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tharp_and_wilkine

Tharp: Opening Night Diplomacy


I called Wilkine with the plan.

Hey, you wanna come crash the BIFF opening party with me? Put on some appropriate threads and meet me in front of the Grand Hotel. I’d go by myself, but no one wants to the creepy guy alone at a film festival gala soiree. I’d rather be the creepy guy who arrives, uninvited, with an uncreepy friend.

I’d met Wilkine at the fest a couple of years before. He was living in Jeju at the time, teaching and writing, though he hails from Miami, where he previously made a name for himself as a spoken-word artist. But the lure of Korea is great, and despite the many splendored allure of Jeju, he has since had the good sense to relocate to our fair port town of Busan.

Yes. Finally. A BIFF partner in crime.

Wilkine was joined by his friend, Andrew, and soon we were off, down the red carpet like a trio of big shots. Hey, look the part and the rest will follow. Isn’t film all about illusion, anyway? The kids thought we were connected! Photos were snapped and I’m sure they currently grace the hard drives of several young Korean film fans. If only they knew the sad, ESL truth of it all… Mwahahahahahahaha!!!

The freight elevator proved itself once again to be the most efficient method of delivery. Four years running now and Haps still can’t manage to secure us any invites for the big bang. Or maybe they intentionally keep ‘em out of my hands in an attempt to make the narrative more compelling. Whatever the case—I’m sure none of us would really want easy access; might go straight to my already substantial head. In through the back door, every time.

The three of us were famished and hit the well-stocked buffet like a bulimic college girl to a Domino’s Super Combo Supreme. Once our bellies were full we proceeded to lube up and work the room.

Our first casualty was legendary Iranian auteur, Bahman Ghobadi.

When Wilkine saw him, he almost choked on his shrimp ball. Oh man, I was just watching one of his films today.  I gotta go talk to him. Come on, let’s go.

And so it was done. In a room jacked-up full of pomp and ego, the water-sipping Ghobadi cut a most unassuming form. He wore jeans and a soccer shirt and looked the part of the guy who was waiting to do the cleaning up, rather than one of the most gifted directors in the joint. He was friendly and warm eminently approachable. At one point he nodded to a silver-haired ponytailed man walking past and said: See that man? He is a Polish director and an absolute master.  Easily one of the top five living filmmakers in the world today.

Pride deflected. A true class act.

Next we made our way into the main room of the party, which is always ground zero for star power. A leggy Asian actress in a white dress strode by on her way to the elevator, followed by a swarm of onlookers, photographers and lampreys. Star power indeed. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Asian heavy-hitters, I had no idea who she actually was. Despite a background in the theater and connections with many actors back home—both nobodies as well as a few names—I’m still admittedly ignorant when it comes to the cinema scene on this side of the Pacific.

We eventually ran into the always-lovely Busan Haps fashion editor Christy Swain, who was there with her supremely handsome partner and a couple of other local boys.  They were accompanied by Technicolor-fashioned BIFF stalwart Talk Shin, who has forsaken his rainbow hat for a pair of green glasses and a peace-sign belt buckle. He handed me his new business card for his production company, which read:

Giving Tree.
Talk Media Vision.
Age of Touch. (Hmmmmm….)
Live Taste Fully. (Double-hmmm…)

The biggest cat in the room was Korean actor Ah Seon-gi, who did his film in 1957 at ripe old age of five. He makes Mickey Rooney look like Mickey Mouse—a one-man history book for the whole of Korean cinema—and was the photo op of the night. I waited for about twenty minutes for a shot with the guy, but was given the ajumma elbow one too many times, and walked away, defeated.

On the way to my 17th glass of wine I struck up a conversation with Kamal KM, an Indian director here to promote his new film, I.D. Like most anyone involved in Indian cinema, Kamal hails from Mumbai, a city which produces more movies than any other on Earth. But unlike the Bollywood moguls, Kamal is working on independent cinema in a town ruled by big-budget epics and musicals. As an American well acquainted with the heavy fist of Hollywood, I can appreciate his fight. Please check out his latest effort.

Eventually the glasses were taken and the tables were struck; the party was over and it was time to skedaddle. Wilkine had since sensibly bowed out, and I found myself with a very drunk Aussie director as well as Jimmy Larouche, a young filmmaker from Montreal who was just hours in the country and out to savor it for all it was worth.

We ended at a Japanese-style soju bar with a group of BIFFers, including Jimmy’s producer and publicity agent. Jimmy sported a black fedora and relished the escaping night, taking down his first-ever taste of soju with wicked abandoned. Some in the group I’d known from years before, but it was the new folks that made my heart swell.

Welcome to Busan, I slurred. It’s a helluva town.

Cheers, Jimmy said, clinking his glass with mine. This is my first experience with the soju.

Be careful, I warned. It’ll sneak up on you.

I’m fine! But I do have a screening tomorrow at 11 a.m.

Do you have a Q and A afterwards?

Fuck no!!! he said, downing the glass. Pour me another! I already love Korea!

As do I, sir. As do I.

So much, in fact, that, eight years on, I’m still here.

Check out The Scar, by Jimmy Larouche. If it’s anything like the scar left on my liver last night, you won’t forget it, good or bad.


You can get Chris Tharp’s book Dispatches from the Peninsula: Six Years in South Korea on Amazon or Whatthebook.com

Tharp’s Blog: Homely Planet


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