By Lee Hyo-won
The Pusan (Busan) International Film Festival (PIFF) will open its 14th edition with a star-studded local drama, organizers announced Tuesday, spotlighting the recovery of the South Korean movie industry.
The leading Asian event from Oct. 8 to 16 in the southern port city will screen a record lineup of 355 films from 70 countries, including 98 world premieres.
The festival kicks off with “Good Morning President,” directed by Jang Jin and starring heartthrob Jang Dong-kun and veteran actors Lee Soon-jae and Ko Doo-shim. The three star as three fictitious Korean presidents.
The selection garnered much attention since PIFF had in the past made more “experimental,” pan-Asian choices such as last year’s Kazakh film “Gift to Stalin.” The 9.9 billion won event closes with the Chinese spy thriller “The Message,” helmed by Taiwan’s Chen Guo-fu and China’ Gao Qunshu.
“Choosing a Korean film as the opening piece has symbolic significance, to revamp the slack Korean film industry,” PIFF festival director Kim Dong-ho told reporters Tuesday in Seoul.
The local film industry is enjoying a strong recovery. The disaster film “Haeundae,” coincidentally shot in Busan, became one of the country’s highest grossing films in recent years, beating Hollywood competitors including “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”
“Even though `Good Morning President’ has strong mainstream appeal it seethes with the unique humor of the multifaceted cineaste Jang Jin,” said programmer Lee Sang-yong.
Jang, the prolific theater director, playwright, screenwriter and producer (“Welcome to Dongmakgol”), returns to PIFF for the first time in 12 years since his feature debut “The Happenings” was screened in the 2nd edition of the festival.
“I didn’t know (my film was going to be chose) so I just shot it with ease. Had I known I would’ve tried to make it more worth of an international audience. I shot it with great excitement,” said Jang. “Even though there’s a jinx in the industry that PIFF opening films don’t do well in the box office, I’m happy the film gets to meet the audience riding the pleasant sea breeze of Busan.”
Jang Dong-kun, who had been off the public radar since his last movie “Typhoon,” is expected to be seen at the festival. Other paparazzi magnets to be spotted include Hollywood beauty Moon Bloodgood and “Pearl Harbor” star Josh Hartnett as well as “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” actor Lee Byung-hun. The latter two visit in time to promote their movie, “I Come With the Rain” (directed by Tran Anh Hung, Gala Presentation section), which also stars Japanese heartthrob Kimura Takuya.
Other prominent guests include award-winning Chinese director Jia Zhangke, French helmer Costa Gavras and “X-Men” director Bryan Singer, who will give master classes. Chinese rocker Cui Jian will discuss “Chengdu, I Love You,” a collaboration with Hong Kong indie filmmaker Fruit Chan and Korea’s beloved melodrama director Hur Jin-ho.
Italian maestro Dario Argento will also be in town to grace his namesake retrospective section and popular actor/short film director Yu Ji-tae will judge short films.
The unprecedented size of the lineup ― up 40 from last year, with a record 144 world and international premieres ― evoked some concern among the press that it was “too much,” particularly since the festival director had said last year that between 280 and 300 films was ideal.
“We have invited films from diverse regions including Africa as well as works from third world countries. We had to add special sections for director Argento’s visit and the late director Yoo Hyun-mok. It was also difficult to deny a spot for the great works by emerging or debuting directors,” said the festival director.
In addition to Yoo Hyun-mok, the festival features a retrospective on Ha Kil-dong. Organizers are also planning sections on the works of Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To and independent films from the Philippines. This year’s Asian Filmmaker of the Year Award will go to Indian director and producer Yash Chopra.
Newly added features include the Flash Forward Award in the Flash Forward section, which spotlights the first or second works by newly emerging cineastes outside of Asia. PIFF will also host events to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Korea Academy of Film Arts.
For more information about the festival visit www.piff.org.