Beer and Soju Diet – The 18th Busan International Film Festival Wrap by Kwenton Bellette


Pictured: Lunch and dinner

OK so I promised a daily dairy of my coverage of this year’s Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), yep that didn’t happen. You can hardly blame me. Between the very small amounts of great cinema I actually saw, bustling city-beach activity and the copious parties I nary had time to tweet let alone write full articles. So then it is time to reflect at the end of it all.

My first film festival was phenomenally overwhelming. The biggest film festival in Asia and yet with my press pass I underwent a certain level of shock – comparing this experience to that of amiable Australian festival counter-parts.

Firstly, well where to begin, we have to start somewhere… Efficiency. Busan, the beach coastal city in South Korea had efficiency in spades. Free shuttle buses to the cinema center, hundreds upon hundreds of young eager volunteers stretching out a limb to help with the most basic instructions and ease of access to every single venue and the hyper convenient, always reliable public transport and dirt cheap taxis. All this in a city as technically advanced as Japan – this was my jam.

Day 1 and I had to take a train to the cinema center, the bustling yet comfortable hub that boasts a few Guinness world records (biggest curved roof, outdoor cinema etc.). I was however staying, like most of my press compatriots, in Haeundae beach, a gorgeous and vibrant nightlife shrouding the less busy daytime bustle. Taxi, train or shuttle from there to the cinema center was about 15 minutes, easy.


Miss this place already...

The cinema center itself is so damn new and immaculately designed, like a work of art the gorgeous architecture spirals, arches and columns delineate space with ease. As press I had access to the lifeline of the festival too; the press center. Level 4 of the building is a wonderful open space with loads of tables, comfy chairs, couches, laptops and spaces and power for laptops. Add to this the place to book tickets and free coffee and vitamin water whenever you damn please, just flash that press badge!


Press centre!

The movie booking itself took a little to get used to, essentially arrive early to book a maximum of four tickets for today and tomorrow. A smart but sometimes frustrating system that had me missing out on a few choice titles – although I flashed my press badge and talked my way into those ‘sold out’ films anyway, flexible and friendly, I was in lust with this festival.

None of this hindered the event; it was instead a happy problem I encountered. The parties; as press I had unfettered access to virtually every party starting 7pm onwards. Parties for the festival, for distributors, for directors, for sponsors, the list and types of venues and vibes varied wildly, although most of them were set on Haeundae beach. So I went to 22 parties in 9 days, wow. I could not get up for films and left the center early evening to party, sorry films!


One of many, many parties

As a result of this I met legends, Bong Joon-ho the director of Snowpiercer, Kim Ki-duk and many others Korean people would be shocked to know I met. All wonderful people in their own way, particularly Bong who was quite gropey and fun-going, ahem!


Elated me and director Bong

The parties flowed with Jameson’s, beer and soju and as a result I kind of stopped eating. Beer and soju (a type of Korean spirit) became my new way of life. Blurred visions of dancing, drinking and socializing gave way to late night beach walks and Old Boy style live octopus eating (seriously).

On to the films! Most films were in Lotte and Shinsegae (the biggest shopping mall in the world by the way) shopping center theatres. This presented a problem during the peak of the festival, the lifts were out of commission, the escalators too slow, and I was often late. Still day 1 (still on day 1) I managed to catch a press screening of Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play In Hell? A contender for film of the year for me, well it was certainly more fun than anything I have seen in recent memory. The film was a crazy start to the festival that set the bar high indeed. Straight after the screening we had a spread of food and drink at the Cine de Chef café, my god the press are treated well here.

Next I saw a Korean film, The Fake. From the director of The King of Pigs comes a far superior shockingly expanded work of ultra-dark animation telling a tale of despair, faith and the human condition, the film broke me. Day 1!

Luckily Rough Play followed it and that was a lot of fun, although equally dark and essentially American Psycho set in modern day Korean film industry as an actor goes off the rails when he becomes too famous.


The anti-hero of Rough Play

Party, party, party, 4 hours of karaoke, absolutely zero sleep and 7 am the next day I showered and soon after stumbled and tricked my way into Blue is the Warmest Color. For someone who had not slept a soft-hued three hour romance epic kept me wide awake and engaged, amazing. Unfortunately I passed out in my next session and woke up in a department store, oh dear.

The next day I managed to book myself into a 10am screening of the terrifying psychotropic murder mystery mind-screw that is Giallo-inspired The Strange Colour of Your Bodies Tears. Not the right time to see such a film but I was too excited and confused to care. I missed my next screening because lunch was too amazing but still felt like a film. Luckily the press center has a screening room with hundreds of films playing at the fest available to watch on demand. I settled into possibly the best film of the festival Einstein And Einstein. This film explored the generational gap in modern day China in such a strikingly brilliant and poignant way with incredible acting across the board - I was very impressed and moved.

