Posted : 2008-04-17 19:41
Updated : 2008-04-17 19:41

Jeonju Welcomes World Cineastes

9th Jeonju International Film Fest Opens May 1-9

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

Before Busan welcomes Asia's largest film event Pusan (Busan) International Film Festival (PIFF) each fall, Jeonju, the traditional arts hub of the nation, becomes a cinephile's paradise in the spring.

The 9th Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) brings 195 movies from 40 nations beginning May 1 through 9. JIFF, while large in scale like PIFF, offers a more intimate and homey environment.

While most international film festivals usually boast the number of world or international premieres, JIFF focuses on sharing high quality films, both old and new, that moviegoers may not be able to see outside of a film festival, festival programmer Jeon Su-wan said in a press conference earlier this month.

Film Feast

The opening and closing ceremonies will be held at Sori Arts Center. This year's opening film is ``The Kiss'' by Kunitoshi Manda. On May 1, local film buffs will be able to appreciate the international premiere of the latest work by the Japanese director. He became well known in the international film circuit when his film ``Unloved'' (2001) won the International Critic's Award at the Cannes festival in 2001.

``The Kiss'' is about an ordinary career woman who becomes drawn to a murderer. Despite the worries of the killer's lawyer, she approaches the killer and the two start corresponding. The film traces delicate human relationships and all its melodrama, all the while expressing ― or suppressing ― emotions with restraint.

The closing film this year is an omnibus project, ``If You Were Me 4.'' This is the fourth in a series of movies commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Five directors bring five different stories exploring human rights, particularly that of teenagers. Far from being gloomy, comedy and drama abound in the omnibus movie. In 2003, renowned directors like Park Chan-wook and Lim Soon-rye participated in the making of the first in the series, ``If You Were Me.''

The festival features three main programs. In the International Competition, 12 young, up and coming directors from Iran to the United States and the Philippines to Chile compete with their feature-length films for cash prizes. Jeonju Digital Project 2008 is at the very heart of the festival. Here, directors receive a budget and equipment to produce 30-minute films. The three shorts this year ― ``The Birthday'' by Idrissa Ouedraogo, ``Expectations'' by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun and ``The Alphabet of My Mother'' by Nacer Khemir ― will premiere at JIFF and attract distributors. Three promising young directors from Korea will present their work in the Short! Short! Short! 2008 section.

The rest of the films will be shown in nine out-of-competition sections. The Korean Cinema section maps out the potential of homegrown independent films, while Korean Shorts: Critic's Week showcases the highest quality short movies. Filmgoers can enjoy Vietnamese movies and Central Asian cinema in the two sections devoted to each, respectively. Participants can look into the latest film trends in world cinema in Cinemascape.

JIFF pays homage to Hungarian director Bela Tarr with the Retrospective section. There are 12 films, including three shorts. Especially notable is ``Satantango'' (1994), a seven-hour film that is considered one of the masterpieces of the 1990s. It was featured in the 2001 JIFF and comes back to Jeonju.

Families can enjoy the warm spring evening watching outdoor screenings. The lineup includes the delightful Japanese animation ``The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,'' American box-office hit ``Juno'' and the Korean women's handball story ``Forever the Moment.'' Later on in the night, moviegoers can continue the film feast in Midnight Obsession, special late night screenings offered over the weekend (May 4-6) at Chonbuk National University Culture Hall.

Festival participants, particularly aspiring filmmakers, can also look forward to master classes and cinema classes with notable cineastes. Scenario writer Acheong, director Kong Su-chang, who recently released the military mystery thriller ``GP506,'' and script writer Lu Wei will give master classes.

Cinema classes are seminars that explore various artistic themes. This year, there are several that compliment sections of the festival, like the ones on Vietnamese history, Central Asian films and Bela Tarr. Other seminars discuss the relationships between pop culture and film; postmodernism; and the future of Korean cinema under the nation's new presidency. Younger audiences can tune into Youth Voice, which shows nine works by teenage directors.

Must-See Films

Can't choose from the myriad of films? To make it easier, programmer Jung Su-wan gave The Korea Times a list of 10 must-see films and explains what makes them special:

``Continental, A Film About Guns'' (Canada, 2007; International Competition) is a black comedy that traces the mixed up lives of four people, who, unrelated, come together when a man goes missing.

``Ballast'' (U.S.A., 2008; International Competition) shows the aftermath of a man's suicide. This film observes how the man's twin brother, widow and family are devastated by the incident. The film focuses on each individual character rather than the narrative structure, but emotional elements are tightly suppressed.

``The Obscure'' (China, 2006; Cinemascape) is set in a writers' association seminar. It combines a debate scene between two speakers with a fictional love story. It brings into light the world of Chinese contemporary literature and what it means to live as a writer.

``Kisaragi'' (Japan, 2007; Cinema Palace) is about five people who meet as fans of a deceased idol. It delicately combines mystery and comedy that keeps you laughing while on the edge of your seat.

``The Silence Before Bach'' (Spain, 2007; Cinemascape) is one probably one of the greatest films on the German composer. It is an eclectic mix of fiction and documentary that features music by Bach.

``Dust'' (Germany/Switzerland, 2007; Cinemascape) is a documentary that makes you look at something useless ― dust ― in a different light. It is at once scientific and artistic.

``The Man From London'' (France/Germany/Hungary, 2007; Bela Tarr Retrospective) by Bela Tarr is based on a French detective novel. It is a keen psycho-thriller, and the uncut 13-minute long shot of people moving onto a train from a boat is particularly notable.

``Action Boys'' (Korea, 2008; Cinema Palace) is about eight students who meet at an academy to become action film actors. This documentary shows all the sweat and blood that goes into the process.

``Needle'' (Kazakhstan, 1988; Discovery: Central Asian Cinema) was a huge hit in the former Soviet Union, featuring Korean-Russian rock star Viktor Tsoi. It opened across over 1,000 screens and drew an audience of tens of thousands. It will be a great chance to rediscover Choi's beautiful voice.

``The Little Girl From Hanoi'' '' (Vietnam, 1979; Discovery: Vietnamese Cinema) is about a young girl who loses her mother and sister during wartime. She embarks on a search for her father. This film features realistic battle scenes that show the sophistication of 1970s Vietnamese cinema.

Films will be screened at multiplex theaters in the city: CGV, Primus Cinema, Megabox and Jeonju Cinemta Town. For more information, visit (Korean and English). Call (02) 2285-0562 (Seoul office) before the festival or (063) 288-5433 (Jeonju office) during the event. The English Web site also offers information about English subtitles.

Other Activities

Take a little break from the dark theater and look around the special photo exhibition. The Magic of Cinema Exhibition Hall features black and white photos of Audrey Hepburn and more. Now open, the exhibition runs through May 12.

Around Jeonju: While you're down in Jeonju, make sure you get a taste of bibimbab, or mixed rice and vegetables with gochujang (red pepper paste). The dish that even Michael Jackson fell in love with is native to the city, hence Jeonju bibimbab. There's a steamy version that comes in dolsot, or stone pot. You can get a tasting at one of the restaurants listed in the JIFF Web site. Another local favorite is kongnamul gukbap, or bean sprout soup with rice.

Also worth visiting during your stay is the Jeonju Hanok Village, a well-preserved medieval Korean town. You can stay at one of the traditional hanok-style inns, a list of which is also available at You can also visit Jeonju city's Web site (Korean and English) for more tourism information.
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