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McGill Tharp Kim Ki Duk

Boozing and Schmoozing: The Opening Night Party

BIFF is back, the best damned ten days on the Busan calendar. Suddenly our second-fiddle port city is anointed as a premier destination. Film lovers and film makers descend upon the town, and for a brief shining moment, Busan flirts with true glamor.

Thursday night’s red carpet opening ceremony–hosted by Japanese superstar Ken Watanbe and Korean actress Moon So-ri—featured the film “Paradise in Service,” by Taiwanese director Doze Chen-zer Nui. Lacking either tickets or the special “opening ceremony” press pass, I gave the film a skip, electing instead to head down to Wolfhound in Haeundae, where I supped pints of cider and watch North and South Korea re-enact the war on a football pitch for the gold medal of the Asian Games. It was happy to see the South squeak out a victory 1-0, though I fear for the fates of the Northern players and their families. It is well-known that the ruling Kim clan is less-than-gracious in defeat.

Thoughts of soccer soon gave ways to those of film, and I was soon joined by the rest of the ragged band that makes up this year’s Haps BIFF squad, and once we were good and lubed up, we headed en masse to the Grand Hotel, to check out the gala opening party.

This is my fourth straight year of covering this particular soiree, and pretty much every year it’s the same thing: A few hundred people milling about a couple large rooms, grazing on the expansive buffet and throwing huge amounts of booze down their gullets. This is the first big chance for social interaction among participants in the fest, and everybody is busy sniffing everyone else out, trying to determine just where they sit on the pecking order of importance. The schmoozing is mighty and the bullshit laid on thick, but once everyone gets over themselves and the wine and whisky take effect, you can actually meet some good heads.

Compared to previous years, the star power seemed a bit lacking, though there were still a few names in the room. Notorious Korean director Kim Ki-duk was once again making the rounds wearing the exact same clothes as last year (Does he ever change?). He’s a sweet and gracious guy who gladly poses for pictures with fans and admirers, which included Haps editor Bobby McGill and me. Screen legend Ahn Sung-ki once again held court along with director Im Kwon-ta, and his part-time reporter had a run-in with gregarious Hong Seok-cheon, Korea’s first openly gay celebrity.

The gala party also featured an award ceremony with just one recipient. Kim Dong-ho, the 77-year old founder of BIFF. As a result of his contribution to world cinema, Mr. Kim was honored with the Chevalier dans l’Ordre National de la Legion D’Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor), France’s highest civilian order. The old guy was visibly moved by the fitting tribute, and I was glad to see him get the nod. After all, he’s started it all. He’s the reason we were all there.

After the award was given out, I stalked the room, eyeing potential film makers to check out, shadow and interview (read: drink with) over the following week. I ended up meeting a few good folks who were more than happy to talk to me, though noticeably deflated when they learned that I was from Haps and not Variety.

First up was Peruvian writer director Carlos Ciurlizza, who is here with his new film, “Sebastian,” which he describes as a family drama. Mr. Ciurlizza seemed excited to be in Busan, and graciously endured an interrogation in my rusty, ten-year unused Spanish.

Next I managed to corner Japanese heartthrob Satoshi Tsumabuki, who was in town for just one night, as part of the cast of “The World of Kanako” by director Tetsuya Nakashima, which is playing as part of the Midnight Passion series. It turns out that he’s a pretty big star in Japan, and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy.

I ended the party with the rest of the Haps crew, where we chatted with Argentinian director Sebastian Shindel, who is here with his film, “The Boss: Anatomy of a Crime.” Shindel told us of how they cast one of Argentina’s most famous and handsome movie stars in the lead as a young farmhand and proceeded to “ugly him up,” ‘a la Charlize Theron in “Monster.” Sounds interesting. Equally intriguing was UK director Max Sobol, whose must-see “You (Us) Me” is said to contain a “vomit wank.” Now THAT is what I call a selling point.

At this point the gathering was winding down. Everyone was teetering on their feet, so we grabbed a couple of cabs and headed to the more familiar expat environs of HQ Bar, where the wonderful Paula Ioannidis was celebrating her birthday. As thrilling as free food, free drinks, and movie people were, it felt good to be back in my usual element. I no longer had to try to impress anyone. I shook a few hands, slapped a few backs, ordered a couple of pale ales, and then everything faded to black.


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