Directors, Writers, Hangers-on and Reprobates
BUSAN, South Korea – The summer of 2010 will always be known to me as “The Great Sweat”: three-and-a-half relentless months of pure perspiration. The very act of putting on my shirt before work would cause the thing to be saturated in my greasy man-sweat within minutes. It was a brutal summer, with a near-sadistic heat that succeeded in entirely breaking me down. In the end I submitted, humbled by Mother Nature’s ability to utterly dominate a human being. I was humidity’s bitch and will never forget it.
But those days are behind us now. Good riddance, tropical menace! Alas, it is October, that most glorious of all the months here in Busan. We have entered into autumn–one of the four distinct Korean seasons, may I remind you– with its warm days and crisp nights. We can hike up the mountain and guzzle makgeolli; we can stroll along the beach without dodging mounds of chicken bones and 750,000 parasols (a Guiness record!); we can don sweaters, take in the sweet fall air, and most importantly, we can go to PIFF.
During my first year in this here port city, I was ignorant of the splendors of PIFF. I was a fresh-off-the-boat newbie, wandering the streets of Haeundae New Town with wide eyes and a laundry rack, utterly oblivious to the fact that Asia’s biggest muthafuckin’ film festival was literally taking place on my turf. “What are all of these bearded Euro types doing here?” I asked myself. “What’s up with all the banners? They have movies in Korea?”
In subsequent years I got hip, so to speak, and greedily began to drink from the fountain of PIFF. Some of my most bracing artistic memories on the peninsula are PIFF related. I’ve taken in countless films over the last five years, some awesome, some dreadful, but almost always interesting. When looking back, I am left with a handful of images, including octogenarian Russian babushka's whipping out their saggy titties, drinking straight vodka, and making doll heads out of wet bread. I recall watching Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies give the most overwrought performance I’ve ever taken in at PIFF, gnawing through acres of scenery in an abortion of a New Zealand nautical horror film. I remember taking in a lazy film about pot smoking slackers in Uruguay, and another about drunken Croatian soccer thugs. I recall a firsthand documentary about Bolivia’s leftist president Hugo Chavez, and will be forever scarred by Filipino director Brillante Mendoza’s “Service,” which featured live-action man-on-man oral sex, real boil popping, and a female yeast-bloom that looked like several pounds of cottage cheese.
Last year, I entered a new phase in my relationship with PIFF. Armed with a press pass, I was unleashed onto the festival as a representative of the brand new English-language magazine, Busan Haps. I had a hell of a time, taking in a slew of films and hobnobbing with various directors, writers, hangers-on, and reprobates. Highlights included getting manhandled out of the opening night mega party when I attempted to bum rush the gate, drinking myself into jelly with the Canadian ambassador and his overly-polite cohorts, and schmoozing with my old friend, Korean director Kim Ki-hoon, who had a party thrown for him by the film office from the city of Sapporo, Japan, where he had just shot his last feature.
This year I have no plan. I’ll show up each day and go to random films. I’ll let my nose lead me to the good stories, one of which will hopefully be Willem Dafoe (we have a mutual friend or two). I’ll crash parties and gorge myself on appetizer buffets. I’ll watch the Korean starlets being led around like pretty, frightened livestock, and at once envy and pity their micromanaged lives. In short, I’ll have whale of a time.
Care to join me?