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Busan Film Festival Refines Its Mission for Asian Cinema

The 19th edition of the Busan Film Festival is a comfortingly familiar assortment of Korean, other Asian and global cinema, backed up by a cluster of well-managed industry events, although it surprised many by choosing “Paradise in Service,” Taiwanese director Doze Niu’s wartime nostalgia piece, as the opening film — after all, the film opened commercially in Taiwan nearly a month ago.

The festival has long outgrown its radical origins, which saw it born in 1996 from a frustration with the cultural censorship of the post-military regime and from the passion for independent cinema held by a cluster of critics.

It grew by welcoming foreign films into previously introverted South Korea, and by supporting the modern era of Korean filmmaking, which in just a few years became among the most provocative anywhere in the world.

But the sign of a sophisticated industry is the ability for self-criticism, and midway through this year’s festival a seminar will look at the phenomenon of the Korean blockbuster — films having sold more than 10 million tickets — and ask whether such hits are healthy for the industry as a whole. The debate follows the setting of a B.O. benchmark by “The Admiral: Roaring Currents,” which has sold more than 17 million tickets.

Such overwhelming local success also comes at a time when Korean independents have genuine concerns that the box office spoils are all going to the victorious vertically integrated conglomerates, and as Korean film would like to emulate the export success of K-pop and Korean TV drama sectors. The China market beckons.

Still, the Busan festival represents a film selection unmatched anywhere in Asia. This year, the festival turns its spotlight on Georgian women filmmakers, and new Turkish cinema. One of its galas is given over to “The Golden Era,” and Hong Kong director Ann Hui, who is being feted with the Asian Filmmaker of the Year award.

The festival puts on a significant rights market and, in the Asian Project Market, one of the calendar’s strongest film financing events. These in turn have fueled the growth of the Asian Cinema Fund, the Asian Film Academy and the Ties That Bind, a film development program co-financed with European institutions. With the backing, and constant agitation, of the Busan Film Commission, Busan is also home to the unique Asian Film Policy Forum.

There should be much to talk about in the latenight drinking sessions for which the Haeundae beach area seems perfectly designed.

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