Miracle: Letters to the President,” directed by Lee Jang-hoon, was Saturday named as the best film winner at the Far East Film Festival in Italy’s Udine, following an audience poll. The South Korean-made film was described by festival organizers as “a sweet-natured hymn to the power of dreams.”

Second and third places belonged to Chinese-produced pictures, Li Ruijun’s “Return to Dust” and Xing Wenxiong’s “To Cool to Kill,” respectively. The festival’s Black Dragon season ticket holders voted for “Return to Dust,” while users of the MYmovies service championed Korea’s “Kingmaker” by Byun Sung-hyun.

The jurors for the best debut film awarded the festival’s White Mulberry award to “Too Cool to Kill.” The Mulberry Award for best screenplay Jojo Hideo’s “Love Nonetheless.” 

If the order of the prizes seemed like a return to pre-COVID normality, so too did the operation of the event, Udine’s 24th. After a wholly online edition in 2020 and a hybrid event in 2021 the 2022 edition was largely operated as a conventional in-person event, which welcomed over 40,000 human spectators.

COVID controls operated inside the two main cinemas, but were no more restrictive than taking an airplane in Europe these days. And at outdoor events participants went mask-free.

Stephy Tang and Josie Ho, escaped the far-more disease-restrictive Hong Kong, to appear in person in Udine, show their latest films and meet audience members and media.

The iconic Japanese actor-director Kitano Takeshi was presented with a Golden Mulberry Lifetime Achievement award. But it was a virtual ceremony, where FEFF organizers gamely tried hard to wear their best smiles.

Kitano undid two years of preparations with his last-minute change of heart at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, which he blamed variously on airport lounges, the war in Ukraine, ongoing COVID concerns and his own poor health. Speaking by video link, Kitano said that he was finishing a film and will screen it at Udine in future.

Udine also saw the return of in-person pitching sessions, a project market and workshops within the context of its Focus Asia industry sessions, that counted some 250 participants. The Ties That Bind initiative, seeking to link the European and Chinese independent film businesses, was also present.

Held some three weeks before the Cannes film festival, and after two years of isolation for many Asian film folk, these were a useful re-introduction for many to in-person meetings, crowds and parties.