Oct 012011
 

Busan International Film Festival

BY MICHAEL FRAIMAN

Also check out our BIFF FESTIVAL GUIDE.

BIFF Overview: Movies Worth Keeping Your Eye On

One must be superficial when choosing what movies to see at a festival. It sounds harsh, but aside from the name and maybe a trailer on YouTube, there’s very little to effectively distinguish one film from 306 others. I recommend instinct— take a look at the program and find something you like. Failing that, just take my word for it and pick one of these.

THE HOST IN 3D

The Host, one of the most famous South Korean films (AKA film nerds in North America have seen it), is a politically-charged sci-fi monster movie by Jong Boon-Ho, whose entire body of work I have seen and can qualitatively state is near-fucking-flawless. The Host wasn’t made in 3D, but the producers seem pretty excited about the translation. And by “pretty excited” I mean they admit that it’s kind of dumb. From the BIFF website: “On the downside, some of the graphics are hard on the eyes, and the focus is inconsistent. But on the upside are a fast-paced plot and spatial elements of the Han River that merit 3D effects.” Points for honesty, guys. It’s still an awesome flick.

THE LADY

This is the latest from Luc Besson, the dude who gave Natalie Portman her big break at age 12 in Leon the Professional way back in 1994, and then nailed sci-fi action with The Fifth Element, then did a bunch of other French stuff and eventually Angel-A which was absolute pretentious shit. The Lady stars Michelle Yeoh as a woman at the forefront of the Burmese 8888 Uprising (a topic Wikipedia could tell you more about than I). Might be worth a shot if only because Besson himself will be floating around the festival to shed some interesting commentary on his work.

HANJI

For anyone interested in Korean history, you might dig this latest film by Im Kwon-Taek, who has directed literally 100 films before Hanji. (This is his 101st.) It’s a fictional docu-drama about a people who try and restore Jeonju Sago, the annals of the Joseon Dynasty that were burned hundreds of years ago, using the traditional Hanji script. Director Im is effectively South Korea’s Robert Altman/Sergio Leone/Akira Kurosawa, a director who’s been making films since the 1960s, but whose style is so delicate and deliberate that it might be deemed too slow for anyone not immediately grabbed by the phrase “restoring traditional annals”.

18 DAYS

This Egyptian film, fresh from praise and controversy at Cannes, is like if Paris, Je T’Aime or New York, I Love You were radically political and actually apropos of something. 18 Days is the result of collaboration between dozens of different filmmakers, actors and writers who compiled 10 short films about Egypt’s political uprising earlier this year. Based purely on the history of the “collaborative filmic smorgasbords” genre, odds are you’ll love some of the shorts and be bored to tears by others, but the intense timeliness of its topic gives the movie a certain attraction.

INDIE 3D: A FISH / PERSIMMON

These two low-budget 3D Korean indie films are being screened separately, but I am cramming them into one paragraph because they both fall under the genre “low-budget 3D Korean indie films”, which is a genre I flatly did not know existed. A Fish is Park-Hong Min’s directorial debut, about a professor who hires a private detective to search for his former wife-turned-shaman. Persimmon, meanwhile, takes place entirely within a rural town’s public toilet, and tells individuals’ stories with allegedly good use of its 3D effects. I’m sold on both.

YOYOCHU IN THE LAND OF THE RISING SEX

A documentary on Japan’s porn industry. Yep.

THIS IS NOT A FILM

This is a documentary and essentially one-man-show featuring acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who is currently serving a six-year house arrest sentence and 20-year filmmaking ban in Iran for alleged political and social subversion. (He denies all charges.) Because he cannot legally make a movie, his moviemaking friend, Mojtaba Mirtahasebi, showed up to his apartment and filmed what he does in an average day. General response from Cannes: “You think it’ll be boring, but it’s actually really interesting.”

POONGSAN

A politically charged action movie directed by director Hong Juhn-Jae (Beautiful) and writer Kim Ki-Duk (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring). Poongsan deals with a smuggler who runs across the North/South Korean border to deliver a North Korean woman to Seoul, but gets caught up in gun fights and Mexican stand-offs along the way. Stylistically similar to 2010’s The Man From Nowhere and those other movies where badass loner Korean killers get mixed up in politics they’d rather avoid.

RYANG-KANG-DO: MERRY CHRISTMAS, NORTH!

There isn’t a lot written about this film, but the premise is immediately intriguing for anything with any interest in North Korea. It is a fictional series of snapshots showcasing children in a small North Korean village, with purportedly amazing child actors. It’s director Kim Sung-hoon’s debut feature, but he’s worked as assistant director to Kim Ki-Duk (one of the festival’s key guests), so he can’t be that bad.

