The 12th Pusan Film Festival kicks off tonight with “The Assembly,” a Chinese war movie — an interesting choice, since the underlying goal of the festival is harmony and unity.
Traditionally, the fest opener has been a Korean film, but the selection of helmer Feng Xiaogang’s pic is a symbolic gesture, as South Korea — once part of the Hermit Kingdom — reaches out to other Asian countries at a time when Korean films are in crisis.
Pusan has long sought to connect Asia’s film industry, which is fractured by language, disputed history, different degrees of cultural openness and vastly different stages of economic development. With Korean films selling less well in the region, that drive has become an imperative.
Pusan, which has claimed for years to be Asia’s top movie fest, is eschewing a Korean film as closer as well, wrapping Oct. 12 with the Japanese anime pic “Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone,” a bigscreen version of 1995 hit TV series “Neon Genesis Evangelion.”
The festival, which promises 37 world preems among its 205 feature titles, is devoted to Asian cinema, but there will be a healthy Western presence here. After the amazing Korean wave of movies a few years ago — a boom both creatively and financially — biz has slowed to a worrying degree.
Still, Western movie companies looking to grow in Asia could do worse than working with South Korea. In many ways it is an ideal bridge to the rest of Asia — the country does not bear the local cultural stigmas of being Chinese or Japanese, both of which still stir feelings of age-old animosity.
Nor is it perceived as an American elephant despite years of U.S. military presence. And its entertainment companies are entrepreneurial and rich in skills and talent.
To beef up Korea biz and forge ties with other countries, the fest began an Asian Film Market last year.
The market may have a hard time achieving critical velocity in only its second frame — the event takes place at an increasingly crowded time of year, and it took Hong Kong’s FilMart the better part of a decade to become a must-see part of the circus.
Other moves have been made to augment the fest. Pusan helped create the Asian Film Commissions Network, a federation through which the regionals can work together rather than in competition.
This week, the fest’s Pusan Promotion Plan, a successful project mart for arthouse films, will be replicated in the mainstream movies sector with the launch of Co-production Pro. Event brings together films in need of financing with would-be fund execs. Festival is also initiating the debut meeting of the Asia Pacific Artists Network, a talent-sector confab.
While some worry that the Korean Wave has diminished, there’s clearly a lot of life in the industry. Jeon Do-yeon won the actress prize in Cannes for “Secret Sunshine.” South Korean monster movie “D-War” brought in $53 million at Korean turnstiles and $9.3 million at the U.S. box office — an all-time high for a Korean pic. And the country’s TV dramas, now being made on ever-increasing budgets, are so powerful that Chinese President Hu Jintao and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il have both confessed to being addicts.
While there will likely be further fluctuations in the fortunes of Korean movies at home and abroad, years of investment and audience building have established an entertainment sector on a scale that can no longer be ignored.