Monday, October 08, 2007

Closed Note

'Busan' used to be romanised as 'Pusan', and while 'Busan' now seems to be considered the correct form, confusingly a number of institutions still retain the 'Pusan' designation, including Pusan National University (PNU), and the Pusan International Film Festival (aka PIFF - to the potential confusion and disappointment of foreigners), which is now into its twelfth year.

When I first arrived in Busan, I staggered out of the station into the middle of what I thought was some kind of Chinese cultural festival. It was, although apparently it was meant to be a part of the wider PIFF universe of events that had been going on that week and which I'd just missed. One year later, and unbelievably still here due to circumstances beyond my control, PIFF popped up on a cultural calendar which it has to be said, is not exactly crammed full of events in the same way which Seoul's is. Busan may not be the capital of Korea, but it's often crossed my mind that we have much smaller cities back in the UK with a much more developed cultural scene. Whatever the truth of this, a big deal is made of PIFF, and to be fair the Festival is gaining greater recognition globally with each passing year.

We'd originally intended to view a film at the PIFF outdoor cinema on Sunday evening - a must have experience we were told - but friends then persuaded us to attend Saturday with them, which turned out to be fortuitous because the next day Busan alarmingly resembled Atlantis - more on this later. The tickets cost 5,000 won (about £2.67). Both nights had films with Korean and English subtitles. So we were driven from one end of the city to the other by one of our friends - one of the rare occasions I was able to get some sense of the scope of the urban sprawl; otherwise travelling around here consists of spending inordinate amounts of time underground before popping up at some random point which mostly looks the same but with a different name. The subway gives you a sense of time, but not really distance.

One hour and around twenty miles later we'd made it to Busan Cinema Studios in the Haeundae area where the outside cinema was sited. The rest of our party had arrived thirty minutes before and sat triumphantly at the head of the queue. It was 16:30 - three hours before the film was scheduled to begin. They explained that this was the third year they'd arrived first - so next year if you wish to beat them aim to arrive before four. Stalls nearby gave away products, but we were only interested in the Häagen-Dazs stall and it wasn't long before we were eating our free ice-cream while broadcaster SBS interviewed some of our group. I was pulled away before I had the chance to do my bit on national TV and put back foreign relations by several years.

We went for a walk around the Studios area passing over a big red carpet to the entrance of the main building - apparently some stars were attending later events. A big sign down the side read "No Piracy allowed in KOREA" - right. I'm told that when the film started and this message was shown first on the screen, the audience laughed. Ironically, speaking of piracy our next stop was the Busan Yachting Center which had played host to the Yacht Racing event of the 1988 Seoul Olympics and had the monument to prove it, along with Forerunner II, the yacht Korean-American Kang Dong-Suk single-handedly circumnavigated the globe in, finishing in 1997. History does not record what happened to Forerunner I.

Easily the most impressive yacht in the harbour was a Russian one from Vladivostok - in fact there were a couple of Russian vessels moored up. A friend of ours with a serious looking digital SLR was keen to get out amongst the boats so I happily walked along an increasingly unsteady marina nonchalantly pursuing my alternative neocon-style 'point and shoot' philosophy. OK, I have a case of camera envy. Unfortunately when I stopped walking to take photos, I remembered I had Meniere's Disease and that standing on anything unsteady is liable to make me very ill, very quickly. I made it back to the shore and felt better about an hour later. I hope the photos were worth it.

Back at the queue, the organisers had decided to let us in at 6pm, and implored us not to run to the seats - it seems that last year there'd been a near stampede. But as we went in the SBS cameraman near us shouted "why don't you run!", and with that members of our group started sprinting off into the distance, leaving us with little choice but to follow, or so I claim. So if you want to know who those idiots were, it was us, but we were manipulated by the media. The queuing transpired to be completely pointless by the way, since when all the people outside had been let in, there were still more empty seats than full ones, although by the time the film began it was more or less a full house. We waited for another hour and a half while Julie Delpy's Je T'aime Tant and other possibly movie-related songs boomed out across the area.

Slightly oddly, despite the abundance of free food outside, none was allowed in the outside cinema - I suppose they were worried about rubbish. But trying to separate Koreans from their food seems like a futile exercise, and it wasn't long before packets of food were being surreptitiously passed around under the noses of the volunteer stewards. People ate while trying to hide behind their friends or blankets which they'd brought along, because as much as this country can often seem like a anarchic place, it's not quite as infected by the sense of - if not entitlement to - lawlessness which is destroying society back home.

The director, Isao Yukisada, and producer of the Japanese film we'd come to watch - Closed Note - were interviewed briefly before it began, and I understood more of what they said than the subsequent Korean translations which is quite depressing after living here for a year. Japanese star Erika Sawajiri was scheduled to attend but pulled out due to some controversy which has obsessed Japan and Korea of late but as usual completely passed me by. The film has apparently only been shown in Japan - so we were told that this was the 'world première' - aside from Japan of course, which went down very well with the crowd.

The movie began with the powerful sound system blocked out any exterior noise for the duration, and while it was reasonably engaging although depressingly predictable, I found myself tracking the passage of time by watching the stars arc slowly across the sky.

Earlier, while we were alternately waiting and loitering around in the queue we were handed various free gifts, one of which was a red heart-shaped box which transpired to contain a sewing kit. This became unexpectedly useful when one of our group had bad indigestion from the food she hadn't been eating, and in the darkness we were treated to the spectacle of a blood-letting performed by her sister using one of the needles. The things that go on in a Korean crowd you'd never imagine.

Due to a wardrobe malfunction - our one-room apartment had forced me to keep my winter clothes in a suitcase and they were all too creased to wear - I had a t-shirt on and it was quite cold but I toughed it out. The temperature has changed rapidly of late to the point it feels positively chilly at night - perhaps October is too late to be holding an outside cinema - although lots of people had brought blankets and I even spotted the first coats I've seen in six months, so if you come prepared perhaps it doesn't matter - although if it rains I've no idea what you're supposed to do.

There was some kind of nightclub/music event at afterwards with some 'stars' attending but we had children with us so we headed off towards the car park and a very long battle to get out of the Haeundae area.

Korean tags: 영화, 극장, 행사, 보트


Jon Allen said...

We saw the trailers for "Closed Note"
over here and it looked pretty bad, you have my sympathy for enduring that on a cold night.

The Tokyo film festival starts here this month, I might make an effort to see something.

megs said...

just out of curiosity...what time are the movies each night at the yachting centre?

Mike said...

Hello Jon,

Well I wouldn't recommend the movie - as you probably guessed! It had its moments - but I found it painfully predictable even though I often deliberately watch this type of film with my brain in the 'off' position.

It was crying out to end two minutes earlier than it did, and the scene before it should have ended was the cruelest dark comedy of epic proportions, though unfortunately it clearly wasn't meant to be. Still, I've filed that one away in my head under 'soul-destroying techniques'.

I guess it's hard being a scriptwriter.

Good luck at the Tokyo Film Festival.

Mike said...

Megs - I think you need this link - it's the PIFF 'theater' schedule including the outdoor one by the Yachting Center.

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