The looming threat of Typhoon Kong-Rey failed to cloud a glittering opening to the 23rd Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) on Thursday, with a parade of the region’s brightest stars gracing the red carpet.
South Korean K-pop singer-turned-actress Choi Soo-young was joined at the festival’s opening gala by the likes of Hong Kong actress Sammi Cheng, here with the drama First Night Nerves, and China’s Zhao Tao, who stars in the latest Jia Zhangke feature Ash is Purest White.
Veteran Japanese composer and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto, in town to collect the Asian Filmmaker of the Year award, took to the stage to perform the theme song from his Oscar-winning score for Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence.
Sakamoto also scored the animated feature My Tyrano: Together, Forever, a Korean-Japanese-Chinese co-production having its world premiere in Busan.
The composer said he hoped its themes of peace and tolerance would resonate with recent political developments in the region.
“It seems finally that peace is coming to the Korean peninsula and as an Asian this fills me with immense joy,” said Sakamoto.
“Film helps connect people and this is also what this film festival does.”
Noted international filmmakers attending this year’s event include Hollywood producer Jason Blum (Whiplash, Get Out) and Indian hit-maker Rajkumar Harani (3 Idiots).
Festival organisers were bracing for the imminent arrival of Typhoon Kong-Rey on Saturday, as the stormfront was projected to close in on the South Korean coast over the next 48 hours.
After being downgraded from Super Typhoon status on Thursday, organisers hoped the storm would weaken further as it moved north.
Regardless, the local weather bureau has suggested there was an 80 to 90 per cent chance of a direct hit on Busan, with winds of up to 110 kilometres per hour and heavy rain.
Meet-the-public events scheduled for the city’s Haeundae Beach, featuring the likes of local star Moon So-ri, have been moved under cover at the Busan Film Centre over the next few days, with memories of the havoc wrought by Typhoon Chaba in 2016 still fresh in the minds of organisers.
This year they are taking no chances after that storm uprooted stages and lay waste to festival displays.
The world premiere of the South Korean drama Beautiful Days opened the festival on Thursday, starring acclaimed actress Lee Na-young in her first role for six years. Lee plays a North Korean mother reunited with her family after escaping to the South looking for a better life.
Director Jero Yun told the festival’s opening press conference the film’s themes of reconciliation were a direct response to his personal hopes that relations between North and South Korea would continue to thaw.
“Like in my film, dialogue is the first step,” Yun said.
“I wanted to send a positive message to the audience and the hope that we see the dialogue continue.”
Festival organisers are positioning the 2018 edition as a fresh start for the influential event, which has endured government funding cuts and backroom turmoil ever since screening the controversial The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol documentary in 2014.
That film was critical of Seoul’s handling of the tragic April 2014 sinking of a ferry which left more than 300 people dead — most of them schoolchildren.
“Of course we are excited to be back and we are excited about the future for Busan and for Korean film,” said festival director Jay Jeon.
Jeon and Biff organising committee chairman Lee Yong-kwan were removed from their previous posts at Biff during the Sewol documentary turmoil, but both have been reinstated for this year’s event.
Expected highlights include the world premiere on Friday of acclaimed Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan’s theatrical-themed drama First Night Nerves, along with the world premiere of the Philippine triptych Lakvayan.
That film’s premiere - combining the talents of leading filmmakers Brillante Mendoza, Lav Diaz and Kidlat Tahimik - will launch the festival’s “Cinema as a response to the nation” programme, which is helping celebrate 100 years of Philippine film.
Biff runs until October 13 and will feature 323 films from 79 countries, including 115 having their world premieres.