At some point I tried to catch Kim Ji-woon’s (The Last Stand) new short The X, a simple short with a tech premise, a 260 degree viewing experience, like a horizontal IMAX. I missed it, being confused by the location (roof of the department store) and duped by the dinosaur park on top of said store before that cinema’s entrance. I did catch the press screening where they all defended the technology, but nobody seemed convinced and it came off as a failed experiment, but time will tell.


Centre - Kim Ji-woon

I caught the uncut version of Snowpiercer, take that Weinstein! The film is in the canon of 2000’s sci-fi from Matrix to Inception as it stands as a similar masterpiece of world building, surrealism and finality and fatalism, the last two traits are already inherent in all of Bong’s films. Alas the film has widely divided many, but the justifications are flimsy for why it is not up to scruff and I will defend it all day long.

So far I have caught films in the shopping centers and while their screens and sound rival ours in Australia ten-fold I was most excited to see the next film Cold Eyes in the Busan cinema center outdoor theatre. It was awesome, the film rivals The Thieves as a slick, sexy, character-driven tech-narrative and the outdoor screen boosted every aspect, the sound a minor inconvenience of echo, but a great experience all round.


Outdoor cinema

I also saw Kim Ki-duk’s Venice darling Moebius which if you have seen Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q you can relate the absurd levels of family dysfunction. The film disturbed on so many levels and did not let up. With no dialogue whatsoever the non-verbal maddening glares took hold, both darkly funny and ultra-traumatizing, I need to see it again yet am afraid to.

Caught in a typhoon! Wow crazy weather that makes you feel so alive, and very freaking wet!

Next day Peckinah’s Straw Dogs received a unique Korean twist on its formula with The Intruders, a little film of creeping weirdness and offbeat humor that turns serious and thrilling very quickly. After the screening was a Q&A, I asked a sweet question and got a cast signed poster, score!


Director and cast of The Intruders

The next day was a string of forgettable Japanese fare. Tamako In Moratorium was literally a film about a slacker daughter eating and sleeping at her father’s workplace through all four seasons of the year. Why. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Real followed suit, a dour sci-fi with inklings of genius that just petered out. The night was redeemed by punk rock director Sabu’s bizarre take on a tired theme. Miss Zombie is an ultra-low budget film shot in beautiful monochrome about a half-zombie maid who is used and abused in a twisted household. This film got under my skin and used repetition and character building masterfully in its small confines.

Another quiet night of only two parties and by now all 200 of my business cards are long gone. In the morning I made my way to Israeli horror thriller Big Bad Wolves, a film I missed twice in Australia. Boy was I glad I saw this session. Quentin Tarantino glided in as a general audience member and sat near me. I shivered and mumbled like a crazy person as I introduced myself to him prior to the film beginning. By films end and in the Q&A he declared Big Bad Wolves film of the year.

Later I caught Quentin and director Bong in an open talk, a last minute and semi-lauded event that some had hopes of having answers for the Weinstein cut of Snowpiercer. The talk was however light on controversy and heavily geeky on Asian genre cinema. Bong essentially stated he had no issues with the cut but insiders say that is not his true feelings on the matter, hmmm.


Just two guys

Later that night I caught the utterly polarizing, uncanny and extremely jarring Miss Violence, a new addition to the post-bankrupt Greek cinema, a film I will not soon forget.

Suddenly tomorrow is the last day, I mourn with an extreme excess of alcohol and the next day see my final film the Japanese remake of The Unforgiven. It is a gorgeously realized, highly stylized and emotionally charged blockbuster and a fantastic way to end my festival of far flung films.

A lot happened that I did not muse on, found great GREAT new friends, experienced crazy drama I’d be remiss to discuss here and had so many star-struck, utterly insane fan-boyish moments to count.

My advice, if you love film and can live comfortably out of a dark room, embrace an international film festival immediately, with open arms and wanton abandonment, it will change your life.

Kwenton Bellette - follow Kwenton on Twitter here: @Kwenton

Kwenton Bellette is extremely passionate about Asian film and the resurgence of new waves taking place in Korea, Japan and China in the last 10 years. He joined the global site Twitchfilm in 2009, is the artistic director of the Fantastic Asia Film Festival is Melbourne and currently studies a film masters degree at Melbourne University. He is very excited to raise further awareness of the what he thinks is the most exciting film industry in the world.