BUSAN – There was very little talk at the 17th Busan International Film Festival, Asia’s biggest movie event of the year, of the ongoing conflict between Japan and South Korea over ownership of those rocks in the Japan Sea. It so happens that the festival’s Asian Filmmaker of the Year Award was being given to veteran Japanese director Koji Wakamatsu and the the Korean Cinema Award to Kanako Hayashi, the director of Tokyo Filmex, for promoting Korean films. These honors were decided months before President Lee Myung Bak visited Takeshima/Dokdo, thus setting off the whole ruckus, but despite Koreans’ reputation for demonstrating strong feelings in public, no nationalist yahoos spoiled BIFF’s storied ecumenical atmosphere.
As an international event BIFF is a source of national pride, and its organizers have usually had more trouble with the authorities than with grudge-carrying civilians, since they assertively program films considered to be politically sensitive, like this year’s most talked-about Korean premiere, Chung Ji Young’s grueling “National Security,” a movie based on a memoir by a former democracy activist who, during the country’s autocratic period in the 1980s, was tortured for 22 days. In fact, it’s a movie about torture, since that’s almost all there is. For those Koreans who hope the country forgets this ugly period in their history, and that includes at least one person running for president this December, Chung is doing his best to make sure they don’t.