BIFAN Overcomes Covid Fears to Celebrate the 25th Anniversary
- Writerby Pierce Conran
THE MEDIUM and ACTIONHERO Earn Top Prizes in Bucheon Genre Event
The opening ceremony of the 25th BIFAN was held in the form of a performance based on the theme of Whispering Corridors.
Earlier this summer, local fans of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN), Asia’s top genre film gathering, were cautiously optimistic about what was looking to be a more open and optimistic event following a long winter and spring that had seen Covid restrictions limit social contact throughout Korea.
The greater Seoul area - Bucheon is a suburb located west of the capital in Gyeonggi Province - had been under Level 3 restrictions, which were set to be downgraded to Level 2 a week ahead of BIFAN’s Opening Ceremony. Yet that same week, the dreaded Delta Covid variant struck, and cases were once more on the rise across the nation. Suddenly, rather than a relaxation of restrictions, the festival was bracing for the likelihood that the region would be bumped up to Level 4.
Despite that cloud handing over the festivities, BIFAN opened the doors to its 25th anniversary on July 8 with a live-streamed opening ceremony that included a memorial to the late producer Lee Choonyun, produced by special guests Kim Taeyong and Min Kyudong, the co-directors of Memento Mori (1999), the second film in Lee’s long-running Whispering Corridors franchise. Among other nods to the horror franchise, guests on the stage were seated in high school-style tables and chairs. The ceremony was followed by a presentation of this year’s opening film from Taiwan, Giddens Ko’s Till We Meet Again.
While most guests couldn’t gather in person for the event, which was limited to 100 attendees, participants could view it online, and many of the regular international guests who would normally be happily greeting each other as they reunited for another edition of the Network of Asian Fantastic Films (NAFF), BIFAN’s industry event, found a new venue to socialize in - the Bucheon Fantastic Castle.
The Films Screened at ‘Vertical Short Film Special Screening: 25’ Section
Among the special programs on show at BIFAN this year was a memorial section dedicated to the films produced by Lee Choonyun, which included Memento Mori and The Terror, LIVE (2013). Also in the program was ‘Vertical Short Film Special Screening: 25’, which comprise short films made in portrait mode to be consumed on smartphones.
Unlike the film festival side of BIFAN, which once again operated as a hybrid online-offline event, NAFF took place exclusively online for the second consecutive year. Compared to last year, however, this year’s event created a special virtual space on Gather.Town, a site that offers customizable 8-bit virtual worlds that users can travel and congregate around.
The closing ceremony of the B.I.G & NAFF Award held at the Buchon Fantastic Castle on the online platform ‘Gathertown’ (Virtual space platform).
NAFF created several venues in its map, which included the Bucheon Fantastic Castle, where users could see live streams of events, which included a masterclass by American History X director Tony Kaye. Users could also break away into their own private chats and venture to the disco, where one evening, a karaoke event took place.
Also taking place online was the Fantastic Film School, where aspiring filmmakers received lectures from a range of industries figures, including veteran producer Jonathan H. Kim, M-Line Distribution sales agent Michelle Son and Todd Brown of XYZ Films. In addition to the lectures, participants were invited to use the popular Clubhouse audio app for open discussions following lectures, a component that NAFF hopes to continue even when the event returns to an offline format.
BIFAN screened a total of 257 titles from 47 countries this year, many of them also available to view on wavve, BIFAN’s partner streaming service. Around 23,000 tickets were sold to the physical screenings in Bucheon.
Director Na Hongjin won the Screenplay and the Best Picture for The Medium in the International Competition Section at 'Bucheon Choice: Features.’
Taking the top prize in this year’s Bucheon Choice competition was The Medium, the horror film from Thai filmmaker Banjong Pisanthanakun which was conceived and produced by local filmmaker Na Hongjin, whose most recent film The Wailing won the same award at BIFAN’s 2016 edition. The Medium, an occult horror set in Thailand, opened in Korean theaters on July 14 and topped the box office with almost 130,000 viewers on its opening day. Earning the Best of Bucheon Award automatically turned The Medium into this year’s closing film.
The Best Director Award went to Lee Haven Jones for the Welsh language film horror film The Feast, Hsu Fuhsiang earned the Jury Prize for the Taiwanese film Treat or Trick, and the Audience Award went to the NIMBY - Not In My Backyard from Finnish director Teemu Nikki.
(From the left) Director Lee Jinho (Actionhero / Best Picture . CGV Award . The Watcha New Talent Award: Features), Director Lee Sukhyeong (Actionhero/ Best Actor), Cho Kyoungho (Good Deal / Best Director . Korean Fantastic Audience Award . The Watcha New Talent Award: Features), Director Kim Eunkyung (Show Me the Ghost / NH Award)
In the local competition, the Korean Fantastic Film prize winner was Lee Jinho’s Actionhero, and the Best Director Award went to Cho Kyoungho for Good Deal. Lee Sukhyeong of Actionhero and Show Me the Ghost lead Kim Hyunmok received the Fantastic Actor Awards, with Kim’s co-star Han Seungyeon and Park Xiyeon of Dieter Fighter receiving special mentions. Good Deal also picked up the Audience Award and one of the Watcha New Talent Awards, along with Actionhero, which also won the CGV Award. Show Me the Ghost won the Nonghyup Award. In the Korean shorts competition, the top prize went to Pitch Black from director Lee Junsup.
Meanwhile, topping the NAFF project prizes was Peaches, a planned HK-set remake of the Czech New Wave classic Daisies from director Jenny Suen. The NAFF Award was picked up by We Jun Cho for Hungry Ghost Diner, and NAFF Korean Award went to Byun Sungbin for Peacock and Shim Yohan for Lana4. The Discovery of Asia Award went to the Vietnamese project The Land of Healing from Hoang Le, and the Discovery of Korea Award was given to Jung Jaehoon’s ESP.
The Official Poster of the 25th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival
The Level 4 social distancing protocols started on Monday, July 12, the fourth full day of the BIFAN, but the festival already had several cautious Covid measures in place, allowing for a minimal impact to the running of the event when the guidelines changed. Visitors to the festival were required to walk through sterilizing gates and to sign in digitally before being granted access to auditoriums, which were themselves disinfected four to five times a day.
The festival’s main events all took place online, but physical screenings, none of which took place after 10 pm, continued. The festival also provided rapid on-site Covid-19 self-test kits to viewers. Nevertheless, a pair of isolated Covid-19 cases were recorded at this year’s festival, including a viewer who attended an outdoor event on Friday, July 9 and a member of the technical crew who was diagnosed a day later. To date, these cases appear to have been contained as no connected cases have been detected.