BIFF started with a bang. Red carpets! Black-clad directors from obscure nations! Asian starlets in super-expensive dresses taped to their tiny racks! Busan mayor Hur Nam-shik! Fireworks! Boom!
I didn’t plan on attending the opening ceremony but was pleasantly surprised that my over-the-phone wrangling succeeded in awarding me a pass to the coveted event. You see, in this case a regular press pass just doesn’t pass muster: to attend the opening and closing ceremony as a member of the press corps (and I use the term most elastically), you need a second pass. It seems they aren’t equipped to accommodate the oceans of journalists that would invariably swamp such a gathering of A-list Korean talent. But I got in. I got my second pass. I must truly be special.
The ceremony featured an endless stream of Korean movie stars, almost none of whom I recognized. When it come to shockingly pretty K-actresses strolling down the walk of fame, the old racist adage DOES apply: They all (kinda) look alike. They look GREAT, but the same kind of great. It’s like tasting 75 bottles of Remy Martin cognac.
After some various speechifying and what seemed to be the breakdown of the main projector (oops), the opening film got underway. It was a Chinese joint called Under the Hawthorne Tree, by celebrated director Zhang Yimou, most famous for his film, Raise the Red Lantern, and creator of the pants-shittingly amazing 2008 Beijing Olympic games opening ceremony. Zhang himself was on hand (along with the films costars) and very much looked the part of Chinese revolutionary genius, in black commie garb and cropped hair. Under the Hawthorne Tree is a straight-up love story, set against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution. It’s a lovely, if predictable, film. I’ll spoil it right now when I tell you he dies at the end, but you already knew that, didn’t you? Once you get this side of the International Date Line, happy endings are pretty much out of the question. It’s a sort of Hollywood Bizarro world. Everyone must die!
After the opening ceremony, I sauntered down to the Grand Hotel, the site of PIFF’s opening-night party. Now, you would think that writing for such a prestigious and world-known publication such as Busan Haps, that I would be given an invitation to such an exclusive event.* Think again. Despite many advances in power and prestige, our humble magazine was once again left off the list, and just like last year, I found myself at the gates without a key. But unlike last year, I had a cunning planâ¦
The Press Center is located in the same building, and I visited it earlier in the day, with the intention of picking up my pass, as well as to case the place for stairwells or secondary elevators that would deliver me into the busom of the party. My research didn’t fail me. Upon entering the premises, I headed up to the 6th floor and immediately boarded the service elevator, which dropped me off next to expansive kitchen feeding the party. Once there I just strolled out of the gate, nary raising an eyebrow from any of the blue-tied staff minding the party and its high-powered guests. Crashing that gate was like walking through a wall of jello.
The part was as grand as the hotel, with an expansive spread of food â prawns, salmon, chicken, fruit â and a ludicrous amount of free alcohol, which put a smile to the lips of this here blogger. I drank freely, sticking to the cans of Max and a bit of white wine, circulating through the people like a shark sniffing out a kill. There were some obvious stars on board, usually surrounded by a cadre of fans and minders, along with directors of various passports, diplomats, politicians, and scumbag journalists.
One journalist I talked to was John, from the Los Angeles Times, which keeps a bureau in Seoul (good on âem, overseas bureaus are getting rarer and rarer these days). Like me, he admitted to not having an actual invitation to the party. If the LA Times isn’t getting invited, Busan Haps has some waiting to do. He managed to get in, however, after a showdown with the gatekeeper and calls to people of semi-importance. My favorite people of the night, however, were two Brazilians I met – Bruno and Marcello. They wore jeans and t-shirts, almost cooler than the gussied-up crown in their we’re not going to dress up attire.
What are you guys doing here? I asked.
I am a director, Marcello replied.
Oh, great. Do you have a film here this year?
No. I’m the director of a company that makes surfing wetsuits. We aren’t movie people – we’re in town on business. We weren’t invited to this party. When they asked for our invitation I just told them that Bruno was Antonio Banderas. They let us pass, no questions asked.
The resemblance was there, it must be said.
Delighted to meet fellow gate-crashers I shared a drink and slapped their backs and ended up with an invitation to stay at Marcello’s southern Brazilian beach house. I may just have to take him up on that one.
Hey, you want come back to Paradise Hotel with us? We want to go to the disco and meet some pussies!
I politely declined, citing previous commitments.
I was now beginning to see in double and contemplating my exit, when the man I was waiting for finally arrived: Yes, Willem Dafoe made an appearance. He came out of nowhere and was suddenly standing next to me, in red haired and bearded splendor. Like many film actors, he is much, much smaller than I had expected. The dude’s straight-up short. But his star power was more than enough to make up for any vertical challenges, as evidenced by this woman (wife?), a dead-hot Italian beauty.
I’ve been around celebrities enough to observe a certain phenomenon that invariable occurs in their presence. At parties â such as the one I was at last night â none of the guests want to appear too desperate to talk the said famous person, when in fact it’s the only thing on their mind. So what do they do? They just stand NEAR the celebrity and appear disinterested, waiting for their turn to approach Mr. Movie Star and get some face time. It begins to resemble a solar system of sorts â with the star as the sun, and the lesser folks as planets, moons, asteroids, and space debris â circling around in vain hopes of basking in the glory of the celebrity. It’s kind of sad, really. And what is it like for the famous guy? Dafoe just stepped off of a plane from America and was tired and disoriented. He had never been to Korea before and was dropped off in a party fully of hundreds of people, many of whom wanted to attempt some sort of conversation with him. What do you say to an endless stream of strangers who want to meet you? Thanks? It must be the most common word uttered by any celebrity.
In the end, I elected NOT to talk to Dafoe. He was fucking swamped with people; I was getting drunk and likely to embarrass myself. I chose to NOT make contact. I let the famous guy be, and just maybe both of us are the better for it. He was the star, and I had no problem acting the part of space debris. After all, we all must know our place, right?