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It's Up To You, Pusan, Puuuusan....

October 3rd, 2008 (07:23 am)

© 2008
D. Gordon

Okay, I'm sitting by beautiful Haeundae Beach, the most popular beach in Korea and location of the Pusan International Film Festival.

Pusan is the second largest city in South Korea, after Seoul, and lies in the southeast on the coast. The weather is beautiful right now, maybe high 70s – low 80s (I was expecting 60s). It's both a large port city and a beach resort, and also the place where a good chunk of the film industry is thinking of relocating in the next few years. Not as cosmopolitan as Seoul, but it's obvious that a good time can be had by all (though Korean helps a little more than it does in Seoul - people appreciate my gamsa hamnida, but my lack of language skills is a hindrance).

My hotel is on Gwangalli Beach, to the west of Haeundae. My room is on the 12th floor, overlooking the beach (aka A Nice View) and facing the giant mood ring known as Gwangan Grand Bridge (the lights on the bridge phase through colors until about 1 am). The road fronting the beach is pretty much what you'd expect at a beach resort – fish restaurants, bars, clubs – and lots of funseekers. No festival activities are over here, but it's still crowded with folks until late at night, and there are even mini pop concerts outside (fortunately over by bedtime). Hotel California was on not too long ago.

People are generally nice so far, especially when you give them a smile. I got into a conversation with an older man on the subway – turns out he'd been at school in Florida, and had traveled around the States while he was here. We had a quick but good conversation, although he changed trains one stop from where we got on so the conversation wasn't that long.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Pusan International Film Festival is in its 13th year, and is reportedly the largest film market in Asia. As such, it's a big thing: there are hordes of people, and a healthy amount of media. The main audience is Korean, obviously, but there are also a lot of Japanese and the occasional Westerner. According to the program there should be a sizable French contingent somewhere around, and they're hosting a party sometime this weekend.

Right now I'm sitting in the permanent festival structure – a sort of cube, with one half devoted to an audience lounge of chairs and a cafe, and the other half to guest reception (you need a pass for that). To the west is a stretch of vendor tents and a sound stage. The opening night fireworks (which I could see from my hotel, although I'm one beach over) must've been over here. (Opening night didn't happen for me mainly because the tickets were available on a Korean language only website and sold out in seven minutes.) It looks like they're setting up for an event outside the cube, although I have no idea what. The people next to me said something about "Daniel Henny"(Korean-American actor), which would be interesting if it is him.

The festival itself is spread out a little far. Actual tickets for general showings are available at one of the six screening venues, various banks, by texting or online; but it seems the only English option is the screening venues, which are spread out over miles. There is *no* ticket location at Festival Central (although the Megabox multiplex, which looks to be related to AMC Theaters, is a ten-minute walk away). The festival has set up shuttle buses between the theaters, but the distances are still an issue; I've already been told that one movie I was interested in seeing today is too far away from the other movie I'm going to see to make it in time. (Good thing the woman told me!)

Now that I've got the program book in my hands, instead of sorting through the website *grrr*, I can see just how many movies there are - I don't have an exact number, but we're talking tens - from a huge cross section: Korea, Japan, Iran, Thailand, Indonesia, India, France, Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Philippines, Italy, and Singapore, to name a few. There are even a few US films, but this is one of the reasons I wanted to come: unlike a lot of the other festivals I've been to, it hasn't become mainly a place for Hollywood to premiere product regardless of quality, and it offers a lot of films that may not make it to the US in any form beyond an imported DVD. The categories range from general entries to several shorts competitions, Asian superheroes (Cicakman!), omnibus collections, documentaries, World Cinema (from a whole different perspective), and panels and such; in fact, Anna Karena will be on a panel, although French / Korean only (and my French probably isn't up to it, though I can try). During the meeting at the film archive a few days ago, I found out that the Korean silent discovered last year / early this year will have a performance as well, which I'm really looking forward to (although I'm not sure where, it's not listed in the catalog). It's just nice to see another, different, healthily heterogeneous, take on movies and what they should be.

Well, that first ticket is in my hot little hands. I'll be back a little earlier than noon to get tomorrow's tickets; the festival holds 30% of their tickets for day-of sales, after an apparent fiasco last year, but it does seem you have to get there somewhat early to get them.

Okay, more about that movie in a bit. Restaurants close relatively early in these parts, and if I'm going to do better than convenience store cuisine tonight I'd better hustle.