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Where EAST meets the Northwest

CANNES OF ASIA. Secret Reunion (left photo) is a multi-layered, breathlessly paced North/South Korean spy film full of humor and action. (Photos courtesy of the Pusan International Film Festival)

From The Asian Reporter, V20, #27 (November 1, 2010), page 15.

Highlights from this yearís Pusan International Film Festival

By Patrick Galloway

The Asian Reporter

I recently travelled to the 15th Pusan International Film Festival, a massive event featuring more than 300 films from 67 countries. Held every October in Busan, South Korea, the festival has become the Cannes of Asia, attracting not only local talent from the Pacific Rim, but artists from all corners of the globe. Hereís the best of what I saw:

Under the Sky of Seoul (South Korea, 1961)

Under the Sky of Seoul is a hilarious comedy from 1961 that examines issues of modernity versus the ways of old in post-war South Korea. The film centers on a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, a lively old reprobate whose daughter is in love with his arch enemy, the doctor of western medicine next door. Meanwhile, his son has knocked up the daughter of a local barmaid with whom he is also having issues. The humor and characters are earthy and real and the universal situations create an amazingly accessible film experience. Under the Sky of Seoul was the film debut of director Hyung-pyo Lee, who would make some 80 films over the next 25 years. Lee passed away earlier this year.

Cold Fish (Japan, 2010)

Enfant terrible of modern Japanese cinema Sono Shionís latest, Cold Fish, is a perverse exploration of unbridled monstrosity that could only come from the febrile imagination of the man who gave us Suicide Club and Love Exposure. When an officious, middle-aged owner of a pet fish emporium takes an unusual interest in the family of one of his small-time competitors, it gradually becomes clear that heís in fact a major league psychotic and prolific serial killer. To say more would only diminish the experience; itís best to come to this film with as little preconception as possible and let it take you in its vicious embrace.

Promise of the Flesh (South Korea, 1975)

At once jarring and enigmatic, Promise of the Flesh tells the tale of a damaged woman whose several rapes at the hands of brutal men lead her to commit murder. En route by train to prison, she has a chance encounter with the one man who treats her with respect and something like love develops. Directed by Ki-young Kim (The Housemaid, Goryeojang), the film is a remake of the long, lost Late Autumn (1966, directed by Man-hee Lee), remade again in 2010 by director Tae-yong Kim. Starring legendary Korean actress Jimi Kim, Promise of the Flesh was presented as part of a career retrospective dedicated to the prolific star of several hundred films. Ki-young Kim had his own Pusan International Film Festival retrospective in 1996.

Secret Reunion (South Korea, 2010)

Secret Reunion is a multi-layered, breathlessly paced North/South Korean spy film full of humor and action. The inimitable Kang-ho Song plays a National Intelligence Service agent fired for botching a mission to capture a wanted North Korean operative. Six years later, the two men meet, albeit under completely different circumstances, with each becoming increasingly more involved in the otherís life. As events advance and tension mounts, the two men develop a mutual admiration and respect for one another. Can the North Korean and the South Korean work things out? Major props to newcomer director Hun Jang. A former assistant director to Ki-duk Kim, Secret Reunion is his sophomore effort after turning heads with his gangsters versus actors debut, Rough Cut (2008).

Floating Lives (Vietnam/Singapore, 2010)

When a beautiful prostitute is attacked and sexually assaulted by a gang of angry village wives, sheís rescued by a young man and taken to a boat. The boat is the scene of the floating lives of the film, namely that of a family of itinerant duck farmers (father, son, and daughter). Each is deeply affected by the newcomer, whom they nurse back to health. However, things do not bode well for the group, what with inevitable separation and bird flu on the horizon. Director Phan Quang Binh Nguyenís beautifully shot film evokes deep emotions that cannot be extricated from the hypnotic, tropical surroundings. Floating Lives is a haunting, transporting film experience to be savored and remembered.

Donít look for any of these films in your local cineplex. Your best bet in the Portland area is the Northwest Film Center, Cinema 21, and similar venues. Rental is also an option, as many of these titles should see a DVD release. But do try to see at least one of these films; they showcase the vitality and originality for which Asian film is known.