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Bucheon Festival Hit by Missile Effect, Spotlights ‘Okja’ and Women in Cinema

The Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, Asia’s largest genre film festival as well as South Korea’s second longest-running film festival, says it has been buffeted by international and industry politics. But it also seems to be reveling in both.

Announcing a huge 289-title lineup (including 63 world premieres) for its 21st edition, BiFan organizers say their selection process was hurt by the ongoing diplomatic standoff between South Korea and China over Korea’s deployment of the THAAD missile defense system.

Last year the festival witnessed the signing of agreement with several Chinese film groups and organizations. “This year we could not circumvent the THAAD effect,” said BiFan deputy director Kim Jong-won. A slight thawing of political relations meant that the festival adjusted its seminars and screening program to include fewer mainland Chinese movies – just six — and more from other Chinese-language territories.

The festival will also take on another hot topic that is both political and material to the film industry. One of its seminar will debate how to reform the Korean Film Council and new film policy changes in the post-Park Geun-hye era.

Reflecting the increasingly visible feminist movement in South Korea, the festival will run two female-centric sidebars: one dedicated to actress Jeon Do-yeon; the other to genre films featuring villainesses and monstrous female characters. The Jeon retrospective will screen 17 titles, including her debut work “The Contact,” which showed at the first edition of BiFan, and “Secret Sunshine,” which earned her the best actress award at Cannes in 2007.

“This is a response to the misogyny that is prevalent in the South Korean culture industry that only Bifan can make,” said festival programmer Ellen Kim.

In still another hot button area, BiFan will screen controversial Netflix movie “Okja” with director Bong Joon-ho expected to attend. The role of Netflix in backing the movie and screening it online simultaneously with its outing in theaters, has meant that most cinema chains in Korea say they will not play the title.

“Originally, we intended to organize a program dedicated to films produced through Netflix, and to invite Ted Sarandos. The company, however, took a passive attitude about screening their films on big screen, because of its nature as an online platform,” said Moon Seok, who recently joined the festival as a programmer. “We’re focusing on the rise of OTT in the long run. Both positively and negatively, they’re largely affecting the film industry. I believe it is one of film festivals’ roles to lead such discussion.”

The festival will open on July 13 with “Room No. 7,” directed by Lee Yong-seung. Starring Shin Ha-kyun (“Thirst”) and K-pop idol-turned-actor Doh Kyung-soo of EXO, the film follows three people who work at a run-down DVD viewing shop. Closing the festival on July 23 is Japanese director Fukuda Yuichi’s “Gintama.” Starring Oguri Shun and idol star Hashimoto Kanna, “Gintama” is a live-action adaptation of Japan’s most popular comic cartoon from the past 10 years.

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