The Korea Herald


Future of fear shown in BIFAN Choice section

8 films in competition at Bucheon film fest display creativity, experimentation

By Kevin Lee Selzer

Published : July 9, 2024 - 17:23

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BUCHEON, Gyeonggi Province -- Under the banner “Stay Strange,” Korea’s largest genre film festival, the 28th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, or BIFAN, kicked off Thursday, running to July 14.

This year the film fest has brought 253 films from 49 countries to the Gyeonggi Province city just west of Seoul. Never the festival to shy away from trends in cinema, this year’s edition has notably opened the door to generative artificial intelligence, including 15 AI films and a separate competition category.

Beyond technological trends, the festival has long celebrated originality, as seen in the eight films in the Bucheon Choice: Features international competition’s explorations of fear, highlighted by well-executed experimentation in genre and drama.

"Oddity" (BIFAN)


“Oddity” from Ireland is a well-paced paranormal thriller. Set mostly in a home disconnected from the world -- no landline and faint cell service -- it preys on fears of the strange and unknown amplified in isolation.

The film is built around Carolyn Bracken’s performance in dynamically different dual roles. She primarily portrays Darcy, a blind woman who claims to be able to connect to objects and see what they’ve seen. She returns to the remote rural home one year after her twin sister was murdered there.

Darcy is a stark contrast to her deceased sister’s suave, “logic-and-facts” psychiatric doctor husband, who now lives in that home with a new fiancee. While he manages to slip away for his work in the mental hospital, the fiancee is stuck in the house with Darcy as she seeks to connect with her sister and understand what happened there -- along with an antique oddity Darcy brought with her: a life-size wooden mannequin.

“Oddity” combines traits of a whodunit mystery with a dollop of psychological horror. It builds tension with tight framing and the soft orange glow of wood and stone in the home’s interior -- and satisfyingly releases it with the occasional jump scare.

"Respati" (BIFAN)


In his prescreening remarks for BIFAN, director Sidharta Tata describes “Respati” as a “modern fusion of horror, fantasy and adventure.” The Indonesian coming-of-age teen horror tale has already generated buzz in Korea, having secured a distribution deal with Barunson E&A, the production company behind “Parasite.”

“Respati” is a product of the Indonesian horror film scene that has been making a reputation for itself for its blend of cultural tradition, folklore and ghost stories. Here the elements combine into magical realism, where characters quickly accept the supernatural and are fortunately met at the right moment to progress the mystery, with a horror atmosphere created by ample use of fog machines and a sonically oppressive score.

The central metaphysical realm in “Respati” is the “dream world” where people subconsciously drift off to – and which can fatally affect reality if they do not wake up in time. Suffering from severe trauma-induced insomnia after the death of his parents, the titular Respati discovers he is able to navigate this other dimension, where he will confront an evil force committing atrocities tied to apparent brutal crimes in the physical realm.

“Respati” deals with teenage grief through horror by creating a logic, or quasi-solution, for the unexplainable. Its incredible opening sequence sets a horrific standard and frightening pace the film never quite reclaims. While enjoyable, it is ultimately more successful in style and technical execution than its ability to surprise.

"Suffocating Love" (BIFAN)

'Suffocating Love'

Taiwanese film “Suffocating Love” is a romantic drama-turned-thriller in which compulsion and obsession meet the supernatural.

A very ordinary 20-something in the main role details his romantic adventures, first falling hard for a self-admitted “quirky” love interest. After moving in together, he finds these “quirks” listed on paper with bullet points -- practically detailing every moment of their life together in exacting detail. He lives happily in the confines created for him, but finds himself fascinated again with a high school crush after a chance meeting at work, and pushes the boundaries to explore potentially liberating “what-ifs.”

“Suffocating Love” mixes wishful thinking with a bit of mysticism to explore life’s dilemmas and opportunities in love in a literal way through parallel worlds, akin to a “Christmas Carol” meets “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” It ruminates on the acceptable costs of love and what it means when it comes too easily.

"Tatsumi" (BIFAN)


In Japanese film “Tatsumi,” petty betrayal escalates into a string of reprisals with ramifications that test loyalties within the strict hierarchy of the organized crime world. The intrigue and multiple levels of revenge are focused at the lower levels, however, with any semblance of glitz stripped away and grime and sweat weighing down the working-class thugs.

Tatsumi, a “cleaner” who specializes in dealing with the corpses leftover in the course of business, is convinced to do a small favor and cover up the piddling drug theft of an ex-girlfriend’s young sister. But with the girl’s brazen immaturity, the situation inevitably spirals and swallows others.

With action and violence grounded in reality, “Tatsumi” is gruesome in its depictions of fearsome consequences. The heart of the film is contained in the titular character’s reluctant and constantly wavering moral growth as he serves as a guide through the crime world structure for the delinquent girl, and in her maturation.

The four aforementioned films, along with “Cuckoo,” “Handling the Undead,” “The Last Stop in Yuma County” and “Strange Darling,” are competing for four awards at BIFAN, including a top prize of 20 million won ($14,500). Check the schedule online at the festival website for movie listings, including guest visits with the respective directors after the screenings.

Award-winning films will have encore screenings on Saturday and Sunday.