HAEUNDAE, South Korea (2:08 AM) — Without a bit of pretense I must declare: for the nine days that BIFF sets down in Busan, Busan is not Busan; it is a film festival. And all it entails. Thousands of people walking in and out of movie complexes, hundreds of schoolgirls taping newspaper to the sidewalk next to the red carpet, to lay their heads while waiting for a peek at a star, big money studio folk looking for the next hit, ambassadors, socialites, corporate execs, and us, your expat press-pass-in-hand brethren trying to step with the big dogs.
A gander at our previous years of BIFF coverage will quickly give up the unabashed fact that we do so enjoy the parties. There are seven of us covering the event this year. 6 writers and one photographer taking in the scene wherever possible.
I myself have not seen a film at BIFF for three years, but have rarely missed the dozens of parties taking place throughout the week. It is like traveling abroad with only a ten minute walk from my apartment in Haeundae.
First stop: AMCHAM Party. The American Chamber of Commerce chose the Westin Chosun Rose Room for their little fest. It was a corporate mixer with nary a hint of film folk but an excellent way to start out the night .
We got there about 7, when the party was 1.5 hours in and caught it just at the right time. The government officials had done their handshakes and were gone and the biz boys and girls were ready to let it loose a little bit with a fair spread of food an alcohol.
There was the requisite salmon, salad, odd little crusty cakes and a nice tray of roast pork. I regret going for the pork. There were no knives and it made for difficult conversation fighting this pig armed only with a fork, while trying to hold a conversation.
The GM exec I was talking to had it down. He pinned the bone to the plate with his thumb and tore away at it with his fork. Genius –I really need to step up in my social circle more often.
Tharp and Ben Weller (who is also shooting BIFF for Reuters) were there along with me and Chevy. We worked the room for about an hour and then the prize drawing came. This is part of our BIFF tradition, and over the years some of us have gotten pretty lucky. We are there like your granny on lotto night hoping for a little something.
The head of AMCHAM, Amy Jackson, reached into the fish bowl, just seconds after Chev, Tharp and I ran to throw our cards in. She pulled out mine. A Lotte Buffet for two!
She reached back in and pulled out Tharps. Another Lotte Buffet for two!
Amy reached in again, and as she did, I called it, “Ben Weller.” And then Amy did too. A Haps sweep! Three prizes out the door with the boyz.
Chev won nothing, looking a bit dejected, but promising to win the Blackberry later on. (Foreshadowing)
On the way out we talked to the guy that threw the party. He said he tried to get a Bluegrass band but the band was a bit snotty about their playing requirments. He regretted having to go with a string quartet. He compared the music to the sinking of the Titanic.
We moved on to the the Showbox party downstairs. Showbox is one of the biggest movie companies in Asia and they always throw a big bash. Just like last year we walked in to a large room of about 1,000 people. Look to your right and you see a TV screen running from the floor all the way up to the high ceiling and up on stage is Korean actor, So Ji-sub, star of the BIFF opener.
At BIFF the stars arrive in Chevy Vans. Take that FTA.
When at BIFF you must adjust your eyes to the handsomeness of the male stars. The women are lovely, yeah of course, but you see them on the streets all the time, but super handsome men are a rarity –myself excluded. These male movie stars are just plain hot. Yeah, I said it.
I worked my way up to the front, plopped down in the VIP secion and managed to click off a few shots with my pocket camera while braving awkard stares from people several income brackets above me.
I receded back to the bar and was on the bottled water for a little while, to eat away at too early a buzz, when I suddenly became cognizant of the dilemma of the party promoters. You have a room with 1,000 Koreans and a smattering of foreigners, great food laid out along the walls, and a choice of 12 AND 18 year Chivas Regal at an open bar. Your first act is one of the premiere stars this year. How in the hell do you follow it up?
The producer of this party chose a brave path and went with a sand artist to follow behind the Oprah-like interview for hearthrob So Ji-sub. (Of him I will say he actually seemed to be a class act. I don’t understand Korean well enough to know all that was going on in the conversation, but at one point the MC was pushing him about drinking soju, and he just blew the questions off for their ridiculousness).
Though a little hard to make out, the Sand Guy on the giant TV making live sand pictures for your party entertainment.
The sand guy was actually pretty cool. Chev and I looked at each other at first like “oh boy”, but looking back from my buzzed type writer I might book that guy for my unlikely future wedding.
Sand artist guy set it up for popular singer Kim Bum Soo who stepped on the stage to a mild scream session before breaking into a ballad. A ballad! To a room of 1,000. I ditched the bottled water and went for the 18-year-old Chivas.
It was about 10:00 at this point, the Canadian Film party wasn’t on until 10:30 down the beach at the Paradise, so me and Chev just dug in and took each note of this norae bang crooner. It was at that point I discovered the skewers at the buffet table. No thumb, no nonsense, just slide that sweet shrimpness delight right on in.
We headed down the beach about 10:30 and happened upon another awesome aspect of BIFF. Yes, all the stars come out, but also all those that want to and should be stars are out too. In this case, musicians. After the first and then second group of huddled musical collectives we happened upon on our 10 minute walk to the Paradise, it hit me and my buddy Chivas Regal: Big stage, bad music, small stage, good music. This was mostly Chivas’ argument but…
Into the Canadian party we went. My favorite every year. I can comfortably be a sarcastic American with my superior northern brothers and sisters. There were several of my one year friends there in attendance. A good 20 people that I only see once a year at this party.
It is a strangely fun reunion. At this point in the night nearly all attendees are half lit from whatever party they just came from and the Canadian delegation lays out a chill vibe to settle in to for the wind down of drinking and conversation.
North Korean go-to-guy and famed writer, B.R. Myers was there, just like last year. We joked about our tradition as Americans to go to the Canadian bash. The President of Boeing Korea asked me to introduce him to Brian. We had met earlier at the AMCHAM party and for some reason I remembered his name being “David,” when it is actually Patrick Gaines. Smooth move Magoo.
My night ended about an hour later chiling on the lawn with the usual quality spread of great food and people. The party had expanded to about 150 goers, nearly all international film folk, (including Marie, who had just gotten in a few hours earlier and had a pack of excellent Parisian cigarettes). All in attendance were thoroughly enjoying the food, the beach and the buzz.
Sadly, I had to come home to post Tharp and Thomas’ stories. Honestly, right now, I want to be back out there. I love BIFF.
By the way, Chev called me about 20 minutes ago. He won the first prize in the drawing for a Blackberry phone at the Canadian party. It was a Haps full sweep on the night’s giveaways.
Eight more days to go. Yah!
Chevy, trashed, just hours before winning a new phone rounding out the Haps sweep.