PIFF draws Cannes, Berlin, Venice toppers

PUSAN, South Korea — Confirming the continuing vibrancy of Korean cinema, Park Chan-ok’s striking first feature, “Jealousy is My Middle Name,” co-won the New Currents Award at the 7th Pusan Intl. Film Festival which wrapped Saturday.

A loose drama about a cuckolded man and a tomboyish photographer, “Jealousy” was among the best received of the fest’s new local movies and looks certain to pop up on the international circuit next year.

It shared the award with Indian helmer K.N.T. Sastry’s religious drama “The Rite…A Passion.”

Park Jin-pyo’s “Too Young to Die” won the New Currents audience award and the Fipresci nod from international critics.

The Netpac (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Award went to “Road Movie” (Kim In-shik, S. Korea).

Vet Japanese film scholar Donald Ritchie headed the five-member jury which included helmers Hong Sang-soo (“Turning Gate”) and Claire Denis. Eleven competing pics were all first or second works by Asian directors.

Another first feature by a woman director, Byung Young-joo’s offbeat meller “Ardor,” strongly divided foreign observers, though most relished its sensuous look and powerful lead performance by actress Kim Yun-jin (“Shiri”).

Ten-day fest opened with the world premiere of “The Coast Guard,” the latest emotional slugfest from cult director Kim Ki-duk, which drew a mixed response and was reckoned an unwise choice.

A far better gambit would have been enjoyable comedy “Jail Breakers” — one of several recent Korean movies ripe with remake possibilities. Helmed by Kim Sang-jin (“Attack the Gas Station!”), the pic, about two escaped cons who have to break BACK into prison, opened nationwide last Friday to record advance bookings.

PIFF’s Korean Panorama section, showcasing 12 titles from the past year, was among the strongest ever, with only one real clunker — Jang Sun-woo’s mega-bomb, the CGI fantasy “Resurrection of the Little Match Girl”.

Fest’s sidebars this year were more variable, including a tribute to veteran director Kim Su-yong that revealed a highly variable talent, and a misconceived retrospective of New Taiwan Cinema (1982-2002) that attempted to rewrite the history of the movement from a limited perspective.

Judging by its ever-growing number of attendees (both Asians and Asiaphiles), PIFF is still the region’s premier film event for critics and industryites. However, its biggest talking point this year was the radical split in screenings and hotel accommodation between downtown Nampo-dong and bland beach resort Haeundae an hour up the coast, which marred its usually intimate atmosphere. Festgoers moaned about the time wasted traveling between the two districts.

PIFF topper Kim Dong-ho told Daily Variety it’s highly likely that the fest will move to Haeundae next year using all 11 screens of the new Megabox multiplex, plus two other single screens in the area. Pusan’s city government also wants to build a dedicated theater in Haeundae but that’s unlikely to be ready until PIFF’s 10th anni in 2005, adds Kim.

As next year’s event (Oct. 2-11, 2003) will be back in its traditional, warmer fall slot, PIFF will also revive its open-air screenings at the Haeundae Yachting Center, including opening and closing night.

As well as increased monies from both city and central governments, the fest’s budget this year was a record 2.45 billion won ($1.9 million), per Kim. Some 22% of that came from commercial sponsorship.

Kim also quashed rumors that he was ready to quit after seven years at the helm. “I’ve heard the rumors too, that if Lee Hae-chang (opposition party leader and old college friend of Kim’s) wins the presidential election he’ll make me Culture Minister. But no way am I leaving PIFF.”

Adds Kim, “I’m proud of what we’re doing here, and especially proud this year of being visited by the heads of Cannes, Berlin and Venice.” That first-ever configuration at any fest, with program toppers Thierry Fremaux, Dieter Kosslick and Moritz de Hadeln treated like stars by the Korean press. It was as much a tribute to the veteran Kim’s mercurial charm and personal diplomacy as anything else — qualities not so evident in his rumored replacements.

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