Oscar-winning director Bong Joon-ho was on hand to present an award to Im Kwon-taek as part of the Wednesday night opening ceremony of the Busan International Film Festival. The in-person event included many of the trappings of past ceremonies, but it was smaller due to reduced numbers and ongoing social distancing precautions.
Held at the huge open-sided Busan Cinema Center venue, proceedings kicked off with a lengthy parade of celebrities and dignitaries along an L-shaped red carpet that resembled an oversized fashion runway.
Ambassadors for Korean fashion brand Artistry were first up, setting the mood for a still glamorous event. They were followed by the directors and cast of selected Korean independent films, by an obviously delighted Japanese director Hamaguchi Ryusuke and three actors from his recent film “Drive My Car.” A smattering of overseas visitors included Sabrina Baracetti from the Udine festival of Asian films in Italy. The New Currents competition jury made an entrance, but without its president Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, stuck in Canada.
Among the biggest entrances were those of stars currently making waves in TV series. They included Kim Sang-ho, director of Netflix series “Move to Heaven”; Jeon Yeobeen, main actress from “Night in Paradise” and TV series, “Vincenzo”, and co-star Song Joong Ki (elegant with her hair down and wearing a black gothic dress); and “My Name” actors Park Hee Soon and Han So Hee (smart in an alluring black blazer, paired with a short black skirt and leggings). The couple was joined by supporting actors, Ahn Bo Hyun, Chang Ryul and Lee Hak Joo.
Their presence was more than window dressing, given the ever-growing international profile of Korean television drama – “Squid Game” and “Hometown Cha-cha-cha” are currently making global headlines – and the newly-found place in the festival for streaming series.
The ceremony’s hosts Song Joong Ki and Park So Dam had warm words for those who had braved the COVID restrictions – everyone present needs to be fully-vaccinated or regularly tested – and the cooling evening weather.
Park said that the festival represented a moment of comfort and consolation, providing a sense of hope in the recovery of the film industry, which has been depleted by persistently anemic box office takings and cinema closures.
The scaled-down festival, running to Oct. 15, will present 223 films from 70 countries will be presented this year. And Soong said that there was aggressive competition for screening tickets, which he opined showed strong support for the festival.
Lee Yong-jin, son of Lee Choon-yun, received the Korean Cinema Award that was presented to his late father, former chairman of the Korean Academy of Film Arts. The younger Lee remembered his father as a “good parent and a funny man.”
Bong and director Im Sang-soo were on stage to present the Asian Filmmaker of the Year Award to Im Kwon-taek, who has tallied 102 films as director. The veteran called his wife up on stage to receive a gift of flowers.
Arguably, the highlight of the event was the presentation of Im Sang-soo’s film “Heaven: To The Land of Happiness,” with several of the cast on stage. The film had been selected for the 2020 edition of the Cannes festival, but after that was canceled, it left free Busan to nab the title as its gala opening pick.
The crowd-pleasing story of two men who meet on a journey stars Choi Min Sik and Park Hae-il.
Choi told Busan: “I missed you very much.” Explaining that he made “Happiness” a year before the pandemic, Im said: “Tonight in Busan is the night for my film.”