatched in contemporary cinema.

The Opening Film ‘Vara: A Blessing’ from Bhutan’, created a waves, as it was  the first time that a non-Korean movie was chosen for this honour. The Indian tale ,with an Indian cast, was directed by the country’s best-known film-maker, the monk-director  Khyentse Norbu.

I found the Film Market quiet this time, compared to earlier years, but for the record, they had  198 film-companies from 32 countries.

The Asian Film Academy had 23 participants from 15 countries ,selected from a huge number of entries.

The Asian Project Market had 30 projects, out of which nine were awarded grants, from film-companies as varied as Arte, Technicolor, Lotte.

As for the BIFF Conference ( Subject: “ The Politics of Film Restoration and Preservation in the Digital Era”), it    had as many as 616 participants, including 71 from abroad.

All in all, the Busan International Film Festival lived up to its indomitable reputation, as  Asia’s Numero Uno film festival.




                 With Festival Director Lee Yong-kwan

                             Photo           The Red Carpet drive in front of the gleaming Busan Film Centre



The long Red Carpet continues---                The huge open-air theatre,in the new Busan Film Centre,for the Opening & Closing films,as well as daily screenings
















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I'm an Indian film-writer, based in Bangkok, and write for publications in India & Thailand. I also coordinate and curate film programs in the two countries, at cultural centres/clubs, film festivals.



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