CHINESE ACTION CINEMA: THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE / LET THE BULLETS FLY / THE SWORD IDENTITY

There are a few Chinese/Hong Kong action movies to watch out for, but these three get points for being wildly different in style and direction. The Sorcerer and the White Snake is a magical CGI romp filled with dragons and tsunamis and Jet Li; Let the Bullets Fly is the latest Chow Yun-Fat flick, a slower-paced, more brooding sort of violent landscape that takes place around the turn of the century; and The Sword Identity is a debut effort by a film scholar and novelist, taking a decidedly more philosophical approach. Take your pick.

KIM KI-DUK: ON THE FRONT LINE OF KOREAN GENRE FILMS (A RETROSPECTIVE)

This year’s retrospective will be on director Kim Ki-Duk (the 1934-born filmmaker, not the 3-Iron director mentioned above), featuring eight highly different genre films, including Buy My Fist (1966), a classic boxer-comeback story; Monster Yonggari (1967), a Godzilla-style monster movie; and his most influential work, the post-war The North and the South (1965).

 

There are literally hundreds more—including a Vietnamese gay prostitute love story, Terrence Mallick’s recent hit The Tree of Life and an Estonian adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot—but we’ll leave the list alone here because you can figure things out for yourself. Worst comes to worst, choose one at random and see what happens. For six bucks, the worst that happens is you’re bored for an hour

Sep 272011
 

Busan International Film Festival

BY MICHAEL FRAIMAN

Check out our BIFF FILM GUIDE

I know, I know. Movies are cool. But film festivals? Even when you speak the language, navigating a pretentious labyrinthine orgy of independent art is a daunting prospect. All these movies! All these names! Can’t I just save my money and download the popular ones later?

No, you easily-intimidated Westerner, you! The Busan International Film Festival (Oct. 6-14) is actually a terrific way to see movies you may literally never get the chance to see again. And even though the whole thing seems harder to tackle than some NFL linebacker I don’t know the name of because I’m obviously a movie guy (is a linebacker even someone you tackle?), for the more culturally adventurous among you, we’ll break down the heaping loads of information about the BIFF, starting at the top.

FIRST OFF: WHAT IS IT?

The BIFF is arguably Asia’s most influential film festival, and inarguably its largest. When it began in 1996, it screened 170-odd films, and that number has nearly doubled to 307 this year. There is a definite slant towards Korean/Asian cinema, but it is unquestionably international. Most movies will have English subtitles. (You can find which do and don’t on the screening schedule legend—every movie that doesn’t have a little letter next to it does.)

WHAT MAKES THIS YEAR SPECIAL?

There are three answers:

The biggest change is the new Busan Cinema Centre. They began constructing this glossy behemoth back in 2008 and only finished it this September. I don’t think anyone has properly seen it yet, but I suspect it’s freakishly big. There are a lot of stats on the thing which you can look up on your own word count; basically, it’s next to Centum City both in terms of proximity and magnitude, and looks like if an alien mothership landed and was transformed into a future-themed amusement park that also showed movies.

Secondly, the festival has physically moved to the swanky eastern area of Haeundae. (You can find a map of the area here—it’s all near Centum City and the new centre.) The fest has been traditionally held in Nampo-dong’s PIFF Square, but this year, it will only host the pre-opening ceremony on Oct. 5.

Lastly, the whole thing used to be the Pusan International Film Festival. This is the first year they’re calling it “Busan”, eleven years late, and claiming it means something about moving towards the future, presumably connected with their alien-dinosaur of a theatre complex. Be a part of history!

I ONLY CARE ABOUT CELEBRITIES. TELL ME ABOUT CELEBRITIES!

Not too many big-name Hollywood folks tend to make it across the various ponds. (In fact, only a handful of American films will be screening—namely Terrence Malik’s The Tree of Life and the funky Mel Gibson one where he talks through a beaver puppet.) This year, the four featured names in Busan will be Luc Besson, of Leon the Professional and The Fifth Element fame; Isabelle Huppert, who’s appeared in The Piano Teacher and dozens of French films; Yonfan, the mono-named Hong Kong director of A Certain Romance and Colour Blossoms; and Kim Ki-Duk, the Korean filmmaker who directed 3-Iron and the deftly beautiful Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring.

YOU MAY NOW BE VAGUELY INTERESTED—SO HOW DOES ONE BUY A TICKET?

Know that a regular screening ticket price is 6,000 KRW (8,000 KRW for 3D). For context: I hail from Toronto originally, where a TIFF ticket is like 20-something dollars. Six bucks, for Christ’s sake! See a movie! See all the movies!

Starting Monday, September 26, you can purchase ticket online via credit card (theBIFF website is reasonably easy to navigate), in any of the venue theatres or at any Busan Bank ATM. Advance ticket info is available here, and you can find info on regular ticket sales here , while prices are listed here.

Map of theaters for BIFF, Busan

BIFF Theaters, Haeundae. Image from biff.kr

 

Map of theaters for BIFF, Busan

BIFF theaters, Centum City area. Image from biff.kr