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Busan film fest runs smoothly but makes less-than-expected buzz

Leaving buzzing and hectic days behind, the 24th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) is wrapping up its 10-day run Saturday.

    The festival, one of the largest in Asia, opened Oct. 3 in the southern port city of Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, featuring 303 films from 85 countries. Among the invitations, 120 films, including 97 feature-length movies, were world premieres.

    Although its pre-opening event was canceled due to a typhoon, the curtain rose peacefully with more than 100 silver screen stars and directors from all around Asia dazzling the full-house audiences at the Busan Cinema Center, BIFF's main venue.

    Its opening and closing films are regarded as the achievement of its decadelong efforts to support young Asian filmmakers.

    One of the co-directors of the opener, "The Horse Thieves. Roads of Time," Yerlan Nurmukhambetov was awarded the 2015 New Currents prize, given to up-and-coming Asian directors, at BIFF for his feature "Walnut Tree."


Actress Kim Hee-ae, who starred in the festival's closing movie
Actress Kim Hee-ae, who starred in the festival's closing movie "Moonlight Winter," speaks during a press event held Friday at the Busan Cinema Center. (Yonhap)

    And the closing movie, "Moonlight Winter," a melodrama by South Korean director Lim Dae-hyung, was also the 2016 winner of BIFF's New Currents award for "Merry Christmas Mr. Mo."

    Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda's "The Truth," the openingfilm of this year's Venice Film Festival in August, was one of the highlights of BIFF's programs, along with the Netflix-made "The King" by David Michod.

    To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Korean cinema, BIFF also prepared various programs to give film buffs chances to see 10 classics by renowned Korean directors. The screenings of Korean film masterpieces, including Im Kwon-taek's "Seopyeongje" (1993) and Bong Joon-ho's "Memories of Murder" (2003), were well received by BIFF visitors.

    At the same time, it launched the first Asian Content Award in a bid to reinvent the Asian Film Market, a marketplace for production houses and film investors, as a total content market.

    South Korean TV producer Kim Yong-kyu won the highest Best Creative Award for the 2018 periodical drama "Mr. Sunshine," while the Best Asia Drama prize was shared by Thailand's "Hormones: The Series" and Singapore's "Faculty."

    On the other hand, some critics said BIFF has created less-than-expected buzz this year due to the absence of key figures and films.

    Bong Joon-ho, who won the Cannes' highest Palme d'Or for "Parasite" for the first time in Korean cinematic history, did not come to Busan. He is reportedly on a promotional tour in the United States before the North American release of "Parasite" on Friday.

    Wayne Wang, who directed "Coming Home Again," which was invited to BIFF's prestigious Gala Presentation, canceled his Busan visit due to an illness.

    Only "The King" and its star Timothee Chalamet played a role in jazzing up the festive mood and verve of the event.

    "There are many world premieres and films from new faces at BIFF, which are a bit too weak to lure big attention from Korean fans," film critic Yoon Sung-eun said. "Also, organizers closed an outdoor stage on the Haeundae beach due to typhoon-related problems. The schedule became more convenient and efficient afterward, but the festival was limited to the Busan Cinema Center."

    But others noted that BIFF has successfully made a rebound, overcoming years of political feuding over artistic freedom.

    The film festival had been embroiled in political intervention after criticizing the then conservative government's handling of the deadly Sewol Ferry sinking accident in 2014. Its executive members were ousted and Korean film industry groups boycotted the event.

    "This year's BIFF is the first festival since the dispute was settled last year," film critic Kang You-jin said. "It is free from political issues, and went through smoothly and calmly, focusing solely on movies and arts."