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The South Korean port city of Busan likes to position itself as the cinematic hub of Asia and actress Tang Wei didn't need much convincing.
As the first non-Korean to host the opening of Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), she seemed as smitten with the city as it was with her.
"I have found that Busan is a city full of energy," said Tang, who co-hosted the opening with the veteran Korean actor Ahn Sung-ki. "I have been impressed by the passion people here have for film."
That passion was to the fore during this year's 17th edition of the 10-day festival, which closed on Oct 13. For the first time attendance figures crossed the 200,000 mark and film-lovers were treated to more than 300 films, many of which were world premieres, and many of which made use of cinemas at the spectacular $150 million Busan Cinema Center, which opened last year.
BIFF has throughout its history cast its net right across the region in compiling its various programs, with an emphasis on blending the very latest from Asia's established filmmakers with a wide selection of films from those just starting out in the film game.
And the Chinese presence at this year's festival reflected this policy. Art-house director Jia Zhangke took charge of the festival's Asian Film Academy, which each year takes a selection of young filmmakers under its wing, and gave a master class at which he talked about his own career and about the rise of the Chinese film industry.
Zhang Ziyi and fellow cast members from the Hur Jin-ho-directed Dangerous Liaisons brought howls of delight from the thousands of fans who crowded the red carpet on opening night but it was left to co-star Cecilia Cheung to give fans pause for thought.
The Hong Kong actress said the film, which looks at a series of scandalous affairs and has been screening across China for the past month, had made her think about her own past and she hoped it had the same effect on its audience.
"The things that happen to my character are very similar to what happened in my real life," said Cheung. "Although I would like a lot of people to come and watch the movie, I would also like people to learn lessons about love as they watch the movie. If you watch it several times and think about what love is, I am sure each of us can draw different lessons about love. If you look more closely, you can see what kind of implications relationships have on one another and what is true love and what is important in building relationships."
The Hong Kong thriller Cold War also brought its firepower to town, opening the festival with its world premiere and impressing critics and fans alike with its gritty, streetwise depiction of the modern city. Co-directors Sunny Luk and Longman Leung brought the stars Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung with them to help get the party started.
"It's an honor to have this film open BIFF, the first time a Hong Kong film has done so," said Kwok at the event's opening press conference. "We hope it will remind the world that there are a lot of talented filmmakers in Hong Kong and they are still making exciting films."
Among the lesser lights from China who managed to steal some of the spotlight were director Song Fang and the unique way she presents the very personal family drama Memories Look At Me.
And while Asian film is the broad focus of the festival, there was no denying the cinematic strength on show from the locals, both on the screen and off it.
Pop sensation Psy, whose hit song Gangnam Style has topped the charts across the world, flew in for an exclusive party at one of the local hotels and threatened for a weekend at least to steal the show.
But the focus soon shifted back to where it should be, on the films. A special screening of the Korean-Chinese blockbuster The Thieves, set in Macao and starring Korea's Kim Yun-seok alongside Hong Kong's Simon Yam, played to a packed outdoor audience in the week it became Korea's biggest-ever box office smash with takings of an estimated $84 million.
Critical acclaim came, too, after the world premieres of the harrowing, politically edged thriller National Security and the touching, tender drama of The Winter of the Year Was Warm, both films highlighting the fact that Korean cinema is in rude health.
The festival's main award, called "New Currents" and handed out to two first- or second-time Asian filmmakers, went to an experimental film from Thailand and a thought-provoking Lebanese drama.
Thai director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's 36 was described by the judges as "breathtaking" while they in turn praised the "extraordinary sympathy" they felt for the lead character in director Maryam Najafi's Kayan.
Take Three ...
Here's a quick look at three Chinese films which had Busan talking
Memories Look at Me: Director Song Fang turns her gaze on her own family in a heart-warming look at the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
A Motor Home Adventure: A witty piece from director Lu Yang that sees a dying man look for redemption from the 36 women he turned his back on in better times.
Tai Chi 0: Pure unadulterated escapism from director Stephen Fung, whose martial arts epic shows just how far the local industry has come in terms of technical wizardry and storytelling.
|1. Seeking Mr. Right|
2. Princess and Seven Kung Fu Masters
3. Ip Man: Final Fight
4. Journey to the West
5. An End to Killing