Tharp: Man About BIFF

I started this year’s festival by stopping by the spanky new Busan Cinema Center, the curvy silver behemoth that looks like it was designed by a guy peaking on acid.  I mean, the WHOLE ROOF lights up in a dizzying technicolor bloom.  Come on now…  someone was high.  I peered down from the press pen onto the venue, where hundreds of VIPs and lucky ticket buyers were being bored off their tits by the lackluster Korean flick (Always) chosen to kick off the fest.  BIFF has a habit of screening weak openers.  However, I didn’t stick around long enough to be disappointed, but rather chose to celebrate the best week in Busan like any self-respecting reporter: I went down to Sharky’s in Haeundae and got good and drunk.

I actually went to Sharky’s to kill time, since my main objective for the evening was to crash the BIFF GALA OPENING NIGHT PARTY happening later at the Grand Hotel.  So I sat at Rick Schneider’s expat watering hole mainlining Cass and chatting with a bald guy from Portugal named Bruno, setting the tone for a night in which his country would figure prominently.

Busan Haps is glossy and slick and even has Lufthansa Airlines as an advertiser, yet still the magazine doesn’t garner enough respect in this town to warrant actual invitations to BIFF’s semi-exclusive opening soiree.  But never fear…  this is why hotels have service elevators.  So, in a repeat of last year’s performance, I clutched my press pass like a +5 amulet of invincibility and strolled down the red carpet past the phalanx of black-suited security goons, and took the elevator to the 17th floor, where I then transferred to the servant’s lift and proceeded to sneak the fuck in.  And what a world awaited me:  Scarf wearing art house directors!  Leggy Korean starlets!  Bald Germans! Mayor Heo Nam Sik!  That creepy guy from Seoul with the ridiculous hat and colored glasses who’s there every year! A massive buffet!  And best of all…  FREE BOOZE!!!

Tharp, far far left, with the Portuguese film folk (Or the Elvis Costello fan club)

I think I ate 50 prawns, 17 egg rolls, and 11 pieces of beef.  And I’m kinda sure I drank 23 glasses of wine.  Along with 5 or 6 beers.  And at least 3 chutes of sky-blue champagne that tasted much better than it looked.  Do you know that sky-blue is actually a color in its own right, entirely independent and separate from actual, plain old boring blue?  My Korean students taught me that and I will forever be thankful.

As the sole representative of this here rag, I drank up enough courage to actually try to interview some folks…  My biggest coup was talking with one of my favorite Korean character actors, Mr. Kim Sang-Ho, who was gracious enough to take a couple of photos with me.  I slurred Korean his way like a three-year old with MS, much to the mocking delight of his little K entourage, but hey, a scoop’s a scoop and I’m pretty sure I was the only foreigner to approach him at the party.  Next up were the Portuguese, who represented mightily.  My earlier chat with Bruno had keened up my Portu-sensors, and I homed in on them like a fly to dung.  It turns out that BIFF is spotlighting Portuguese films this year.  I wonder if bald Bruno knows.  Present were the directors of Phantom and To Die Like a Man, along with two skinny guys in over sized glasses and modish suits, who looked like some kind of fraternal euro-auteur twins.  Sometimes you just gotta dress the part.

I closed the party with a posse of Thais representing just one film.  The producer managed to bring the WHOLE CREW to the fest– not just the director and actors–which is a really really cool thing to do.  I spoke this thought to the man and his fellow Siamese, sloshing my last glass of bubbly and no doubt spraying saliva into the air.  I then stumbled down the stairs, poured myself into a cab, and watched the city blur by on the ride home.

This was just night one.

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