Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival’s (BIFAN) 22-year history had a similar career path with that of mine. One year after the festival began, I started as a film journalist.
BIFAN began with a unique concept of being an Asian “genre film festival”. I was then assigned to BIFAN and had wonderful opportunities to meet directors and actors through numerous interviews. At that time, auteur films dominated film festivals, but to me, BIFAN's selection was way more refreshing and special as the festival focused on "genre films". They were unconventional in providing horror, thriller B movies and midnight screenings with new refreshing film language. It was even more exciting that BIFAN examined Asian genre against the cliches of foreign genre films.
Now turned 22, BIFAN has kept its unique identity as a genre film festival. The midnight screenings remain as the top audience favorite. This year’s midnight screenings included the fabulous Revenge (Coralie Fargeat, France/UK), a savage revenge thriller, SF horror classic From Beyond (Stuart Gordon, USA), and Nicolas Cage starring in the psychothriller Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, USA). In addition, there was the rare opportunity to watch and enjoy blood splatter classics on the big screen from three directors who had recently passed away: Wes Craven, George A. Romero and Tobe Hooper. It was also personally thrilling to hear Barbara Crampton, the famous horror queen from the 80s and also this year's festival jury member, at a Mega Talk event, after watching From Beyond (Stuart Gordon, USA).
BIFAN's main section, World Fantastic Cinema, has two sub- sections; the blood splattering "World Fantastic Red" and the more audience-friendly, “World Fantastic Blue”. All of NETPAC’s nominated films were screened in the World Fantastic Blue section. Prior to the festival, I checked the NETPAC list and listed a few titles that I was interested in. My top pick went to Youth by Feng Xiaogang that suffered censorship by the Chinese government, for its depiction of the Sino-Vietnamese war of 1979. This subject has been suppressed in Chinese cinema and many Chinese war veterans have felt unfairly treated in the war’s aftermath. Director Feng Xiaogang is actually quite well known in Korea with multiple China- Korea co-production titles such as Assembly (2007), Bad Buys Always Die (as Co-Producer, 2015). After watching Youth at BIFAN, I realized that the title is not about 'politics' but 'time' that never stops at young and beautiful moments but flows over, and becomes an immense history of its own solemn time. To me, it was a perfect blend of the love story and the war movie genres.
Another title that I watched out for was Looking for Rohmer (Wang Chao, China). This film was an official selection to the 20th Busan International Film Festival in 2015 but could not be presented as it failed to pass Chinese censorship. It was allegedly a gay film. Finally, Looking for Rohmer was shown at BIFAN and Wang Chao explained that "though I had to re-edit some of the scenes, it did not affect much on the message that I originally wanted to deliver". However, it seemed that the censorship and the subsequent re-edit blunted the film’s message. While it had beautiful mise-en-scene from Tibet and Provence, the formulaic setting and images distracted from the film itself. Eullenia (Paul Spurrier, Thailand) was out from my list at an early stage for similar reasons. Though it has an interesting plot of a rich businessman who takes pleasure in buying "lives" but ends up being trapped in his own game, the narrative lacked in sophistication.
Malaysian title Tombiruo got most of my attention at some point. Comparable with Swiri that led Korean film renaissance at the end of 1990s, Tombiruo seemed like a Malaysian blockbuster. The film closely follows the grammar of the Hollywood action movie and transplants a character from Malaysian traditional myth into a superhero. Sophisticated directing could be seen in the action scenes but there was a clear shortage on cinematic originality as it remains at the stage of a Hollywood action copy.
Another title that reminds of Korean films in its renaissance era of 1990s was Secrets in the Hot Spring by young Taiwanese female director, Lin Kuan Hui. Secrets in the Hot Spring is similar to the 1990s where various planned movies were out in the market such as The Quiet Family (Kim Ji-woon, 1998, Korea) and A Growing Business (Kim Seong-hong, 1999, Korea) that were a mixture of horror and comedy. Secrets in the Hot Spring had some lively scenes but lacked narrative originality.
On the other hand, all of five Japanese titles nominated for NETPAC Award were very original and fresh. None of the titles were by well-known directors. Some were feature debut titles and all had a certain level of completeness with new ways of cinematic language. With this specific trait, all of Japanese titles had been mentioned for winning an award but were narrowed down for 2 titles; The Hungry Lion (Takaomi Ogata) and I'm Crazy (Masaaki Kudo).
This year's NETPAC Award winning titles got positive feedback from all three jury members. Though I'm Crazy, had its limitation in depending on narrative coincidences but this debut director's passion in using an outdated camera format in order to capture the similar texture of VHS tape; made the title very interesting. The Hungry Lion was limited by its schematic flow that slightly disturbed the jury members but it had a very clear message and cinematic expression. It gave us a feeling of scanning a newspaper through repeated dark stories, in delivering the message that was also appropriate.
Other than these, Our House (Yu Kiyohara, Japan, 2017) is a meaningful piece that depicts a space filled with stories of complete strangers. Its offbeat way of editing makes it uneasy for the audience to follow the story but at the same time, it keeps an emotionally close communication with them. Its ability to depict a multiple universe in the same time and space was impressive. Goodbye, Grandpa! (Yukihiro Morigaki, 2017, Japan) showed an extraordinary strong storytelling ability. It used a cute and witty way in exploring the meaning of the traditional Japanese family from the point-of-view of the Japanese millenial. It managed to make all the trivial topics of life fresh and interesting. It also injected some fantasy elements in a conventional drama to transform it into a fantasy of daily life.
Tomoyuki Takimoto, well-known director and acclaimed for his previous work The Brain Man (2013, Japan) returned with Last Winter, We Parted (2018, Japan) which proved again his narrative ability. It is not easy to adapt a Japanese genre novel into film, but Last Winter, We Parted overcomes those limits. It was a true chance and pleasure to watch contemporary genre films from different Asian countries for the NETPAC Award.
My best wishes to today’s Asian filmmakers to continue making many titles to push the limits of Asian genre films.
--by HWANG Hee-yun
--edited by Philip Cheah