Pusan Film Festival kicks off

Event bows with a bang despite troubles

Fireworks flew over the Yachting Center on Thursday night as the 13th Pusan Film Festival got underway in South Korea.

For a few moments the troubles of the local industry, which has seen rapidly falling auds, were put aside.

Speaking to an audience of several thousand at the massive outdoor arena, feisty festival topper Kim Dong-ho proclaimed Pusan the “cornerstone for enhancing the Korean and Asian film industries.”

The opener, Kazakh director Rustem Abdrashev’s “The Gift to Stalin,” may have been a downbeat choice, but its child star, Dalen Shintemerov, warmed the hearts of the crowds as he ran up and down the red carpet and high-fived it with as many people as he could.

Like Cannes, Pusan is a seaside resort, and emulating the Gallic fest still seems to be on the South Korean agenda.

Opening night boasted traffic jams and swarms of teenagers hoping for a glimpse of festival jury head Anna Karina; James Kyson Lee, from NBC’s “Heroes”; A-list Korean stars including Jang Dong-gun; and a bevy of Asian starlets.

The international industry also appears to be responding. European industry orgs have sent larger-than-ever delegations to Pusan, and the number of foreign fest directors in attendance is worthy of Cannes.

Had celebrations been more muted it would have been understandable — but that is scarcely the Pusan way, and Koreans rarely do things quietly or on a small scale.

The beachfront Grand Hotel is literally wrapped in a multistory banner proclaiming itself “the hub of Asian cinema.”

Pusan has plenty to offer despite a couple of last-minute hitches.

Chinese censors have not cleared Hong Kong helmer Tsui Hark’s “All About Women,” so it won’t world preem at the fest. Meanwhile, Iranian helmer Samira Makhmalbaf, a member of the New Currents jury, was forced to withdraw after being taken ill.

Fest is hosting the second Asia Pacific Actors Network, an expanded series of Asian film fund presentations, plus a symposium on Asian film education.

Its Pusan Promotion Plan project mart is more tightly focused this year, while the Asian Film Market remains modest but has been given a useful facelift.

(Han Sunhee contributed to this report.)