BUSAN, South Korea - An inconspicuous cinema tucked at the back of a South Korean shopping mall is an unexpected setting for the world premiere of a new film by an Oscar-winning director,featuring some of cinemas biggest stars.
But this is just where Martin Scorsese's "The Audition" starring Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, will debut Saturday.
The idea for the film was conceived by Australian playboy billionaire James Packer to promote Studio City, the US$3.2 billion Hollywood-inspired casino he and his partner at Melco Crown Entertainment, Lawrence Ho, are building in the Chinese enclave of Macau, and another similar project titled City of Dreams being built in Manila.
The 16-minute production features in the Short Film Showcase section at the 20th Busan International Film Festival.
It had been scheduled to show first at the Venice Film Festival and was one of the event's most hotly anticipated screenings, but it was pulled from the programme at the last moment due to "technical problems", according to a statement released by festival organisers. They had earlier defended showing such a commercially natured production.
"It's a Scorsese film, not a commercial. The casino paid for the film, but it's not in the film at all," Venice director Alberto Barbera told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year.
Chosen on its merits
US media estimated the film cost US$70 million to produce with each actor paid around US$13 million to appear, but this has been denied by Melco Crown.
Venice's loss appears to be Busan's gain. BIFF programmer Pak Dosin told AFP his festival had first been approached by the film's Hong Kong-based representative in May, asking if he might be interested in screening it. He had then watched an online version of it in June before making his decision.
He insisted the film had been chosen on its merits and that he "liked it very much." The last Scorsese film to screen at BIFF was when "Taxi Driver" formed part of a retrospective programme in 2009.
Scorsese and De Niro are long time collaborators and have had a number of hits together including 1995 drama "Casino". The director also regularly works with DiCaprio.
A brief trailer for the film - which showed De Niro and DiCaprio arriving at a casino, scripts in hand and apparently ready to audition for the same role in a Scorsese production - had found its way on the YouTube in January but was soon pulled from the site.
Macau, the world's gaming capital - with turnover of an estimated US$44 billion last year, has seen revenues drop by around 33 per cent per month over the past 15 months as a much publicized crackdown on corruption led by Chinese President Xi Jinping has kept high rollers away.
A Special Administrative Region under Chinese control - it has also been urged by mainland leaders to diversify its attractions outside gaming.
To that end Studio City is set to feature a Batman flight simulator, what's claiming to be world highest figure-eight Ferris wheel and a collection of rides themed by Warner Brothers - alongside its gaming tables, in a more family friendly approach.
The Busan festival continues until October 10.