Saturday, October 10, 2009

PIFF '09: Busan bigger than Bangkok

Asia's biggest film festival is under way in the coastal city of Busan, South Korea, where the 14th Pusan International Film Festival is unspooling a record 355 films from 70 countries, with 98 world premieres. It's all happening in the Shinsegae mall in Centum City, a new purpose-built complex for the film industry that is being touted as "the Hub of Asian Cinema".

Thursday's opening night had a crowd of 10,000 people, on hand to greet a bevy of South Korean movie stars, watch a performance by K-pop's Girls Generation and be treated to a fireworks display. The opening film was the South Korean political satire, Good Morning President.

Josh Hartnett is there representing Hollywood’s A-list. He's starring in I Come with the Rain, a crime thriller set in Hong Kong and directed by Vietnamese-French filmmaker Tran Anh Hung. Another big name at the fest is Bryan Singer, whose latest producing project is a horror film, Trick ’r Treat. French director Costa Gavras and Italian cult-horror guru Dario Argento are giving master classes, as are Hong Kong director Johnnie To and China’s Jia Zhangke. Indian producer-director Yash Chopra is receiving the Asian Filmmaker of the Year award, which industry observers say is an "a belated olive branch" between the industries of South Asia and the East Asia.

As for the Thai involvement in the festival, I've been noting that all along here. There are films by Thai directors in the fest, including the world premiere of "Mai" Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History, which will come back home next month to open the 7th World Film Festival of Bangkok.

Another premiere is the short, Phuket, by Aditya Assarat. Apichatpong Weerasethakul's short A Letter to Uncle Boonmee is there, as is Happiness of Kati, Khan Kluay II and the truncated Toronto cut of Sawasdee Bangkok.

Mundane History is competing in the New Currents line-up, which is being judged by a panel that includes Pen-ek Ratanaruang and is headed by French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Beineix.

Ekachai Uekrongtham is there to pitch his next project, Enemies, in the Pusan Promotion Plan. I'll have more on that.

And indie director Pramote Sangsorn is receiving script-development support for his feature Tam Rasisalai from the festival's Asian Cinema Fund. There's more coming on that too.

Of course the Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee has a roundup of the Korean connections in
yesterday's Bangkok Post. And he has connections of his own to the fest, as he co-scripted Ekachai's Enemies and has a hand in the documentary Baby Arabia, supported by PIFF's Asian Network of Documentary Fund.

All the glitz and glamor that are spinning around this "hub" in Busan must have Thai film industry leaders and government officials in a tizzy. While Thailand boasts many film-production houses and studios that make it A hub of Asian cinema, can it really claim to be THE hub as Busan has?

Not that they haven't tried. After all, it was only a few years ago they said the Bangkok International Film Festival would be "bigger than Busan". But that was before a coup curbed the festival's free-spending ways and a bribery scandal further tainted the BKKIFF's reputation.

Where were the A-list stars at this year's BKKIFF? Were there fireworks? Was there a crowd of 10,000 people, eagerly waiting to see their favorite stars?

Hey, it's possible. Someday. Maybe. But there's no need to force it and look hamfisted. I think it will be good programming that attracts crowds and builds genuine excitement. It's already happening. Eventually that excitement will be build and the stars will want to come, and they'll be coming to promote films that are actually showing in the festival.

And of course it could be argued that the Thai government doesn't show the same kind of support for its film industry as South Korea's does. So Thai filmmakers go begging to other countries and compete for handouts with other filmmakers from developing industries. One way of becoming a hub would be to offer that support, not just for Thai filmmakers but for the region's.

The festival scene in Bangkok might not necessarily ever get bigger than Busan's, but it might one day be better, just because it is in Bangkok and not Busan.

(Photo via AP/Yahoo News)

1 comment:

  1. In Thai society it is common to say "we are the best" when it is clearly untrue. Various government officials often say they want to make Thailand the ICT hub of Asia. They seem to be living in a different reality from the rest of us.

    Film festivals have always been a complete disaster in Thailand, probably because they need "organisers" who can actually "organise". This skill is completely beyond the scope and abilities of those involved in running festivals here. As for the lack of popularity of film festivals amongst the public I suspect this is down to the definition of a good film is that it has to be made in Hollywood and contain lots of noise, robots and special effects. "Culture" and Thailand don't mix.


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