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Jul 24, 2018
  • Writerby Pierce Conran
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Women’s Stories Dominate Scorching Edition of Bucheon Genre Fest

Since it takes place in mid and late July, the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN), Asia’s largest celebration of genre cinema, has always tempted fate regarding the weather forecast. 2018 was no exception as preparations for BIFAN’s opening ceremony took place under a canopy of heavy clouds and bursts of torrential rain that had swept much of Korea for the preceding weeks. As fate would have it, the clouds broke in the afternoon just in time for the stars to grace the ‘longest red carpet in the world’ to the crackle of cameras outside Bucheon City Hall on the evening of Thursday, July 12.

Over the following ten days, BIFAN screened 299 fantastic feature and short films from 54 countries around the world. International guests and local crowds alike enjoyed, for the most part, sunny skies during an edition that presented the festival’s most diverse program yet. What’s more, with the removal of the Bucheon Station venue, the main screening locations of BIFAN were all within easy walking distance this year, offering revelers only limited exposure to the sun considering that the temperatures ticked up to record highs as the festival wore on into late July.

BIFAN kicked off with a star-studded opening ceremony that featured horror icon Barbara Crampton, local superstar JUNG Woo-sung (Steel Rain, 2017), acclaimed auteur LEE Myung-se (Nowhere to Hide, 1999) and a special stage performance featuring a troupe of dancing Freddy Kruegers, representing this year’s popular Nightmare on Elm Street-inspired festival design. The ceremony was followed by the world premiere of the local animation Underdog, which set a BIFAN record by selling out in just nine seconds. From the makers of the hit animation Leafie, a Hen Into the Wild (2011), the film features the voices of DOH Kyung-soo (Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds, 2017) and PARK So-dam (The Priests, 2015).

Once again, 12 features duked it out in BIFAN’s signature Bucheon Choice competition. Marking a welcome first at the festival was this year’s even split between men and women directors among the lineup. Three of the four films that would earn prizes were among those by female directors, including this year’s top Bucheon Choice Award, which went to Coralie Fargeat’s French horror-thriller Revenge. The Best Director Choice Award went to Issa López of Mexico for her orphan survival story Tigers Are Not Afraid while the Jury’s Choice Award was bestowed upon IWAKIRI Isora’s The Sacrament from Japan. The Audience Award went to the only Korean film in competition, YU Eun-jeong’s Ghost Walk.

Meanwhile, nine local films went head-to-head in the Korean Fantastic: Features program. Earning both the LG HiEntech Best Korean Fantastic Film Award and Korean Fantastic Best Actress Award was Land of Happiness, with the prizes going to director JUNG Min-kyu and actor YE Soo-jung, respectively. The dark indie drama chronicles the strange ritual that occurs every year on a memorial day for a young man who died after he saved a man who jumped on a subway track in a suicide attempt. YE plays the still-grieving mother who welcomes into her home the guilt-stricken man that her son saved.

Among other award winners were KIM Young-ho, who earned the Korean Fantastic Best Actor Award for SHIN Hae-gang’s Dogs in the House, while HWANG Wook’s Live Hard took the Korean Fantastic Audience Award. The remaining feature prizes were swept up by Japanese works, as the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation (EFFF) Prize went to UEDA Shinichiro’s One Cut of the Dead, with a special mention for SHIRAISHI Kazuya’s The Blood of Wolves, the NETPAC Award was split between OGATA Takaomi’s The Hungry Lion and KUDO Masaaki’s I’m Crazy and finally the BIFAN Children’s Jury Award was given to OKADA Mari’s Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms.

Beyond the competition titles, several notable new local films also debuted in the ‘Korean Fantastic: Features’ section. BACK Seung-kee returned to BIFAN for the third time with Super Margin, another wacky lo-fi comedy in the vein of his prior works Super Virgin (2014) and Super Origin (2016). Super Margin follows a hapless young man who ventures to China (or so he thinks) to track down the people who scammed him out of a laptop, with hilarious consequences. BACK and his leading man SON Lee-yong (who has featured in all of his films) brought their energy from the screen to the BIFAN red carpet and all over the streets of Bucheon throughout the festival. 

Another notable Korean film was Beautiful Vampire, the debut feature by Jude JUNG. This colorful genre romcom features a charismatic JUNG Yeon-ju playing a 500-year-old vampire who falls for her landlady’s pretty son in modern-day Seoul while suppressing her urges and keeping her identity secret. Equally indebted to the works of PARK Chan-wook as the world of Korean dramas, the film presents us with a new genre stylist in the Korean film scene.

Beyond new films, BIFAN also celebrated upcoming productions through the 11th Network of Asian Fantastic Films (NAFF) pitching market and competition held at the Koryo Hotel. Projects were presented from around the world, with special sections devoted to pitches from India, Scandinavia (under the Nordic Genre banner) and Latin America (supported by Blood Window), in addition to the annual IT Projects. Unusually, the top NAFF Award this year (worth USD 13,300) was split between Abdul ZAINIDI’s Worm and the Widow from Brunei, and the Cambodian project Soul Searching from Sokyou CHEA.

Alongside NAFF at the Koryo Hotel were several other elements of the BIFAN Industry Gathering (B.I.G.), including talks held within the ‘Korea Now’, ‘Made in Asia’ and ‘New Media’ programs. One of the most popular talks was ‘Foreign Production Collaboration of Korean Directors: From Asia to Netflix’. Moderated by Hansel and Gretel (2007) director YIM Pil-sung, the panel featured Tunnel (2016) director KIM Seong-hun, who is currently doing post-production work on Kingdom, the period zombie series that will be the first Netflix-financed original Korean drama series when it launches in December, as well as AHN Sang-hoon and OH Ki-hwan, who remade their films Blind (2011) and Last Present (2001), respectively, in China, and JEONG Jae-eun, who last year released her Japanese co-production Butterfly Sleep (2017).

Beyond this year’s competition section, there were several other notable films directed by women peppered throughout the lineup, but even among the rest of the films, many of the standouts this year were not only driven by female characters but were works which directly explored the gender gap in societies all across the globe. 

Also in competition was Michael Pearce’s powerful island horror-thriller Beast. The story of a young girl who falls for a local boy who may or may not be a serial killer on Jersey Island in the UK, this stylish, clever and effortlessly tense work explores the suffocating double standards experienced by a young woman as she navigates the most sensitive time in her life. A similar work was Joachim Trier’s Thelma from Norway, a supernatural horror about a young student who discovers she has telekinetic powers.

Meanwhile, controversial Indian cineaste Q was in the ‘Forbidden Zone’ section with Garbage, an uncompromising and visceral look at the state of rape culture in India. An affluent young woman escapes her life when a sex video is posted by a vengeful ex. In Goa, she is helped by a quiet driver who is actually a devout member of a fanatic and chauvinist cult.

As always, BIFAN looks not only at the new voices of global genre cinema but also shines a light on the great names who have paved the way to the present. This year, the festival staged a ‘Three Horror Masters and Their Eyes’ section, which presented three works a piece from horror masters Tope Hooper (Lifeforce), Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and George A. Romero (Dawn of the Dead). In addition, one of the most talked about screenings in Bucheon this year was Stuart Gordon’s classic From Beyond, which was followed by a lengthy masterclass from the film’s star Barbara Crampton, one of this year’s Bucheon Choice jurors.

Now that the curtain has raised on this year’s festivities, the countdown begins for 2019’s 23rd edition to see what new and terrible wonders BIFAN will hold in store.
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