Even at the beginning, there was some turbulence at the Busan International Film Festival's 18th edition. On opening night, as Korea's A-list stars walked down the red carpet, second tier actress Kang Ha-na created a storm – and drew some ire – for her backless dress which revealed what Australians refer to as 'plumber's crack'. While Koreans love the glamour of their stars, they're also ready to pounce on anything that Confucian philosophy could regard as shameful.
Korean pundits were also ready to be wet blankets about BIFF's opening film. It's mistakenly believed by many that Busan's opening night is an exclusively Korean slot. Actually, the festival's first three years (1996-98) always opened with a foreign film, but the lukewarm reception of Vara: A Blessing, an India-set film by Bhutanese director Khyentse Norbu, indicated that no one was nostalgic for those days. Lacking the charm of Norbu's earlier efforts, The Cup and Travellers and Magicians, Vara's flaws represented an easy target and made for a soft opening night after all those glamorous Korean celebrities.
Some Korean stars made their directing debuts this year. One of the country's biggest stars of the 1990s, Park Joong-hoon, delivered Top Star, an acidic view of the Korean film industry, featuring Eom Tae-woong as the fame-hungry protagonist. Less pointedly, Ha Jung-woo (The Chaser, My Dear Enemy) made his directing debut with the frequently silly aeroplane comedy Fasten Your Seatbelts.
One of the joys of BIFF is the showcasing of emerging Korean filmmakers and renewed proof that the tide is yet to go out on the Korean wave. Cho Se-rae's The Stone semi-successfully mixed the philosophy of traditional game Go (Baduk in Korea) with the corrupt morality of gangsters; Kim Taeyun's Another Family was a powerful, and true story of safety negligence by one of Korea's corporate giants (re-dubbed Jinsung for legal reasons, there's no prizes for guessing the corporation's real name). The biggest Korean surprise came from film student Lee Su-jin, who took time out from his Masters degree to make Han Gong-ju (pictured), a feature about a schoolgirl caught in the maelstrom of a shameful trauma, and the ensuing cover-up. This intriguingly structured feature debut had crowds openly weeping and picked up two audience awards.
In the Asian Film Market, Korean cinema was getting attention for different reasons. An Australian initiated remake of Jo Sung-hee's End of Animal (2010) from the team of Eron Sheean (director), Shane Danielsen (writer, and SBS Film contributor) and Michael Wrenn (producer) received more meetings than any of the other 30 projects submitted to the market. Wayne Wang's project, While the Women are Sleeping, to be produced by Tokyo Sonata's Yukie Kito, came a close second. These both picked up one market prize each as did seven other submissions, with 21 projects walking away empty-handed.
While almost everything BIFF touches turns to gold, the Asian Film market has always been its problem child – partially because of its proximity to November's identically initialled American Film Market. Though, it's more than proximity to the Tokyo market TIFFCOM and the AFM that causes the Asian Film Market to falter. Most film markets are in decline because they are simply an out-moded concept.
Once, collaborating parties met at a film market and had about four days to strike an agreement and announce a deal or the moment would pass. Now with Skype, global roaming phones and PDFs, a market project could be initiated at Toronto, further discussed at Busan and/or Tokyo and be announced at AFM, Sundance or Cannes. Accordingly, festivals providing venues for preliminary discussion see the glory pass them by, while deal announcements are saved for bigger festivals. Under the new stewardship of World Cinema programmer Jay Jeon, a reward system was implemented to energise Busan's moribund market with free airfares and gratis accommodation for the following year, if companies would announce their deals during the Asian Film Market's duration. This will be Busan's standing offer for the next few years, but it also proudly differentiates itself from TIFFCOM and Hong Kong's Filmart by exclusively focusing on cinema, rather than boosting numbers by inviting in vendors for TV and other platforms. The Asian Film market's philosophy seems to be: 'Give me cinema or give me death'. It remains to be seen which comes first.
And then came Typhoon Danas. Every year, the festival takes over Busan's streets and dominates the beachfront area with a BIFF village made of shipping containers and banner sized-movie posters. But with warnings of approaching high-speed winds and rains, BIFF took the hint. It wasn't going to be like 2009 disaster movie Haeundae, but memories of 80 fatalities generated by a typhoon in September 2004 were enough to generate serious concern. Accordingly, just as the festival's Asian Film Market was taking off, festival signage came down, outdoor events were cancelled, posters were securely rolled up and the sand-mounted BIFF Village dismantled to prevent movie memorabilia becoming deadly debris.
Two days later when the typhoon had passed and movie posters unfurled once more, BIFF found itself blustering about an unexpected highlight: Quentin Tarantino was coming to town to do a public talk with Bong Joon-ho, director of the year's 2013 blockbuster, Snowpiercer. A genuine love-in, the pair tirelessly sung each other's praises and rejuvenated the festival in one fell swoop.
Older Korean veterans also received salute. This year's major retrospective provided foreigners with opportunity to see nine films from Im Kwon-taek, extended oeuvre with the Korean master using the opportunity to announce the launch of production on his 102nd movie.
There were also retros on Irish and Central Asian cinema, but it is Japanese cinema that's always Korean film's closest rival at BIFF. With Sabu's delectable Miss Zombie leading the way, there was also Matsumoto Hitoshi's hilariously bizarre R100, Kore-eda Hirokazu's esteemed Like Father, Like Son and the highly anticipated remake of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, providing plenty of inspiration to keep the Korean film industry running like the wind.