Genre films come to the fore this week in Korea as the 19th edition of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival gets underway on the outskirts of Seoul.
Red carpet guests at Thursday’s opening ceremony are expected to include Hong Kong star Simon Yam and top Korean actor Oh Dal Soo, actor-director Lee Joon-ki and Lee Min Ho, Moon Chae Won, Jeong Woo, Kim Go Eun and Song Il Gook.
For local audiences, watching gruesome horror films that bring on cold sweats may be a good way of keeping cool in the heat of summer. For others, the festival represents a way to watch Asian indie films that would otherwise struggle for big screen space in Korea’s crowded theatrical marketplace – Japanese films have regularly won public prizes and been among the most popular at previous editions.
Festival director Kim Young-bin, a former film maker himself, allows programmers to operate with little sign of censorship or self-censorship. The festival, however, owes its success and endurance – Korean festivals are regularly buffeted by political winds that seem to threaten their existence – to more than grunge and splatter.
Over the years BiFan has become the biggest fantasy festival in Asia by representing a diverse and eclectic mix of programming and backing that with a solid industry support system in its NAFF project market.
Diversity this year comes in the form of a substantial Mexican genre film showcase, with titles from the godfather of Mexican fantasy cinema, Carlos Enrique Taboada (“Poison for the Fairies,” 1986) to Guillermo Del Toro (“Cronos,” 1993). More recent Mexican titles include “Mexico Barbaro” (2014), and “Scherzo Diabolico” (2015).
BiFan finds house room for eight films by cult Japanese bad boy director Sono Sion, whose works combine high craft skills with visual shock and confrontational, often sexually charged, themes. Included in the section are “Suicide Circle” (2002), “Noriko’s Dinner Table” (2005), and “Himizu” (2011), and his latest films “Love and Peace” (2015) and “Tag” (2015), screening as an international premiere.
A Simon Yam retrospective includes six of his 200 plus films, including ranging from “Eye in the Sky” (2007), to Yam’s directorial debut “Tales from the Dark” (2013) and “Two Thumbs Up.”
The festival is also creating a special focus on Korean independent genre film makers. A sub-set of the industry, Korean indies have been endangered by the sector’s industrialization, but they may now be enjoying a revival that is boosted by the development of the VoD market and changes in Korea’s communications infrastructure.
Its seven film selection includes: Perfect Partner (2011), “MIZO” (2013), “Bong Man Dae, the Artist” (2013), “Rough Play” (2013), “The Stone” (2013), “Lost Flower: Eo Woo-dong” (2015), and “Deep Red Nights, Chapter One” (2015). Screenings are accompanied by a range of guest visits and ‘megatalk’ seminars.