The Pusan International Film Festival opened here Thursday (Oct.4) with an unprecedented foreign opener and the largest number of world premiers in its 12-year history.
The largest cinema event in Asia raised its curtain at the Busan Yachting Centre alongside a spectacular beach, just hours after the leaders of South and North Korea wrapped up a historic three-day inter-Korean summit in North Korea's capital of Pyongyang.
Underscoring the optimism that has gripped the Korean people during this week of significant political achievements, the festival's opening ceremony featured an emotional performance by Korean-born harmonica player Jeon Jeduk. Although he lost his sight shortly after birth, Jeon nonetheless went on to become a jazz sensation in the tradition of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.
Jeon enchanted the audience with his heartfelt interpretations of the film scores of "The Mission" and "Cinema Paradiso" by Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who was on hand as part of his South Korean tour.
Although the opening film has traditionally been home-grown, this year's PIFF opened with Chinese director Feng Xiagang's "Assembly". Organizers said, however, that the $10 million war drama about a fallen soldier of the 1948 Chinese civil war fought between the communists and the nationalists, has a strong South Korean element, with all battle scenes created by a Korean special effects team that worked on the 2004 Korean blockbuster "Taegukgi
: The Brotherhood of War". But the selection also revealed the dwindling production of homegrown cinema, which lost steam this year amid the influx of Hollywood heavyweights.
Opening film: "Assembly" by Feng Xiaogong.
Taiwanese director Edward Yang, who died in June, will be posthumously honored as the Asian Filmmaker of the Year for his contribution to Asian cinema. His 2000 film "Yi Yi: A One and A Two", depicting the emotional struggles of a businessman and the life of his middle-class Taiwanese family in Taipei through three generations, won the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Yang's wife, the pianist Kaili Peng, will receive the trophy on his behalf.
Yang will be featured in a retrospective session along with Iranian director Dariush Mehrjui, whose films are based on Iranian and foreign novels and plays, including "Pari" (1995), an adaptation of J.D. Salinger's "Franny and Zooey".
In the festival's only competitive section, 11 films by first-time Asian directors, all to have their international premieres at the festival, will vie for the New Currents Award that gives three winners a $30,000 cash prize each.
Closing film: "Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone" by Hideaki Anno.
With a total of 275 films in the line-up, Japanese, Chinese and Indian commercial movies all suggest their respective industries are blossoming, organizers said, along with independent films from Southeast Asia.
"Japan, China and India had remarkable achievements last year, their commercial movies standing tall in theaters. Also, the visible growth of independent movies from the Philippines and Malaysia will be highlighted in this year's festival", said Kim Jiseok, the head programmer, said in a previous press conference.
Notable independent films include Filipino Brillante Mendoza's "Foster Child", which tells the emotionally laden story of a foster mother taking care of children in the slums of Manila, and "Solos", directed by Singaporean Kan Lume and Loo Zihan, which has become controversial for its intense depiction of homosexuality through the story of a teacher-student relationship and an emotionally remote mother.
Japanese movies like "The Rebirth" by cult director Masahiro Kobayashi and "Into the Faraway Sky" by Isao Yukisada will highlight the sizzling Japanese film industry, where homegrown movies raked in half of the market share last year.
The event will also screen films by established directors, such as Singaporean Royston Tan, whose musical "881" will be shown, in addition to Korean Lee Myung-se
's mystery melodrama "M" and Taiwanese Hou Hsiao Hsien's "Flight of the Red Balloon", inspired by the classic 1956 French film "The Red Balloon".