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‘Planet!’ tops Puchon Fantasy Fest awards

Local Korean industry still on a B.O. roll

PUCHON — “Save the Green Planet!,” a wild black comedy about a serial killer struggling to save Earth from supposed alien invasion, dominated awards at the Puchon Intl. Fantastic Film Festival, which closed July 19 in the satellite town west of Seoul.

Despite performing poorly at the local box office in April — partly due to a misguided ad-pub campaign — the pic impressed most foreign observers. The Puchon Choice jury, led by veteran Gallic helmer Alain Corneau, gave it best film and best actor (Baek Yun-shik) awards; pic also won the audience award.

Jury noted that “a new cult film has sprung from Korea with originality and cutting-edge black humor.” Pic, written and directed by first-timer Jang Jun-hwan, looks likely to start its international career with a slot at the Toronto fest in September.

“Robot Stories,” an omnibus digital production by Korean-American Greg Pak, won best director and best actress (Wai Ching Ho) nods. Spanish cop mystery, “They’re Watching Us,” by Norberto Lopez, copped the Jury Prize, while British director Ian Clark won two awards for “DEF” from the short film jury.

PiFan’s seventh edition was its biggest and most diverse to date, establishing it as South Korea’s second most important fest after Pusan (Oct. 2-10). Paid attendance rose from 50,000 last year to 65,000 tix this time round, with a sizable contingent of Asiaphile press and a well-selected program of 190 pics. Sidebars honored Bollywood, Shaw Bros., eclectic Canadian helmer Guy Maddin and late Japanese maestro Kinji Fukasaku (“Battle Royale”).

Fest director Kim Hong-joon, plus programmers Ellen Kim and Creta Kim, created an accessible, friendly event that opened with the world preem of local sci-fi toon “Wonderful Days” and closed with Canadian corporate thriller “Cypher,” by Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”), and high-school horror flick “Wishing Stairs,” by Korean distaffer Yun Jae-hyeon. Latter title, which continues a loose series begun with “Whispering Corridors” and “Memento Mori,” opens early next month amid a promo blitz.

Among recent local titles that received industry screenings, two B.O. hits, cop drama “Memories of Murder” and horror opus “A Tale of Two Sisters,” also drew positive response from foreign attendees.

With local production still on a roll, adventurous hacks also ventured out into local hardtops to sample current releases, notably slick relationships comedy “Singles,” black comedy “Mutt Boy” (by K.T. Kwak, helmer of mega-hit “Friend”) and visceral historical drama “Sword in the Moon.” Still riding high at the box office since opening July 4, “Singles” looks headed to crash the 3 million admissions ($15 million) barrier soon.

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