Oct 112011


The Busan Cinema Centre is Bigger Than Jesus, Almost

Busan Cinema Center, Busan

A Beast of a Building

Let’s get one thing out of the way: the Busan Cinema Center is a ridiculous thing. It is a metallic mammoth, a flowing steel maze of platforms and escalators. It looks big in pictures, but that is not enough. Not until you look up and see its North Star—the centre of the outpouring rainbow of lights that covers the 30,000-square-metre outdoor ceiling—do you really understand what’s going on here.

The whole thing cost 1,678,500,000,000 won, or approximately a billion and a half US dollars.

At least two things need to be addressed here.

The first is the initial sense of wonder that one feels when looking up at this titanic jungle gym. It is an overwhelming feeling, and impressive in itself that the various levels of South Korean government agreed to invest so much money in this cultural experience.

The second consideration did not hit me until I reached the front of the popcorn line. Seeing all the ice cream and candied popcorn concession options forced me into nostalgia mode: the last time I had popcorn was in Halifax, Canada, at the classical and iconic Oxford Theatre. The Oxford has one screen, and not nearly as many options for frozen desserts.

I will stop short of turning this article into a “woe is the old cinema” rant, because you can piece together the contrast for yourself. Old moviehouses are slowly and sadly being closed down across North America. It is worth noting, however, that the Busan Cinema Center’s sleek grey and beige leather sofas, coupled with the subtle floorlights and beautiful contemporary design by Austrian firm Coop Himmelb, forced me to despite myself by acknowledging that this shit is pretty fucking mindblowing. The place literally smells like a new car. I dunno that it’s worth US$1.5 billion, but I’ll accept it.

Never Assume, Or You’ll Make an Ass of Yourself Exclusively

“Excuse me,” a Korean woman said, walking up to me as I wandered aimlessly outside the Cinema Centre. “Do you have time?”

“Oh, it’s around 7:05,” I said, unintentionally racist in assuming she meant to say “do you have the time?” Turns out she wanted me to write out my impressions of the BIFF in a single sentence on a flower-shaped post-it note for one of the festival’s projects. Caught off guard and embarrassed, I simply wrote, “This building is very big.” As soon as I walked away, I realized that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever written in my life, and I hope she realized that and ripped it up immediately.

At 20 minutes to 8:00, the theatre hadn’t opened yet, so I stood amidst a crowd of mostly Koreans with my small popcorn in one hand and ticket in the other. I notice that there is another Caucasian person, a light-haired girl with red glasses, to my left. We silently acknowledge that we are the only solo white people in the vicinity and sort of awkwardly half-smile to each other and say a few words. On the escalator, I ask her if she’s seen the movie before, and hear her speak a full sentence for the first time—and it is not in a not-North American accent. Turns out she’s Italian. Moral of the story: WOOPS LOOKS LIKE I’M RACIST AGAIN APPARENTLY. (If you’re reading this, Barbara, it was very nice meeting you, and I’m sorry I assumed you were American.)

Don’t Believe the Hype

BIFF Stars, BusanMy Monday night movie choice was The Host in 3D, a 2006 Korean monster thriller/comedy that has to date been one of the country’s most successful exports, transferred to 3D for the first time. (I’ve ranted about acclaimed filmmaker Bong Joon-ho already on this website.) So it was a thrill to realize, once the program director’s introduction had every Korean gasping and whipping out their cell phones, that Bong Joon-ho may actually be here, and sure enough, out he walked, alongside Park Hae-il (who plays the protagonist’s brother, Park Nam-il), the film’s producer and the 3D director.

Suddenly, mass excitement! A visionary director! A handsome actor! A rich producer! “Thank you for seeing [this movie] again,” the translator said for Mr. Bong. “It feels kind of weird.”

The only things said of course, were as boring as everyone’s dark, pixelated cell phone photos of four men standing far away in front of a blank screen. Mr. Bong thanked some people, the producer thanked some people and the coordinator thanked them all. Then they sat down in the front row to watch the movie, and left during the darkness of the end credits.

So, I can now say that I’ve seen one of my favourite directors, and it was the most underwhelming experience of the entire festival.

There’s a message in all this, folks: keep your expectations low, and don’t be racist.

  One Response to “Beside the Red Carpet: Vignettes from the BIFF”

  1. I saw Bong Joon-ho AND Song Kang-ho in Busan, in 2013. It was pretty cool for me! Did NOT manage to see Kang Dong- won, even though he was there. Still sorry about that.

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