All glitter and no substance?

October 4, 2013

 

Busan film festival generating buzz for reasons right and wrong

Director Im Kwon-taek, left, speaks to journalists about his upcoming film, “Hwajang,” which will star actor Ahn Sung-ki, right, in a news conference at the Busan International Film Festival, Friday. / Yonhap

Director Im Kwon-taek, left, speaks to journalists about his upcoming film, “Hwajang,” which will star actor Ahn Sung-ki, right, in a news conference at the Busan International Film Festival, Friday. / Yonhap

By Yun Suh-young

The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) is the most influential movie event in Asia. But it would be hard to tell from the early media coverage, which seems less focused on the cinematic work than on cleavage exposed on the red carpet.

Following the visual extravaganza that was Thursday’s opening ceremony, filmmakers and actors in Busan were doing their best to put movies back on the conversational forefront Friday.

BIFF, now in its 18th year, vows to strengthen its commitment toward unearthing the gems of Asian cinema, broadening its focus from Korea, China and Japan to other nations with less well known movie making sectors.

While that’s great, it would be hard to find a moviegoer in Busan who could name the film he or she was anticipating the most and explain why. Organizers could have done a better job in educating the public and generating interest in the films shown at the festival rather than wasting the first two days allowing it to regress as a vault for Internet glamour photos.

The most talked about movie-related news on Friday wasn’t even about a film that will be shown at this year’s BIFF. Veteran director Im Kwon-taek, one of the most respected auteurs of his generation, was in Busan announcing his plans to convert the popular Kim Hoon novel “Hwajang” into a film.

Actors Kim Min-jun, So E-hyun, Uhm Tae-woong, and actor-turned director Park Joong-hoon, from left, walk the red carpet during the festival’s opening ceremony, Thursday. / Yonhap

Actors Kim Min-jun, So E-hyun, Uhm Tae-woong, and actor-turned director Park Joong-hoon, from left, walk the red carpet during the festival’s opening ceremony, Thursday. / Yonhap

The story portrays a middle-aged man torn between his loyalty to his dying wife and his lust for a beautiful and younger colleague at work. Actor Ahn Sung-ki has agreed to play the protagonist and filming will begin in December. Hwajang, which in Korean means both “cremation” and “makeup,” will be Im’s 102nd film in a career that spans over five decades.

“My challenge is to convert Kim’s striking, gripping words to convincing cinematic language,” Im said in a news conference.

BIFF this year has prepared a special screening of Im’s definitive works, including “Seize the Precious Sword” (1971), “Mandala” (1981), “Come, Come, Come Upward” (1989), “The General’s Son” (1990) and “Chihwaseon” (2002), which won him the Best Director award in that year’s Cannes Film Festival.

While Im has been a successful filmmaker, it would be fair to say he has been struggling in recent years to resonate with a younger generation of moviegoers.

Teenagers were all about Ha Jung-woo, Korea’s most in-demand actor, who will use this year’s BIFF to introduce his directorial debut, “Fasten Your Seatbelt.” The comedy is set inside an airplane with an explosive mix of passengers, including air-headed entertainers, a shady business tycoon, a monk and flight attendants with decision-making problems. Things get interesting once the plane begins to fight bad weather.

Predictably, Ha and the film’s star Jung Kyoung-ho were greeted by high decibels the moment they appeared on the red carpet.

Park Joong-hoon is another high-profile actor unveiling his directorial work in Busan. His “Top Star” is a drama that stars Uhm Tae-woong, Kim Min-jun and So E-hyun and doubles as a commentary on the underbelly of Korea’s cut-throat entertainment industry.

Shin Young-shick’s “Rough Play,” based on a screenplay by master director Kim Ki-duk, is another movie with a critical take on the country’s entertainment industry. The movie deals with some pretty heavy stuff, but teens will be flocking to see it anyway because it stars Lee Joon, member of the popular K-pop band MBLAQ.

Lee wasn’t the only pop star in Busan. Taec Yeon, a member of 2PM, held a fan event with actress Lee Yeon-hee, Friday. They will be starring in the romantic comedy “Marriage Blue,” which will be released in November.

Kim Jee-woon, the bad boy of Korean film who is still licking his wounds over his disappointing Hollywood debut, “The Last Stand,” is experimenting with new technology in Busan.

His 30-minute film, “The X,” is based on what he describes as “screen X technology,” which enables the movie to be screened on three different walls of the theater.

The movie stars heartthrob Kang Dong-won, but that hardly matters because this is an experiment that is more about filming technology and editing rather than the finished product. Kang has already created some bad press for the movie by blowing off a scheduled press conference and being coy about his commitment to a fan meeting. After a flurry of criticism, Kang promised he wouldn’t miss the meeting.

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