Sistar performed some of their hits and dance routines to an adoring crowd

The 17th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2012 at Haeundae (해운대) Beach

BIFF 2012 at Haeundae (해운대) Beach

While most film festivals promote themselves as bigger and better every year, the 17th installment of the Busan International Film Festival is certainly living up to the hype. With the first non-Korean hosting the opening ceremony in the form of Chinese actress Tang Wei, with the festival spread out across 10 days (as opposed to 9 in 2011), and with 132 world and international premieres, BIFF 2012 has done an incredible job in cementing itself as one of the key film festivals throughout Asia. The popularity of this years installment is acutely visible, as online tickets sold out rapidly whilst the 20% allocation at the event disappeared by mid-morning.

There were a lot of events to be had during the opening weekend of BIFF 2012. While Haeundae Beach was the host for several interviews and performances, the screenings themselves also often sported Q & A sessions with directors, producers and/or the stars themselves to an unprecedented degree in BIFF’s history. It was also common to walk into or past coffee shops and see film-makers meeting and conversing, creating a very relaxed atmosphere with their approachable demeanor.

On Friday the 5th, a private party was held for those that work within the film industry as well as journalists, while the cast of Kim Ki-duk‘s latest feature, the incredibly successful Pieta (피에타), were also in attendance.

Actress Jo Yeo-jeong co-hosts the Lotte Red Secret Party

Actress Jo Yeo-jeong co-hosts the Lotte Red Secret Party

Saturday the 6th saw two events take place. The Lotte Night Party – Red Secret was hosted by The Servant (방자전) actress Jo Yeo-Jeong and gave awards to those who had contributed significantly over the past year. Among those receiving awards were notable screenwriters and actors, including host Jo Yeo-Jeong and A Muse (은교) actress Kim Go-eun (김고은). Also in attendance were actor/director Yoo Ji-tae (유지태) and his wife, as well as Ahn Seong-gi (안성기), and former BIFF director Kim Dong-ho (김동호). Yet the most memorable event at the Red Secret party was the arrival of now-global-megastar Psy, who performed several of his hits as well as the groundbreaking Gangnam Style to a rapturous crowd.

Psy performs for the emphatic crowd

Psy performs for the emphatic crowd

The second party of the night was held by CJ Entertainment, and the style was markedly different.

Sistar performed some of their hits and dance routines to an adoring crowd

Sistar performed some of their hits and dance routines to an adoring crowd

In terms of performers parody group The Wonderboys were amazing fun as well as providing some great music to warm up the crowd for the main act – Kpop superstars Sistar. The quartet sang some of their most famous hits accompanied by their signature dance moves that had the crowd chanting their names. In attendance were a variety of people involved in the film industry including REALies president Kim Ho-seong and renowned editor Lee Sang-min. There were also a whole host of film and television stars, including the cast of period drama-comedy Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자) – Lee Byeong-heon (이병헌), Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡) and Jang Gwang (장광) – as well as TV star Kim Min-jong (김민종) and As One (코리아 ) actor Lee Jong-suk (이종석).

Actress Go A-ra was a delight

Actress Go A-ra was a delight

However a genuine highlight of the night was actress Go Ah-ra (고아라) (star of Pacemaker (페이스메이커) and Papa (파파)), who was incredibly kind, courteous and humble, giving genuine insight into the differences in working in the Korean film and television industries.

Sunday night saw the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) event, which saw fellow The Good, The Bad, The Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈) actors Song Kang-ho (송강호) and Jeong Woo-seong (정우성) attending, in addition to a myriad of other stars and members of the film industry.

And so ended the first weekend of the 2012 Busan International Film Festival. With the incredible selection of films, variety of events in which the public could have access to members of the film industry, and unprecedented popularity, it is difficult to imagine how BIFF will grow and improve in with future installments but one thing is for certain – the BIFF team will undoubtedly find a way.

