This year’s Busan International Film Festival was held online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The NETPAC jury work was also done likewise, from watching the films to deliberating and awarding. The hybrid jury comprised Hassan Muthalib (Malaysia) Chairperson/NETPAC Member; Riccardo Gelli (Italy), and Kim Kyoungwook (South Korea). Hassan and Riccardo participated online while Kim Kyoungwook was present in person.
This year’s NETPAC Award was given to Fighter (South Korea/Korean/2020/103min/DCP/ Colour), directed by J`ero Yun from South Korea. It was awarded for “its excellent description of the complexity of North Korean dissidents facing the challenges of their new life.”
The film is about a young North Korean defector, Jin-ah, who begins her life in South Korea by working as a cleaning lady at a boxing dojo, where she once again faces a life-changing moment. If she thought her life was going to be easier in a democratic country, she has a rude awakening. She comes up against discrimination, corruption and apathy. Being an ex-soldier, she finally becomes a boxer herself, but it is only to make enough money to pay off people who will otherwise make trouble for her. It is also to pay off the police in Hong Kong from harassing her father there. The light at the end of the tunnel appears in the form of the boxing dojo attendant who takes a liking to her. However, before she can transform and take on a new life, she has to exorcise the demons from her past in North Korea.
Fighter uses discretion in depicting the life of a defector, yet candidly captures the bleak reality that she goes through. Cinematically presented, the film speaks of the estranged and alienated individual, her (unseen) family, new (romantic) relationships, and more broadly, about nations and their citizens, raising questions as to where they are headed in the millenia. It is a deep exploration of the character of the protagonist, and the conflicts swirling in her mind. Ultimately, the film is about young people today who should never give up, but fight back to achieve what they desire. Along the way, they will find allies and mentors who will support them.
There were 12 films put up for the NETPAC award: Fighter (J`ero Yun), Good Person (Jung Wook), A Leave (Lee Ran-Hee), Snowball (Lee Woo Jung), Young Adult Matters (Lee Hwan), Our Joyful Summer Days (Lee Tu Bin), Beyond You (Park Hong min), Short Vacation (Kwon Min Pyo), And There was Light (Kim Jee Seok), Limecrime (Yoo Jai Wuk/Lee Seunghwan), Our Midnight (Jung Eun Lim), and The Slug (Choi Jin Young).
In the final deliberation, the jury panel had the same two films in their shortlist: Fighter and Good Person. All three differed in their choice of the third film. After a short discussion, it was unanimously agreed to give the award to Fighter.
Overall, this year’s NETPAC entries were of high quality, directed by veterans as well as newcomers. Their subjects were the ordinary men and women in ordinary jobs, adults having problems with their lives, and the one film of a foreigner trying to make it in the new country. Five of the films had young and pre-adult school kids as their subject. The themes of the 12 films were diverse, ranging from alienation, discrimination, school bullying, facing up to the hardships of life, self-discovery and transformation, coming of age, and gradual memory loss.
-- Hassan Muthalib (Malaysia), Chairperson, NETPAC Jury
-- Edited by Latika Padgaonkar