A glittering line-up of top Asian cinema stars converged on the South Korean port city of Busan on Thursday for the opening of the region’s premier international film festival.
Along with Korean heartthrobs Lee Byung-hun and Jun Ji-hyun, Chinese stars Tang Wei and Cecilia Cheung are attending the 10-day Busan International Film Festival.
Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi — currently taking legal action against a number of news outlets over claims the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star was a prostitute who had sex with senior Chinese officials — is also scheduled to attend.
Launching the 17th edition of the festival will be the world premiere of Hong Kong thriller Cold War, which stars screen veterans Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung Ka-fai.
“It’s an honour 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.”
In the tradition of Hong Kong thrillers such as Infernal Affairs (2002) — remade by Hollywood into the Oscar-winning The Departed (2006) — Cold War looks at corruption in the city’s police force.
Co-director Longman Leung said he hoped the film would help refocus attention on Hong Kong cinema, which has been hit by falling production numbers and attendances in recent years.
Festival director Lee Yong-kwan said in choosing a Hong Kong production to open the gala, the festival was serving its intended purpose of promoting films from the region.
“We want to encourage Asian cinema and encourage talk about Asian cinema,” he said.
By late Thursday fans were entering the high-tech US$150 million (HK$1.16 billion) Busan Cinema Centre and thousands more had gathered outside before the stars started to arrive.
Featuring more than 300 films and a much-anticipated performance on Saturday from South Korean rapper Psy, whose “Gangnam Style” has become a global sensation — organisers hope the event will attract more than 200,000 people.
Zhang, who is suing US-based Chinese online news outlet Boxun News over the prostitution claims, is scheduled to meet the press on Friday.
In June she also launched legal action against Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper and its sister weekly Next Magazine over claims that she was paid for sex with one-time rising Chinese political star Bo Xilai and others.
Bo was sacked from his post as boss of Chongqing city in March, unleashing China’s biggest scandal in decades. Authorities said last month he would face justice for a litany of crimes, including abuse of power.
Media attention has also focused on the screening of North Korean romantic comedy Comrade Kim Goes Flying. Its co-director Kim Gwang-hun is the first North Korean director to have been invited to the event.
Other programme highlights include a sidebar devoted to Afghan films saved from the Taliban by the Afghanistan National Film Archive, and a Window on Asian Cinema section featuring 49 films from 11 countries, including 13 world premieres.
South Korean cinema is currently experiencing a stellar year and there will be a special outdoor screening of The Thieves, which this week became the country’s all-time box office champion, having now been seen by 13 million moviegoers and having earned 93.6 billion won (HK$651 million).
Busan’s main competition, the New Currents Award for debut or second-time Asian filmmakers, offers two prizes of US$30,000 and has this year attracted a field of 10 productions from eight countries, including Lebanon and Iraq.
The winners will be announced on October 13, the final day of the event.