Written and photographed by Peter DeMarco
It’s not much of a secret anymore that the best time of year to visit Busan is the fall. Some would argue that it’s summer, when its beaches are at their best and the sun is blazing. But relaxing on the world’s most crowded strip of sand under a blanket of humidity is not for everyone.
Busan’s two marquee events, the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) and the Busan Fireworks Festival (BFF), take place in October. Every year they seem to get bigger and better. This year is no different.
BIFF turns 18
Busan’s film festival started 18 years ago as a small festival in the city’s port neighborhood of Nampo-dong. Today it’s the largest film festival in Asia. Last year the festival got a new home. The USD 150 million Busan Cinema Center located in Centum City, part of Haeundae-gu, has redefined Busan. It’s an iconic building with an avant-garde design. Some even call it an architectural wonder. It has the world’s largest cantilevered roof, complete with a massive bed of LED lights coloring its belly, a 4,000-seat outdoor theater, and four indoor screens. From the ground, it looks like it will lift off and fly into space like some UFO.
According to Young In-chung, public relations coordinator at BIFF, there are many things that make attending the festival special. “During the festival period, there are a range of different events at Haeundae Beach every day. It is a really rare occasion to see festival guests (star actors, renowned directors) up close, ask questions, and actually interact with them.” Behind the scenes, deals are made between industry heavyweights. Michael Kazemi, a Busan resident from Iran and movie industry agent, has attended the festival for years. He says, “The most important part of BIFF for me is meeting my customers. I like the parties during the festival because I can meet producers, actors, distributors, and buyers. I usually attend the Asian Film Market during the festival and also sometimes submit my movies for competition.”
Apart from stargazing or doing business, Chung says that obviously the movies are the biggest draw. “BIFF offers a truly wide spectrum of films—from indie, soon-to-be-discovered films to genre films and more commercial ones. Simply put, there is a film for everyone.”
Fire in the sky
Watching fireworks explode over the Gwangan Bridge from Gwangalli Beach is an unforgettable experience. So much so that over a million people attend what is arguably Korea’s greatest fireworks exhibition. There are even cruise ships from Japan that anchor just offshore to watch the event. This year it takes place on Oct 25–26. Check www.bff.or.kr for more information. This year marks the 9th anniversary. It usually kicks off with a K-pop concert and then continues on with a day or two of firework competitions between different countries. Finally, on the last night, the greatest show of all takes place. It’s a can’t-miss event for any Koreaphile. Just remember to get there a few hours early to find a spot on the beach.
EAT> Sample some of Busan’s traditional dishes at Haeundae Market, just a few hundred meters from the beach. It’s one long alley filled with small vendors and restaurants serving simple meals like grilled fish, eel, soups, and more (under KRW 10,000 per person). A couple blocks behind the market, close to the S-Funz Mall, is Dweji Gukbap Street. It’s essentially a row of restaurants serving up steaming bowls of Busan’s signature dish—a soup of boiled pork and rice. You haven’t been to Busan until you’ve tried it. While at the film festival, stop by the basement of Shinsegae at Centum City. It has one of the most bountiful food courts in Korea. It’s perfect for a quick snack. Over at Gwangalli, the foreign-owned Galmegi Brewing Company (T. 010-4469-9658) is an absolute hit. There are five microbrews on tap, but the bold, bright, and
bitter IPA (KRW 6,000) is the most popular. They also serve up homemade pizzas. Try the Piselli Pizza (KRW 13,000) with prosciutto, green peas, feta cheese, pesto, mint, lemon, and mozzarella. It’s as good as it sounds.
STAY> Busan has a number of lodging options, from budget to high end. At the top is the sparkling new Park Hyatt in Marine City (T. 051-990-1237; standard rooms start around KRW 300,000). Even if you don’t stay at the Hyatt, stop by for a coffee or beer on the 30th floor lounge. You won’t find a better view of the Gwangan Bridge. On Gwangalli Beach, try Hotel Homers (T. 051-78-5000; KRW 280,000). You have to reserve almost a year in advance if you want a room during the fireworks festival, though. Both Haeundae and Gwangalli have plenty of motels. For the budget conscious, many guesthouses have sprung up around the city, especially in Haeundae. Popcorn Hostel (T. 51-747-6147; 8-person dorm room KRW 29,000 per person, KRW 140,000 for a family room) has modern, clean rooms and a friendly staff.
GO> The KTX now makes the Seoul to Busan run in as little as two hours and thirty minutes. Trains depart about every half hour to hour throughout the day. Flights are also available from Gimpo to Gimhae and take less than an hour.[divider]
BIFF at a Glance (Period: October 3–12, 2013)
SCREENING VENUES (35 screens at 7 theaters)
Centum City: Busan Cinema Center, CGV Centum City, Lotte Cinema Centum City,
Community Media Center, Dongseo University Sohyang Musical Theater
Haeundae: Megabox Haeundae, Nampo-dong: Megabox Busan Theater
SCREENINGS (Total of 301 films from 70 countries)
137 world & international premieres
95 world premieres (69 feature films, 26 short films)
42 international premieres (40 feature films, 2 short films)
All New Currents screenings are world or international premieres
Vara: A Blessing
Director | Khyentse Norbu
Bhutan | 2013
Vara: A Blessing is the third feature film by Bhutanese lama and filmmaker, Khyentse Norbu. Norbu wrote the screenplay based on the short story “Rakta Aar Kanna” (translated as “Blood and Tears”) by Sunil Gangopadhyay, a distinguished Indian writer. It is also a global project that involved staff from the US, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, and Britain. Through south India’s classical dance, Bharatanatyam, Vara: A Blessing tells a story of beautiful love, self-sacrifice, and a woman’s strength in adversity.
Director | Kim Dong-hyun
Korea | 2013
2011 Asian Cinema Fund Script Development Fund Recipient
This starts off as a story about an ordinary family. A single mother raising her son after a divorce; her younger son barely earning a living from a chauffeur service. Subsequently, their struggling parents are not in a position to ask for money from the kids. Tragedy hits when the first son loses his job and the younger son with a chauffeur job runs into an accident.
KOREAN CINEMA RETROSPECTIVE
Fly High, Run Far: The Making of Korean Master Im Kwon-taek
The 18th Busan International Film Festival pays tribute to the Korean master director Im Kwon-taek. From his debut film Farewell to the Duman River (1962) to his most recent film, Hanji (2011), his highly prolific filmography includes a total of 101 films. This massive retrospective will feature approximately 70 of his preserved films. The 2013 digitally restored version of Seize the Precious Sword (1972) will be a rare showcase of Im Kwon-taek’s early action films.