Making the most of the Pusan International Film Festival

Making the most of the Pusan International Film Festival

CNNGo reader Park Soo-mee shares what she's looking forward to most in and around Busan, during its International Film Festival
2009 Pusan International Film Festival opening
The 2009 Pusan International Film Festival opening event.

The 15th Pusan International Film Festival starts on October 7 in Busan, but that isn’t the only reason film lovers should head to this city on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula.

Every autumn, thousands of visitors flock to Busan for the Pusan International Film Festival, which has arguably grown into Asia’s largest film festival in the last decade.

While most are in town for the film, others come to drink soju, sample some of the country’s best seafood and watch their favorite stars strut on the sand beach. 

Here are a few suggestions for spending time in Busan during the festival.

Get in line

“Under the Hawthorn Tree,” the festival’s opening film by the director Zhang Yimou sold out in 18 seconds after the online ticket sales opened last month.

But temporary on-location box offices hold 20 percent of seats for each film for visitors who haven't already bought their tickets. You just have to queue up.

There are plenty more films to get in line for.

This year’s Pusan International Film Festival features 308 films from 67 countries including 103 world premieres.

Traditionally, some of the festival’s headline programs include the Gala Presentation, a lineup of new films by high-profile directors. There's also A Window on Asian Cinema, which Pusan strategically gears to films in the last decade, and Midnight Passion which features screenings of horror or mystery films starting at midnight.

This year’s Midnight Passion is poised to stand out by presenting 12 films including Pang Ho-cheung’s “Dream Home” and the director’s cut of “I Saw the Devil,” a revenge thriller by Kim Ji-woon (“The Good The Bad The Weird”).

Seafood on the beach

Haeundae beachHaeundae beach.

The image of pojangmacha (tent bars) along the shores of Haeundae, Busan’s main beachfront, renews a sense of nostalgia in many Korean urbanites.

If you don’t mind eating without an ocean view, Dongbaekseom Heotjip (tel: +82 051 741 3888) behind Haeundae Grand Hotel offers an impressive lunch set including assorted tempura, fish stew, salad and a wholesome plate of South Korean-styled sashimi and rice.

The endless course-meal is 30,000 won per person.

Scrub at Spa Land

Spa LandSpa Land.

While the veterans prefer to bathe early in the morning when the water is still clean, another way to enjoy a relaxing spa in Busan is to go in the evening.

After 8 p.m. Spa Land (open 6 a.m. – 12 a.m. tel: +82 051 745 2900), a new spa in Centum City with 13 sauna rooms and an outdoor hot spring, offers a discount rate of 7,000 won (9,000 won on weekends) for entrance.

It’s where Japanese ladies fly over to get a body scrub until they turn beet red.

For a hangover

Skipped the spa treatment and partied hard? Follow the South Korean way and try blowfish soup at Geumsoo Bokguk (tel: +82 051 742 3600), one of the South Korean President Park Chung-Hee’s favorite restaurants.

Follow the tracks

The trail on the southern end of the beach in Dongbaek Island offers a quiet walk leading to Nurimaru, where the APEC summit took place in 2005.

The beach trail starts in front of Hotel Westin Chosun, and continues through a narrow pathway surrounded in lush pine trees and camellia. If you see a lighthouse and mermaid statue, you’re on the right path.

Eat, shop, play

In the film “OldBoy” the main character is confined in a cell and fed fried dumplings for 15 years. Those dumplings were delivered from Chinese restaurant Hongseongbang (tel: +82 051 467 3682) in real life.

For those roaming near the film festival site, Haeundae market near McDonald's also offers local goods and delicacies like seasoned pig’s feet and grilled eel.

The retail and secondhand bookstores in Ggangtong Sijang or Tin Market, (Jagalchi Station, subway line 1) are fantastic places to pick up books, clothes, accessories and home appliances at wholesale prices.

Seeking the expat crowd? Try Texas Street (also called Shanghai Street) just across from Busan train station.

Once a red light district, the area is now an expat neighborhood lined with ethnic restaurants and shops selling inexpensive clothing and imported goods.

Celebrity sightings

Late AutumA scene from "Late Autum" which will be featured at the festival.

This year, the glitz of the Pusan Film Festival (named before the country’s new romanization system changed Pusan to Busan) adds glamour with Tang Wei (“Lust, Caution”) who is starring in a remake of 1960s South Korean classic “Late Autumn” in the festival’s Gala Presentation and Willem Dafoe from “A Man in a Woman” in World Cinema section.

On Friday at 3 p.m. Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai from the movie “Bride and Prejudice” will be at PIFF Village on Haeundae beach to mingle with audiences.

On the outdoor stage on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Willem Dafoe will be out for “Open Talk” with the director Giada Colagrande.

On Wednesday at 6 p.m. Juliette Binoche from “Certified Copy” will also be strutting around the outdoor stage for a hand-printing ceremony.

Festival basics

The 15th Pusan International Film Festival starts on October 7, 2010 with the film “Under the Hawthorne Tree” by the Chinese director Zhang Yimou and runs to October 15.

The festival brings 308 films that make up 11 sections including Gala Presentation, a special screening of Kurdish and Czech films and a retrospective of South Korean cinema. Starting this year, the festival begins an Internet ticketing system for foreigners. 

For full ticketing information click here.

Getting there

Flights from Seoul (Gimpo Airport) to Busan (Gimhae Airport) are available almost every hour through Korean Air.

From Gimhae Airport it takes about 45 minutes to get to Haeundae, in Busa, the festival’s main venue.

Airport limousine bus runs from Gimhae via major hotels (see below) in Busan from 7:30 a.m. through 9:40 p.m. for 6,000 won.

Another option is to take the three-hour ride from Seoul to Busan by the KTX bullet train.

Where to stay

Paradise Hotel (tel: +82 051 741 2121), where most celebrities stay during the festival, and Westin Chosun (tel: +82 051 749 7000) are as deluxe as Busan can get.

There’s also the Haeundae Grand Hotel.

Haeundae Centum Hotel is an affordable place for a decent location if rooms are available this close to the festival’s start.

About the author: Park Soo-mee is a freelance reporter based in Seoul. Born in Ulsan and raised in Vancouver and Montreal, she’s been in and out of journalism in the last ten years, and is now a graduate student at the University of North Korean Studies. She loves to cook and read.

Park Soo-mee submitted this piece as part of CNNGo’s CityPulse section. To find out what other stories we are looking for, go to our CityPulse page