Saturday, October 6, 2012

Busan International Film Festival

I went to the Busan International Film Festival today! I consider myself lucky to live so close to Busan. When the traffic is good and I know what I'm doing, it takes me just an hour and a half to get to wherever I want to be in the city, and today I wanted to be where all the action was: the Busan Cinema Center.
The Busan Cinema Center at night; this is the enormous outdoor theater where some movies are screened. Tonight, the Busan World Philharmonic Orchestra gave a concert, and I heard snippets of their performance (which included Carmina Burana).
This morning, I woke up at 6am, sped through my morning routine, and left the house by 6:20. Right about when my bus was departing Changwon for Busan, I got a text from Ashley telling me that she and the other Fulbright friends whom I had planned to meet were already in line! Of the over three hundred films being shown over the course of the festival, most had tickets available online. But huge crowds still formed lines early every morning to buy tickets at physical box offices. The sales were supposed to begin at 8:30am, but I was surprised that my friends had arrived two hours early.

Luckily, they were able to buy tickets for me for two movies: Hello Goodbye, an Indonesian film, and Touch of the Light, a Taiwanese (!) film by Chang Rong-ji. I wasn't aware at the time what kinds of movies they were or what countries they were from, but I'm glad that I got to support one Taiwanese director!

The first film was... kind of a dud, I'm sorry to say. It was about an Indonesian embassy worker who works in Busan and is bored to tears of her life; she meets a fellow Indonesian, a sailor who had a heart attack and is now begrudgingly hospitalized. They fall in love. Slowly. It was a slow movie. There were a lot of close-ups of faces and time-lapse shots of Busan. There was a lot of silence. Apart from a few emotionally stirring scenes, I was really bored. I even dozed off in the middle.

Ashley, Susie and I actually left before the movie was over, for two reasons: 1) we had to run to a different theater to catch our next movie in time, and 2) the movie was wrapping up so awfully that we didn't care to finish anyway.

Good thing, too! Our second movie, Touch of the Light (逆光飛翔), was absolutely phenomenal. The story revolved around a blind piano prodigy, Huang Yu-Siang, who enrolls in a music college in Taipei and meets a girl who wants to be a dancer but is stuck in a low-income job. They inspire each other to go after their dreams, hooray! Perhaps the plot sounds a bit cliché. I won't say it wasn't, but that does not mean it was not a fantastic film.

The directing was beautiful, the cinematography bright and clean (which was expected, given the title), and the acting, as far as I could tell, quite good. (The entire movie was in Mandarin, which was nice to hear, and furthermore, it was a welcome surprise when I realized that everyone was speaking with the Taiwanese accent.) The movie had plenty of cheesy moments, perhaps too many for my taste -- including heartbreak in the rain, a hippy-dippy dance teacher, and an exhilarating yet truly schmaltzy climactic recap montage -- but overall, it was genuine, heartfelt, and peppered with moments of palpable warmth and dashes of quick-witted comedy. (Yu-Siang's roommate, on break dancing: "It's like... have you seen Street Fighter? Oh, no, of course you haven't...")

I especially enjoyed the way music was incorporated into the film. Musical performances weren't as shoe-horned into the plot as you might expect in a film about a pianist. Sometimes, the music was there just because the moment felt right, but when it became central to a scene, it was done tastefully and so naturally that you wouldn't even realize that it was there, heightening your emotions without your realizing it. (And hm... plenty of classical music in this film's OST, right on the heels of my bemoaning its absence in my life...)

But do you know what the coolest part was by far? It was after the movie had finished and the credits were done rolling. The lights in the (enormous) theater came up... but then a piano appeared on the stage, too. And then Huang Yu-Siang himself came on stage. As soon as the hundreds of people in the audience realized what was happening, everyone burst into applause took out their cell phones and cameras. Haha. He was here at the showing to give a live piano performance! Oh, yes, and it was at this point that I realized that this movie was based on very real events in this very real man's very real life.
Huang Yu-Siang, a blind Taiwanese pianist, performs a medley of classical music, some K-pop hits, and other stuff I didn't recognize. It was amazing, though!
And after even that surprise, the actresses who played the dancer and Yu-Siang's mother joined him onstage, along with an interpreter, and they introduced themselves and took questions from the audience! It was very exciting that we got to witness this, especially since all of us were so impressed by the film. I was dying to think of a question that I could ask in Mandarin that wouldn't sound completely stupid, but I couldn't come up with anything. All of the audience members asked questions in Korean, which I barely understood, and then their answers came back in Mandarin, which I somewhat understood.
Huang Yu-Siang is in the center, smiling because he is awesome. Right of him is Sandrine Pinna, who is obviously not full-blooded Taiwanese, but as I have just found out, is half French! But her Mandarin is flawless.
Susie on the lookout for celebrities!
Gosh! When we got our 6,000₩ tickets, we were only expecting a movie. And it was a great movie, well worth the price. But then we got an amazing piano performance! And then we got a Q&A with the actors! It was the most wonderful surprise. Ashley, Susie, and I were all just a bit starstruck.

When we met up with the (twenty or so) other Fulbrighters for a late (and delicious) lunch at the Shinsegae Department Store's food court, we all talked about our movies, and boy, was everyone else jealous when we told them about our surprise bonuses.

Speaking of surprises... later that evening, I ran into a fellow Swattie! Again! Seriously, Swatties are everywhere around the world, and they're kind of like magnets.

Raehoon and I first met in tap class last semester. I had no idea that we would be in the same country now, though! He's back home in Korea because he's about to take a two-year leave of absence from school to perform his mandatory military service. He happened to be spending part of his last week before beginning army training by watching tons of movies at BIFF, and while I was wandering around the Busan Cinema Complex with Cecile, he recognized me and also surprised the heck out of me. It was great catching up!

So this brings my total number of Swatties I've met in Korea to eight. And it's going to be nine tomorrow, because Erik is visiting from Japan! Hooray!
Raehoon and me at BIFF. Swatties, unite! (taken by Cecile, who was really amused at this coincidence)
The film festival is set to continue for another week or so. I really enjoyed my first taste of it; you know, I kind of thought going to a film festival would just feel like watching a bunch of movies in a row, like a marathon. But the whole atmosphere here is quite different. It really feels like a festival, a celebration! It's classier and more glamorous, and I've never experienced anything like this before. So maybe I'll come back. I'd really like to continue supporting Taiwanese cinema at BIFF. These are the seven Taiwanese films being showcased; I especially am interested in GF*BF and Go Grandriders. (Ahhh! The article I just linked to says that Monday night is "Taiwan Night" at BIFF! I'm so there!)
And lastly, a photo of Cecile hiding among aluminum trees outside of a department store in Busan.

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