Geum Yi

Busan film festival to open in near normal after downsizing in 2020

October 6, 2021

The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) will open its 26th edition in the southern port city of Busan on Wednesday for a 10-day run with a bigger emphasis on offline events and screenings after a pandemic-disrupted year.

Asia’s biggest film festival will have in-person opening and closing ceremonies and a red carpet event, as South Korea seeks to return to normal life later this year when a vast majority of the population gets fully vaccinated.

Last year, the BIFF was held on a smaller scale due to the pandemic with no opening and closing ceremonies as well as other outdoor events and no overseas guests invited. Films were shown only once each at the Busan Cinema Center, the main festival venue in the city, located 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

But this year, the festival will almost return to normal, at least as far as movie screenings are concerned. All invited features will be shown at six theaters, a normal level, with no online screenings, while some short films will be streamed online, according to the festival authority.

The authority also said it will take all measures necessary to provide a safe environment under the city’s virus-control guidelines.

All visitors and participants will be required to present proof of vaccination or a negative result upon arrival, while every screening session will run at a maximum of 50 percent capacity.

The opening ceremony will be held at the outdoor theater of the Busan Cinema Center with some 1,000 people in the filmmaking industry to attend. It will be co-hosted by South Korean actors Song Joong-ki and Park So-dam.

In this file photo taken Oct. 21, 2020, the 25th Busan International Film Festival opens with the screening of the opening film "Septet: The Story of Hong Kong" at the Busan Cinema Center in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, without an opening ceremony. (Yonhap)
This image provided by the Busan International Film Festival shows a scene from "Heaven: To the Land of Happiness." (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
Director Im Sang-soo (1st from L) and the cast of "Heaven: To the Land of Happiness" attend a press conference in Busan on Oct. 6, 2021, during the 26th Busan International Film Festival in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)
The official poster of the 26th Busan International Film Festival (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

In this file photo taken Oct. 21, 2020, the 25th Busan International Film Festival opens with the screening of the opening film “Septet: The Story of Hong Kong” at the Busan Cinema Center in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, without an opening ceremony. (Yonhap)

“Heaven: To the Land of Happiness” by Im Sang-soo will be the first film to be screened at this year’s BIFF, followed by some 220 invitees from 70 countries, including the closing film “Anita,” a biopic film on Hong Kong singer and actress Anita Mui, directed by Leung Longman.

Starring seasoned actors Choi Min-sik of “Old Boy” (2003) and Park Hae-il of “The Host” (2006), “Heaven” is a road movie about two fugitive men. It was an official selection for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival but came to premier at BIFF, as the 2020 event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After hearing he has only few weeks to live due to a brain tumor, No. 203 (played by Choi), a long-term prisoner, breaks out of jail to see his daughter before his last day. He accidentally meets Nam-sik (played by Park), who suffers from an incurable disease and dreams of becoming rich to buy cures, and they start a journey together.

In a press conference held before the opening ceremony, director Im said his latest movie is different from his previous works that portray society in a cynical and satirical way, such as the political drama “The President’s Last Bang” (2005) and the erotic thriller “The Taste of Money” (2012).

“This movie looks good and innocent. I’ve made some skeptical films, but I’m a good and kind man,” he said laughing. “As I get older and older, I come across situations that push me to face death and think about it, like when hearing my close friend died. Those experiences moved me to begin this project,” he explained.

The number of selected films in 2021 rose slightly from a shortened collection of 192 films in the 2020 edition.

Three films will be shown at its prestigious Gala Presentation — Leos Carax’s “Annette,” the opening film of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” the winner of the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin film fest, and “Drive My Car,” awarded best screenplay at Cannes.

The two directors will visit Busan during the festival. Carax will host a master class and Hamaguchi will have a special discussion session with Oscar-winning director Bong Joon-ho.

In this year’s “New Currents” competition section, 11 films from 10 countries, including “The Absent Director” by Arvand Dashtaray from Iran, “Photocopier” by Wregas Bhanuteja from Indonesia and “Farewell, My Hometown” by Wang Er Zhuo from China, will vie for the prize.

Canadian director Deepa Mehta will lead the jury for the New Currents Award, along with Cristina Nord, a German filmmaker, and Korean directors Jang Joon-hwan and Jeong Jae-eun.

Three drama series — Netflix’s “Hellbound” and “My Name,” and HBO Asia’s original series “Forbidden” — will be shown at the inaugural “On Screen” section this year, designed to screen new drama series to be released on online video streamers, like Netflix.