Red carpet awaits as Busan film festival opens

Red carpet awaits as Busan film festival opens
Film director Doze Niu.

BUSAN, South Korea - A controversial Taiwanese film set against a backdrop of tension with China opens the 19th Busan International Film Festival on Thursday, an event whose organisers say will showcase the current strength of Asian cinema.

Director Doze Niu fell foul of authorities in Taiwan last year when shooting coming-of-age Cold War drama "Paradise in Service" after he was accused of attempting to smuggle a Chinese national on to a militarily sensitive site.

Niu and Chinese cinematographer Cao Yu have been indicted for the offence and await further action from authorities.

Niu has remained tight-lipped about the incident but told AFP it was "a great honour" to have his film - which follows the story of a boy undertaking military service in preparation for a possible war - selected to open Asia's biggest film festival.

"For the whole film crew, it's the best form of encouragement and recognition for the work we have done," he said on the sidelines of the festival.

The film will screen in front of a star-studded opening night crowd that is expected to feature Asian A-listers Ken Watanabe, Tang Wei ("Lust, Caution"), Zhang Yimou ("Hero") and Asano Tadanobu as well as Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi ("A Separation") and fellow art-house favourites Bela Tarr and Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

Workers had been toiling overnight to ready the sprawling Busan Cinema Centre for Thursday's opening ceremony while down on Haeundae Beach - the setting for many of the festival's "meet the guest" style public events - sand barriers were being dug up with one eye on the progress of Typhoon Phanfone which is currently tracking towards the region.

Much attention in the lead up to the 10-day festival has been focused on Monday's sold-out world premiere of the Sewol ferry disaster documentary "Diving Bell." The 85-minute film raises questions about the handling of rescue attempts during the April's disaster, which claimed the lives of more than 300 people including 250 school children.

The diving bell of the title was a piece of specialised equipment that was drafted in for the widely-criticised rescue and recovery operation, but hardly used.

Critics, including a small number of the Sewol victims' families, say the film is insensitive and overly politicised, and have called on the festival organisers to scrap the screening.

Amid efforts to shift focus back to a programme boasting more than 300 films - including around 100 world premieres - drawn from 79 countries, local media here have reported that the opening ceremony will be a more demure affair than in previous years.

A section of the red carpet area previously set aside for photo opportunities with celebrities will not be available this year as the festival looks to "shift the spotlight to the directors, actors and actresses instead of some female celebrities who are new and receive more attention" because of revealing dresses, a festival spokeperson told The Korea Times.

The festival ends October 11.

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