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The dischevelled Dae-su is joined by Mi-do on his quest for revenge

Old Boy (올드보이) – ★★★★★

Old Boy (올드보이)

Old Boy (올드보이)

Old Boy (올드보이) has the double-edged distinction of being most international audience’s first introduction to Korean cinema, and ironically, their only frame of reference. Thus any film viewed after such an inauguration is compared with Park Chan-wook’s (박찬욱) seminal work regardless of genre, which is clearly an injustice to all involved. And yet, it is difficult to completely judge those who make the comparison, as Old Boy  is simply phenomenal.

As the extremely drunk Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik (최민식) is arrested one night in 1988, he little realises that his every action is being watched. Released from the police station and apologising for missing his daughter’s birthday, Dae-su is suddenly snatched from the street and wakes up in an apartment – where he will spend the next fifteen years in captivity. Without warning, Dae-su is released from his incarceration and must discover who imprisoned him, and more importantly, why. He is joined on his quest for revenge by Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong (강혜정), a sushi waitress who takes pity on his plight. In following the trail of clues Dae-su finds his tormentor Woo-jin (Yoo Ji-tae (유지태) but the burning desire for answers stays his hand. As the mystery unravels, Dae-su is confronted by an awful truth, that will lead to a shocking final confrontation with his nemesis.

Dae-su is incarcerated for 15 years

Dae-su is incarcerated for 15 years

The centerpiece of Park Chan-wook’s vengeance trilogy (preceded by Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (복수는 나의 것) and followed by Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (친절한 금자씨)Old Boy stands out as one of the most innovative and technically proficient thrillers of all time. If it was ever in doubt before, Old Boy cemented Park Chan-wook’s status as an auteur due to his incredible vision and flair for violent and macabre subject matter. His technical prowess appears effortless. Initially the hand-held documentary-esque drunken antics in a police station add realism as well as Dae-su’s appalling character traits. Yet this is seamlessly sutured with conventions ascribed to fantasy, thriller and action as Dae-su evolves during the course of the film. Shots, such as Dae-su emerging from a suitcase in a field – later revealed as a roof – continually astonish and excite. Tracking shots of action sequences are equally enthralling as Dae-su takes on an entire gang in the narrow confines of a corridor. The level of creative confidence also extends into the mise-en-scene, particularly in regards to colour and patterns. The striking reds hint at the danger to come, while the eerie purples (accompanied by the maze-like pattern formed of triangles) are the calling cards of the mastermind behind the events.

The dischevelled Dae-su is joined by Mi-do on his quest for revenge

The dischevelled Dae-su is joined by Mi-do on his quest for revenge

Praise must also be generously given to the narrative, co-written by Park Chan-wook and Hwang Jo-yoon. The central concept is reminiscent of The Prisoner (1967-68), yet from there the ideas generated are original, shocking and downright bizarre. Yet fundamentally, the emotional core of each protagonist is placed front and center giving exceptional substance to the stylised visuals. Each character is incredibly compelling, neither good nor bad but an amalgamation of a variety of neuroses. In presenting such complex character studies to the screen, all the actors deserve recognition. Chief among them is Choi Min-sik who gives a towering performance as Dae-su. His physical transformation is startling, not only in terms of his musculature but also his tired and dishevelled face that conveys the seriousness of his situation without uttering a word. His erratic behaviour is entrancing and performed with real conviction, from his television style speech patterns, his difficulty in entering the modern world and the frustration of unlocking memories within himself. Similarly Yoo Ji-tae is wonderfully sadistic as the antagonist of the film. Woo-jin’s arrogance and sheer audacity radiates with every movement, yet amazingly is far from villainous due to the incredible depth of character. His own torment, and the unbelievable lengths he goes to in displacing them, are profound and convincing despite the extremities that occur.

Woo-jin torments Dae-su with sadistic delight

Woo-jin torments Dae-su with sadistic delight

Verdict:

Old Boy is a monumental achievement not only for Korean cinema, but also in terms of international recognition. It’s little wonder why audiences use it as the frame of reference in comparing other films from Korea despite the unfairness of such comparisons. The innovative narrative and technical prowess, as well as the exemplary performances, serve to make Old Boy a timeless classic and an absolute must-see.

★★★★★

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