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Korea’s PiFan Lines Up Festival of Monsters and Sex Maniacs

SEOUL — The 17th edition of PiFan got underway Thursday in Bucheon, a far-flung suburb of western Seoul.

Considering the anonymity of the destination, the Bucheon International Festival of Fantastic Film to give it its full name, has built a standout reputation as Asia’s leading genre film festival.

It does so through a generously ambiguous definition of what constitutes ‘fantasy film.’ Should the programmers like, it can mean pretty much anything other than a documentary could be selected.

This year one, interpretation of fantasy is sexual.

Unafraid of either challenging or kitsch material, the festival is celebrating Italian porn meister Tinto Brass in a special section called ‘Crossing the boundary between Eroticism and Perversion.’ The sidebar is an exploration of sex films that has been the long-cherished ambition of programmer Thomas Nam.

“This retrospective is a wonderful opportunity to realize he is much more than just ‘tits and asses’ director that, in fact, he deserves to be recognized as an erotic genius and an artist extraordinaire of sensuality,” says Nam. He has programmed six of Brass’ features ranging from 1967 crime and sex caper “Deadly Sweet,” through to the notorious “Caligula,” and recent documentary “Istintobrass” by Massimiliano Zanin.

Pifan also makes room for a monster of a different kind: Godzilla. The iconic Japanese movies of mayhem and destruction did not gain the foothold in Korea that they did in the popular imagination of audiences elsewhere. That’s because, during decades of military rule, Japanese cultural items were banned in South Korea. Programmed by Alice Yoo, the ‘Great Kaiju: Godzilla 60 Years’ section includes the 1954 Honda Ishiro-directed original, “Godzilla v Biollante,” and the all-star feature “Godzilla Final Wars,” a collection which previously excited geeks and underground viewers.

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Politics has rarely been far from the Korean festival scene. And Pifan, which these days runs in a well-oiled manner, has not been immune. In 2005, a large chunk of the Korean industry seemed to boycott the event over a spat between the local mayor and the then festival director Kim Hong-joon. But RealFanta, the rival genre festival that was created, sank without trace after its first edition, and Pifan soldiers on.

Its budget is limited and it is more than an hour away from fashionable Gangnam, which means it does not get the spotlight it could, but that rather suits the hard-working geeks who populate the corridors of the Koryo Hotel, a love hotel that pretends it is not.

In recent years PiFan has been boosted by NAFF, its project market for genre films. For the past seven years NAFF has been mixing and matching film projects, film financiers and potential distributors in a three day hot-house of one-on-one meetings that is preceded by another day of seminars, pitching sessions and ‘fantasy school.’

Even if genre film or fantasy film are categories that also stretch to Hollywood’s VFX juggernauts, the lower-budget indie end of the spectrum still needs as much support form incubators such as NAFF as the supposedly more tender art-house varieties.

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