Festive kickoff for Busan fest

Festival under new leadership of Lee Yong-kwan

The 16th Busan Film Festival kicked off Thursday with fireworks and lasers outside its $141 million, purpose-built home that organizers hope will showcase ambitious plans to expand the event.

Under the new leadership of Lee Yong-kwan, who replaces the revered Kim Dong-ho, the fest has been reorganized as it enters what organizers hope will be a new era.

Event opened with Korean helmer Song Il-gon’s love story “Always” and will screen 307 films from 70 countries before it wraps Oct. 14 with Japanese helmer Harada Masato’s “Chronicle of My Mother.”

Much of fest activity will focus on the new Busan Cinema Center, which has five theaters and a host of facilities in a nine-storey building.

The opening ceremony was staged at the 4,000-seat outdoor theater. Stars in attendance included Japanese thesp Joe Odagiri, Hong Kong filmmaker Yonfan, and numerous local stars such as Jang Dong-gun. The ceremony was hosted by Korean actresses Ye Ji-won and Um Ji-won, and a high point was the award of the Asian Filmmaker of the Year laurel to Hong Kong legend Tsui Hark.

Fest was formerly known as Pusan, but the city revised its English name to Busan to reflect changes in the way South Korea writes the Roman alphabet. Pusan Promotion Plan is now the Asian Project Market.

Busan will feature many international co-productions, including “Yang gui fei,” a Chinese drama based on a true story starring Fan Bing Bing and Chow Yun-fat by Korean helmer Kwak Jae-yong (“My Sassy Girl”).

Busan’s upgrade is a major step in the fest’s efforts to compete with Tokyo for the title of Asia’s premier film event. Competish for that crown is intensifying with Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore also adding muscle to their fests.