Showcasing of Korean Cinema

in 9th Busan International Film Festival

by Russell Edwards

This is my second time as a member of the FIPRESCI jury at Pusan International Film Festival. The first time was in 1999 when I was selected to be the Australian representative. And now five years later, I have been, for the first time, the chairperson of a FIPRESCI jury.

With one exception, I have come to PIFF every year since 1999 and I have seen the festival grow, and grow. It was already well progressed by the time I first arrived in 1999, but I have witnessed the festival secure its place as the most important film festival in Asia. And yet despite this growth, some things have not been lost. The hospitality at this South Korea festival is without peer and the festival is aware that to expand at the cost of the personal and friendly elements that helped make the festival a success in the first place would be to fail overall. Hence, while the film offers the best of European cinema for the local population and promises the best of Asia for the foreign guests, if the festival was not truly festive celebration of the Korean lifestyle with its emphasis on hospitality, the PIFF staff would probably regard the festival as a failure. However they have never let down me, or anyone else who has come to Pusan, and it is certain that they will continue this important festival in their own inimitable style.

PIFF has in the past acted as a showcase for Korean film in particular and the rise of PIFF has fruitfully coincided with a golden age of Korean cinema. In 2004, with Kim Ki-duk winning both Berlin and Venice prizes for two films in one year and Park Chan-wook’s Old Boy winning a major prize at Cannes, it is possible that we are now at the peak of that golden age. Or is the pinnacle much higher and will PIFF be the stepping stone for new directors to follow in the footsteps of these current champions, just as they follow in the wake of the elder statesmen of Korean cinema like Im Kwon-taek?

Either way, the truth is all national cinemas, no matter how rich, eventually experience slumps. While the quality of the Korean films of the past five years is welcome and I truly wish it to continue, PIFF faces the challenge of being able to exist as a festival beyond the showcasing of Korean cinema. For example, to imagine the Toronto Film Festival as a mere showcase for Canadian cinema is to misrepresent that North American juggernaut. In some the PIFF strategy, to succeed independent of the exuberant national cinema, is already in place, but the challenge is to ensure that the strategy succeeds. Only time will tell of course and for the sake of Korean film-makers I hope that time of challenge does not arrive too soon.

Russell Edwards