On one of the last evenings of this year's Pusan International Film Festival, filmmakers and festival guests gathered to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Pusan Promotional Plan, the largest project market in Asia. In an impromptu introduction, Paul Yi, one of the PPP's original advisors, took the crowd back to the beginning. "I remember going up and down the Croisette at Cannes, talking to producers and looking at their blank faces as they said 'You want me to go where?'"
What a difference a decade makes. Over 200 projects have gone through the PPP process, a three-day flurry of networking between Asian filmmakers and the international industry, and the list of resulting completed films is impressive: Jia Zhang-ke's "Platform," Hou Hsiao Hsien's "Three Times," Iwai Shunji's "All about Lily Chou-Chou" and Bong Junho's "The Host," to name just a few. The year's roster of proposals includes Hong Sangsoo's latest "Night and Day," which the Korean director has shot in Paris, Chinese documentarian Wang Bing's fiction debut, "Hometown," and Michael Kang's follow-up to "The Motel" and "West 32nd," "The Sea of Tranquility."
But while the PPP is considered a success by all, other festival initiatives are still struggling to find their feet. By all accounts, the sophomore edition of the Asian Film Market has been subdued, with some grumbling from participants that Asian film buyers were waiting for Tokyo's Tiffcom, which takes place at the end of the month, and North American buyers hadn't bothered to come at all. With little new business going on, a number of companies used the market as an opportunity to formally announce projects and deals that were already in place, like Hou Hsiao-Hsien's upcoming stab at the martial arts genre, entitled "The Assassin," or the planned remake of John Woo's "The Killer," but this time set in Los Angeles and with an as-yet-uncast Korean star in the Chow Yun-fat role.
New this year was the Co-Production PRO, an offshoot of the market with a heavy emphasis on international co-financing for established filmmakers with big budget projects. The new move towards supporting higher profile films is an ambitious and calculated one on the part of the festival, as it strives to emerge as Asia's premier film event. The CCP is the latest addition to a list of programs that includes the Asian Film Academy, the Star Summit Asia, the Asia Cinema Fund, the Asian Network for Documentary and the Pusan International Film Conference.
With all this extracurricular activity going on under the auspices of the festival, Yoonhee Choi from Film Messenger, a Seoul-based distributor and sales agent, maintains it's important for everybody--filmmakers, filmgoers and especially the festival itself--to stay focused. "It's still all about the films. Pusan is trying to be the biggest and most important Asian festival, but when it's over and people talk about whether it was a good year or a bad year, they're usually talking about the films. As for all the other things, we'll have to wait and see."
For those who did manage to keep their eyes on the screen, Aditya Assarat's "Wonderful Town" has been a hot topic of conversation. Set in a small Thai coastal village still dealing with the legacy of the tsunami, the film captures a slowburn romance between a local woman and a visiting architect overseeing the building of a new resort. Delicately paced and beautifully shot on HD, "Wonderful Town" will surely be hitting the festival circuit hard in the upcoming year.
Chinese screenwriter Cai Shangjun makes his directorial debut with "The Red Awn," which opens with a father returning to his rural hometown after a five-year absence, only to discover his son has had him declared dead. The film is very much in the vein of "Shower" and "Sunflower," the films Cai wrote for director Zhang Yang, with a nice blend of humor and underplayed drama. Someone, however, should talk to Cai about his title, since nobody at the festival seemed to have any idea what an "awn" was.