Tharp On: Saturday BIFF Fever

Oh poor Nampodong! Once the bridesmaid, never the bride. When thinking about it you can’t help but feel sorry for her. After all, this festival began among her grubby stone alleys and in her old movie halls that reek of popcorn, mold, and cuttlefish. And now the whole gig has moved out to the glass and steel neon environs of Centum City, with Haeundae Beach providing the glitzy backdrop. Nampodong must feel like an older wife who has worked her fingers to the bone raising the family and standing by her man, only to have him leave her for his stunning secretary with the lean thighs and surgically enhanced rack.

So, you can imagine my amazement yesterday when I discovered the BIFF films are still screened there. Nampodong lives! Who knew? This is a wonderful thing if, like me, you love Nampodong and consider it the real heart of Busan. But this is also a terrible thing if your film starts in 15 minutes and you’ve taken the train to Centum.

So I missed out on my first choice and stumbled into a press screening closer to closer to my physical location. The name of the film was Nagima, produced entirely in Kazakhstan. Borat-jokes aside, my heart leapt at the chance to check out a piece from this geographically-vast, little known country. At previous BIFF’s (of PIFF’s, as they were then) I’d seen a couple of Central Asian movies and just loved them, if for no other reason than I got to be transported to a part of the world that I’m exceptionally curious about.

Nagima is the story of an 18-year old girl who lives in hovel on the outskirts of the city with two other women from her orphanage. She is an utter outcast, and most everyone treats here with contempt and venom. While not a bad film, per se, it is like so many others I’ve seen at BIFF: Interminable, silent scenes of our heroine riding the bus; shots of her ambling over bleak, windswept steppes, with nary a molecule of humor and despair a-plenty. To give you a clear idea of what I’m talking about (SPOILER ALERT, OH NOES!), the movie ends with Nagima tossing her dead friend’s baby off a cliff. The living baby falls out of frame, not into the howling void, but onto the rocks, as evidenced by the splatty/crunching sound effect added by the director post-production. I sincerely hoped that this wasn’t setting the tone for the rest of my fest.

Secure in the knowledge that Nampodong was still in the mix, I boarded the subway and traveled across our fair city to meet my lovely wife Minhee and check out my next film, Cold Eyes, a new, big-budget Korean crime thriller. It concerns itself with an elite group of Seoul police who practice a kind of high-tech, uber-sneaky street surveillance on really nasty criminals who are nearly as savvy as this new breed of cops. This movie was the exact opposite of Nagima, at least production wise: It was slick, action-packed, gadget-heavy and featured several high-speed car chases and crashed that would give Michael Bay a raging hard-on. Hollywood East. All sizzle and no steak, though not a total turkey. When asked, Minhee shrugged and gave it a very fitting one-word review: Watchable.

My next ticket was for the Icelandic film, Metalhead, all the way back in Haeundae. My eyes were now bleary and my phone already buzzing with party leads, so I crumpled up my ticket, threw on my jacket, and headed into the night’s action.

The first stop was the Lotte Night: Red Festa soiree down at the Yacht Center. I arrived a bit late and met up with the Haps crew inside. This party was a Korean industry affair, with the Lotte group promoting their own brand of films. An emcee graced the stage in the hangar-like building where much of the crowd sat at long tables drinking Hite and eating various kinds of catered meats (the things was a gogi-fest). Musicians then performed, and the whole thing had the feel of an awards show. But by ten it wrapped up, and most everyone headed to the Grand Hotel, for CJ’s The Show Must Go On party, located in the Hive nightclub underneath the behemoth building.

We descended into the bowels of the building, through narrow hallways deeper and deeper. Techno music thumped as it got more packed and sweaty. At one point I feared for my life, expecting whirling blades or gas to do us all in. My anxiety was assuaged when I felt a tapping on my shoulder. It was Busan indie director Kim Ki-hoon, featured a few years back both in Haps’ BIFF coverage and the print magazine.

The CJ party was a case of FAR too many people in far to a small of a space. I felt like a Chinese refugee in a shipping container. The event was a bust, And no sooner were we in when we had enough and bailed.

That’s just as good anyway, Ki-hoon. I was there with kind of a famous producer but I just get kind of uncomfortable talking film business all the time. It’s hard to describe, but… I don’t really like it.

Ki-hoon had wheels, and next we headed out to Gwangalli’s Beach Bikini Bar from the annual French Night, which rarely disappoints as one of the best shindigs at BIFF. Let’s face it, the French know how to party, and last night they were in good form, with a delectable thread, plenty of booze, and ass-shaking, fun DJ’d music to get the whole joint moving.

There were some big boys there, as well as new faces to the fest. I ran into several folk’s I’d met on the opening night, including Jannis Sakaridis, director of the terrific film, Wild Duck and Alex Wiener, star of the Canadian film CLYDECYNIC who confessed to only getting the role after the first choice bowed out due to a big TV gig.

I finally had enough of the BIFF crowd and made my way to KSU, where, in front of a certain mini-mart, I ran into the biggest fest veterans I know: Will Jackson, Matthew Sidgreaves, Michelle Borner, and James McIvor. They had spent all day at the fest, and were decompressing over some tall cans.

Aren’t you supposed to be at some swanky party? two of James asked (whisky vision).

I left. See anything good tonight?

METALHEAD, they said in unison. With Will continuing, It was great!

French Night Photo courtesy Jerome Plazy

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