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“Betelnut” and “Love Conquers All” Take Pusan Prizes; American Presence Slowly Increases

"Betelnut" and "Love Conquers All" Take Pusan Prizes; American Presence Slowly Increases

Chinese director Heng Yang‘s “Betelnut” and Malaysian director Chui Mui Tan‘s “Love Conquers All” shared the Pusan International Film Festival‘s New Currents Best New Asian Filmmaker of the Year award, capping the 11th edition of the event in the Korean port city of the same name. In addition to its New Currents win, “Love Conquers All” also took the FIPRESCI prize, which is awarded by visiting film critics. PIFF’s 2006 event marked a seminal year for the festival, with the launch of the new Asian Film Market and a festival that is cementing both its pan-Asian and international focus and its place as arguably Asia’s most important film event.

Yang’s “Betelnut” follows the story of two friends, Ali and Xiao Yu, who spend their carefree summer stealing motorcycles, chatting online and swimming in the river in a quiet small town. Ali becomes infatuated with another person, and interrupts his routine by following her to work, while Xiao Yu meets another person online. Their tumultuous relationships fizzle, however, and the two friends eventually return to their regular lives. The world premiere of “Love Conquers All” centers on Ah Ping, who leaves her hometown to work for her aunt in a chicken rice stall. While working at the stall, she meets John and falls in love. John slowly begins to reveal sensational details of his past as a gangster, and it becomes increasingly clear that he is, in fact, pimp. Ah Ping slowly falls into his traps, despite being “warned” by John himself.

In other prizes, Korean filmmaker Roh Gyeong Tae received the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) award for “The Last Dining Table.” The film is the story of two families, including a father and son as well as a family composed of three generations of women. Though the five people are trapped within their lives and unable to connect with the outside world, their blank exteriors nevertheless slowly reveals a torrent of emotion.

Vietnamese director Huynh Luu‘s, “The White Silk Dress,” meanwhile, took the festival’s KNN Audience Award. The world premiere chronicles the hardship of one family living in a beautiful rural town in 1960s Vietnam. Despite the entrenched traditionalism of the local culture, the film’s characters maintain a passionate web of love affairs and emotional dramas.

Also taking PIFF nods were directors Lee Jin-woo and Yoon Seoungho for their films “The Wind Stirs” and “Portfolio” respectively. The two filmmakers received the $20,000 USD prize, which is granted to the best Korean documentary from the festival’s Wide Angle section, in a grant to be used for a next project. Special mention went to Choi Young-jun‘s “Merry Christmas.” The Woonpa Fund, which also honors Korean titles from Wide Angle also awarded $20,000 to director Kim Duk-chul‘s “People Crossing the River” and Kim Myeong-joon‘s “Our School,” while “16 Takes of Korean Society” by a group of 16 directors received a special mention.

Writer/director Liselle Mei and producer Trish Lake (left) took part in this year’s Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP). Photo by Brian Brooks

Although Asian filmmakers dominated awards at this year’s PIFF, the Western influence is, nevertheless, palpable. The European Film Promotion (EFP) hosted a party during the festival and touted its approximately three-dozen titles, and “Being Julia” director Istvan Szabo headed this year’s jury and also received an award. Americans, including the Independent Feature Project (IFP) as well as some in the industry joined the festival for the first time. The IFP’s managing director for international programs, Susan Boehm traveled to Korea to take part in the festival’s Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) as the official U.S. partner for the program, which is modeled after Rotterdam‘s Cinemart and IFP’s own No Borders programs that bring together filmmakers and financiers. Writer-director Liselle Mei and producer Trish Lake‘s Chinese/Australian love story “Red Earth” took part in this year’s PPP after participating in No Borders at the IFP Market in September.

“[The experience was] very helpful, particularly meeting with quality companies from Asia that attended,” Lake told indieWIRE via e-mail following the festival. “We were impressed that talent agencies from the region were attending, and were able to meet with some of China’s leading actors. Our project needs two lead actors from China as it is a bilingual [story] in Mandarin and English.” Lake also said their project received “genuine interest” from sales and production companies as well as private equity outfits. Lake also added about the experience, “We were very proud to be there representing the new relationship between PPP and No Borders.” Up to three projects from PPP will be in next year’s No Borders, according to Boehm. “It’s an accessible market [and] it’s easy to set up meetings casually [in addition to] structured meetings. People generally seem interested in learning more about IFP,” Boehm added.

Interest in working with Americans also has gained on the Korean side, evident by this year’s KOFIC Filmmakers’ Development Lab, which brought together five emerging Korean and Korean-American filmmakers. Held in Hawaii in September of this year, the inaugural lab (hosted by the Korean Film Council) gathered mentors and fellows for intensive meetings. At this year’s PIFF, the participants pitched their ideas to potential producers and production companies. This year’s fellows included Philip Chung with his project, “The Crimson Flower,” described as a “noir-inflected thriller”; drama “Hyung’s Overture” by Kim Young-il; Abraham Lim‘s Alzheimer’s story, “Orientation“; Jinoh Park‘s “Proposal,” about a filmmaker who makes a mysterious deal with a man to finance his film; and Mora Mi-Ok Stephens‘ action-thriller, “The 38th Parallel.”

[For more information about the lab, visit the KOFIC website.]

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