Beyond borders

Pusan pumps market plans

PUSAN, South Korea — Troubled but undeterred by the week’s events in North Korea, thousands of international film execs and journalists have descended on this South Korea coastal town for the preeminent film event in Asia.

Six hundred miles south of the north-south border, the 11th Pusan Film Festival gets under way today with a huge selection of Asian movies, including a record number of world premieres.

The fest promises grand scope and new additions in its 11th outing, with the biggest innovation being the five-day Asian Film Market, the first that Korea has attempted on this scale.

Market, which bows Sunday, is being touted as a “total market” with four distinct elements: screenings of finished films, a market for upart-financed projects, locations and now talent.

Pusan fest has previously hosted disparate elements, but putting them all under one management roof and adding in the new talent showcase “Curtain” has is expected to take commercial functions to a new level.

The big new market is another manifestation of the Korean industry’s current dominance of the Asian film biz. But it has the capacity to upset established hierarchies. Hong Kong, once the most export-driven biz in the region, currently boasts a bigish market FilMart, in March each year, while the biggest Asian territory Japan is struggling to build its own Tiffcom mart.

The expanded Pusan market is a bit of an experiment and American buyers have not exactly flocked to the country. It seems most of them are waiting to see a greater number and variety of films at next month’s American Film Market in Santa Monica.

The new Asian Film Market has corralled and cajoled around 100 international sales companies and promo bodies into renting a room in the Grand Hotel from which to tout their wares.

But many others resisted this debut effort at expanding the mart to include non-Korean sellers and will instead take booths at the other AFM, the American Film Market, which runs Nov. 1-8 in Santa Monica. That event has global, not regional, reach and will be packed with all kinds of buyers, not just Asian specialists.

The biggest non-Korean sales contingent here is from Japan. At the announcement of the Pusan market last year, Japanese officials could be heard muttering their discontent with Pusan’s assumed market leadership. But next week’s Tiffcom mart in Tokyo, which is trapped between the rival AFMs, also claims to be booming.

Once again the Pusan Promotion Project, the forum for matching partially financed projects with sources of coin, is leading the fest and market through its multilateral, nonaligned approach. Like a mini United Nations, PPP has this year thrown open its doors to non-Asian projects and expanded its roster from 27 to 36 projects.

Result is a mash-up that includes the very top-name Asian helmers, projects from Jon Amiel and Raul Ruiz, and a selection of Asian-international co-productions.

Korea’s film development has been rapid and successful. The country, known as “the hermit kingdom,” is now thoroughly enjoying being at the epicenter of attention for anyone interested in Asian film.

And business is booming. South Korean B.O. data for September should give other countries a scare: Hollywood films, for example, have only a 5% market share. (So much for the dismantling under American pressure of the cherished Screen Quotas regulation.)

Fest, running through Oct. 20, is still wrestling with some familiar issues, however, such as attracting top names and questionable timing.

There is no festival in the world that can match Pusan for its representative selection of Asian movies, both new and from the past year. But the biggest titles continue to elude it as producers consider European fests a more desirable launch pad.

Im Sang-soo’s “The Old Garden” was supposedly the festival’s first choice as opener, but that film bowed in San Sebastian only two weeks ago. Instead, the opening night gala at the Haeundae Yacht Club here was for “Traces of Love,” by meller specialist Kim Dae-seung.

Still, elsewhere in the fest there should be plenty to admire. Likely standouts include Patrick Tam’s “After This Our Exile,” Leste Chen’s “Eternal Summer” and Park Ki-hyung’s “Gangster High.” Lee Yoonki returns with “Ad Lib Night” after winning Pusan’s new currents competition in 2004 with “This Charming Girl” and then misfiring last year with the U.S.-set “Love Talk.”

Meanwhile, North Korea has dominated headlines and conversations in South Korea and the rest of Asia, but for Pusan, it’s business as usual.

The fest’s foreign press coordinator Heather Kang confirmed that Pusan had received no guest cancellations in the wake of the bomb test and that the festival will proceed without any change in schedule.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun issued a statement Monday urging citizens to continue with their normal lives, as he pledged to try to minimize the economic fallout from the incident.

(Darcy Paquet contributed to this report.)

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