Pusan ups ante with more pics, preems

Big titles pepper fest's most ambitious lineup

More titles! More world preems!” is the battle cry of the Pusan Intl. Film Festival, which unveils its biggest ever program for the 13th edition (Oct. 2-10) in South Korea’s southern coastal sprawl.

At a time when the local industry has been facing its toughest year in a decade, and amid talk that the hallyu (Korean wave) has had its 15 minutes of fame, PIFF is coming out with its fists up. With a lineup of 269 feature-length movies — eclipsing even the 233 of its giant 10th edition — and 47 world preems — up by 10 on last year — PIFF is also serving notice to other major fests in Asia (Tokyo, Shanghai) and locally (PiFan, Jeonju, upstart Chungmuro) that it’s still the biggest kid on the block.

Certainly, on paper, it’s still the latter, with its project mart (PPP), its nascent but still struggling Asian Film Market, its Asian Film Academy, plus seminars and massive film program. The last has quietly tweaked itself to include more titles in its showcase Window on Asian Cinema section (50, up from 37 last year), cut back a little on its World Cinema sidebar, and made the prizes in its documentary section (Wide Angle) open to all Asian filmers, not just Korean.

In addition, this year its special programs are, unusually, both devoted to Western cinema: a retro on Italy’s Taviani Bros. and a tribute to Romanian cinema.

And seemingly in response to accusations that the fest was ignoring mainstream Asian cinema, there’s a definite tilt toward genre filmmaking, if only in the sidebars. There’s a retro devoted to ’50s-’60s helmer Han Hyung-mo (“the alchemist of popular genres,” says the fest), a sidebar on Superheroes in Asia, a collection of musicvids by Asian directors and a 10-title group of Asian anime offerings. That’s all in addition to the Midnight Passion section, launched last year, which this time is heavily skewed away from Asian movies: Eight of the 12 titles hail from the West.

Like all fests, PIFF has been taking a more aggressive approach toward premieres the past couple years. World Cinema boasts an unprecedented nine world preems, including Peter Greenaway’s “Rembrandt’s J’accuse.” Its main competish section, New Currents, has expanded by about a third to 14 features, of which 11 are world preems.

As a whole, however, PIFF’s Asian selection in its main sections (New Currents, Window and Korean Cinema Today) is still heavily weighted toward independent and purely fest fare. It ignores vast swathes of quality commercial cinema in countries like Japan and, especially, China — the region’s two biggest producers, with a current output of some 400 features a year each. Till this is remedied, PIFF can’t claim to be a one-stop showcase of Asian production.

On the plus side, Southeast Asia is more strongly repped this year, with the Philippines prominent. And Central Asia, repped by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is very visible: Kazakhstan even supplies the fest’s opener, Rustem Abdrashev’s period drama “The Gift to Stalin,” centerd on a village kid in 1949 during the darkest days of the Soviet Union’s Asian republics.

The Korean Cinema Today section, once a catch-up on local movies released during the past year, has morphed into more of a premiere lineup of smaller-scale titles, seemingly in response to the industry’s travails. Its Panorama subsection corrals several interesting commercial releases, including “Public Enemy Returns,” “The Chaser” and “The Good the Bad the Weird.” More edgy stuff is in the Visions subsection.

PIFF’s tentpole, the expanded Window on Asian Cinema, includes Yojiro Takita’s “Departures,” He Jianjun’s “River People,” Indian d.p.-turned-director Santosh Sivan’s “Tahaan: A Boy With a Grenade” and Royston Tan’s retro-flavored “12 Lotus.” Malaysia, Iran and Kazakhstan broaden the selection away from purely Asian fare, though Japan, as always, is heavily repped.

The same can largely be said for the New Currents competition, focusing on first and second works from the Asian low-budget indie scene. With three titles from China, South Korea and Southeast Asia each, plus Iran, India and Kazakhstan and Southeast Asia, it’s geographically an imposing selection.


Anna Karina, actress, France/Denmark


Samira Makhmalbaf, director, Iran

Santosh Sivan, director, India

Lee Hwa-si, actress, Korea

Karl Baumgartner, producer, Germany