The Pusan International Film Festival has traditionally proved to be the world’s best showcase of Asian cinema. In its fourteenth year, the festival unveiled its biggest slate to date, showing 355 films from 70 countries (including 144 world and international premieres) and confirming its reputation as a major festival and the most influential film presentation in Asia.
Even though the South Korean film industry has recently faced harsh financial problems, PIFF had a very interesting and relevant survey of local films. There was a wide range of features, from works by well-known directors Park Chan-wook (Thirst) and Bong Joon-ho (Mother) to second films by directors such as King Dong Won (Drifting Away), Whang Cheol-mean (Moscow) and Lee Song Heeil (Break Away) who signal future trends in Korean cinema. There was also a local mega-hit, JK Youn’s Haeundae, which was filmed at the beach where PIFF’s head office is located during the festival. Haeundae has already attracted 11 million viewers, an impressive feat when you consider that the audience for local films has been shrinking. The fact that two Korean films in the gala presentation, Jang Jina’s opener Good Morning President and Lee Saang Woo’s A Little Pond, were also well-received by the public suggests that the local film industry still has a promising future.
This year, PIFF confirmed its high reputation in Asian films with the excellent program “A Window on Asian Cinema”, screening 55 films from 23 countries. The program was well-chosen, featuring some established and respected directors such as Rituparno Ghosh (The Eternal), Sabu (Kanikosen), Hirokazu Kore-eda (Air Doll), Lu Chuan (City of Life and Death), and Brillante Mendoza (Lola). Notably, PIFF continues to show films from countries which are still seeking recognition for their cinema: Iraq (Hussein Hassan’s Herman), Vietnam (Dang Nhat Minh’s Don’t Burn), Kazakhstan (Yermek Tursunov’s Kelin), and Afghanistan (Siddiq Barmak’s Opium War). With retrospectives for Yu Hyun-mok, Ha Kil-chang, Johnnie To and Yash Chopra, as well as the provocative Taiwanese film Massage on closing night, this was a very impressive look at Asian film.
The festival also has a wide selection of world cinema, for its large and enthusiastic young local audience. Winners at previous festivals were shown in this section: The Milk of Sorrow, The White Ribbon, Lebanon, Fish Tank, Cairo Time, Dogtooth, Hidden Diary, Lourdes, The Other Bank, Ward No. 6, Wrong Rosary. There was a new film, Honeymoon, from Goran Paskaljevic, who sat on the Pusan jury last year. Jean-Jacques Beneix chaired this year’s official jury, and his 1981 classic Diva was screened.
The highlights this year were in the “New Currents” section, featuring twelve films from Asia, mostly debut or early works. These films, which included many by female directors, gave us a view of the relationships between individuals in societies in transition. We saw relationships between brothers (Kazuya Shiraishi’s Lost Paradise in Tokyo), mothers and daughters (Charlotte Lim’s My Daughter), grandparents and grandchildren (Jiang Wenli’s Lan), couples (Payman Haghani’s A Man Who Ate His Cherries), and fathers and sons (Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Mundane History). A provocative view of relationships in turbulent societies was also present in Nosir Saidov’s True Noon, GB Sampedro’s Squalor, Park Chan Ok’s Paju, and the Iraqi film Kick Off by Shawkat Amin Korki. The latter was the most impressive, receiving the FIPRESCI Prize in addition to sharing the main jury award.
Kick Off paints a vivid picture of “ordinary” lives, in which the effects of war are always present. A group of people who have established an illegal multi-ethnic settlement at a disused stadium try to organize a football match between different nationalities. Their aim is to find motivation for future life together. In ravishing black-and-white images, Korki gives us a clear indictment of war and its political motivations.
That same quality, of simple truths coming to the surface, was seen in True Noon, a black comedy about the arbitrary boundaries between people from newly created states. It is the first film to be produced in Tajikistan after its exit from the Soviet Union. The subtly gripping Paju also dealt with relationships on the borderline; it depicts the forbidden love between a man and his sister-in-law in the unique location of Paju. Paju is a suburban city of Seoul as well as a long-standing military area, sitting next to the border which divides the two Koreas.
Edited by Lesley Chow
© FIPRESCI 2009