A Chance to Delve into Asian Cinema

in 27th Busan International Film Festival

by Eija Niskanen

Since its inauguration in 1995, Busan FF has grown to be the most important film festival in Asia, attracting lots of filmmakers, producers, investors, festival programmers and, of course, film critics. The festival has several competition sections, of which the newest, first-time section is the Kim Jiseok Award, to commemorate the former head programmer of the festival, who tragically passed away at Cannes Film Festival in 2017. This award is for filmmakers in their mid-career, with 2-3 feature films under their belt.

The FIPRESCI jury watched the New Currents competition, comprising 11 films from directors in the early part of their career (and the same films were seen by the NETPAC jury). The programme contained many interesting films, several of which ended up with awards in one or another section; several prizes were handed out by festival sponsors and co-organisers, as well as the audience prize. The Korean title A Wild Roomer and its director Lee Jeong-hong received several awards: the film is a solid everyday drama with low-key humour, like a Hong Sang-soo film for younger generations. It concentrates on an apartment building, where the protagonist is working as a handyman. Weird everyday events and misunderstandings happen and lead to the formation of a loose web of human relations. Another Korean film, Hail to Hell by Lim Oh-jeong, featured female energy through the story of two girls, who infiltrate a weird religious cult to punish their former bully classmate. The Kashmir based film The Winter Within (directed by Aamir Bashir) is beautifully filmed and deals with the complex political situation in Kashmir, through the eyes of a young woman whose husband has been arrested. Ajoomna (directed by He Shuming, a Singapore-Korea co-production) tells a humoristic and sentimental story of a Singapore granny, who, as a big fan of Korean TV dramas, takes a tour of the shooting locations, but ends up getting to know Koreans deeper than she could have dreamed. The Indian film Shivamma (directed by Jaishankar Aryar) concerns a family, whose mother starts a pyramid scam sale of a health drink, which claims to cure everything from diabetes to hair loss. Although the New Currents series had a couple of weaker films, such as the Malaysian film A Place Called Silence which was unnecessarily violent, or the Thai film Blue Again with a 190-minute runtime, overall the selection included many interesting films from Asia.

The FIPRESCI jury awarded the Japanese film Thousand and One Nights, directed by Nao Kubota. The film is an emotionally balanced and well-structured story of two women in the same situation: both women’s husbands have disappeared, one 30 years ago, the other 2 years ago. Did they perhaps get abducted to North Korea? Through these two women and their friendship, the film tells the story of loss, but also about the possibility to rebuild life after a huge loss. The setting on the Sado Island and the cinematography of Kore-eda’s frequent DOP Yutaka Yamazaki, underline the story. Veteran actress Yuko Tanaka and Machiko Ono in the younger women’s role create believable, rounded characters.

The FIPRESCI jury was guided through the festival by programming director Nam Dong-chul, guest coordinator Serina Park, and the wonderful volunteers who took care of us at the venues and outside. Busan is back in business after the Covid restrictions, selling 100% of seats, with masks obligatory in the theatres. The smooth and professional running shows that BIFF will continue strongly as the central festival to see Asian cinema in years to come.

Eija Niskanen
Edited by Birgit Beumers