Asia's biggest film festival began Thursday with a red-carpet parade of stars and the screening of a movie designed to put a "human" stamp on South Korea's colourful politics.
Addressing a press conference just before the festival's opening night, director Jang Jin said he was proud that his comedy "Good Morning President" had been selected to begin the 14th Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF).
"In my lifetime, we have gone from a dictatorship to presidents that have become more human and we have become closer to them," said the 38-year-old Jang. "This film is simple, interesting and fun."
Festival director Kim Dong-Ho said the film -- an offbeat look at political machinations in the host country -- had been chosen to open the October 8-16 event because it reflected both life in South Korea and at the festival itself.
"We chose this film because the director is known to portray a world that has comedy and it has drama," he said. "And that is fitting for this festival."
The Pusan event -- which uses the South Korean port's old name -- opens determined to hang onto its spot as Asia's premier cinematic showcase with the help of an impressive new venue.
There was plenty of glitz and glamour expected on the red carpet with Hollywood A-lister Josh Hartnett in town to promote "I Come with the Rain", his collaboration with Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung.
The PIFF sees itself as a bridge between the filmmaking industries of East and West, a fact highlighted by the presence this year of some of Hollywood's major players, including Bryan Singer (director of "X-Men" and "The Usual Suspects") and Jon Landau (producer of "Titanic").
They were joining the likes of Korean heart-throbs Jang Mi-Hee and Kim Yoon-Suk under the spotlights, along with filmmakers riding a wave of Western critical acclaim from China, India and the Philippines.
PIFF head of programming Park Do-Sin says the festival is "the window to the world for Asian films".
"Many independent and artistic films from Asian regions have been presented here and have gone on to achieve worldwide attention," he said.
After first gaining prominence at PIFF, South Korean Kim Ki-Duk won best director at the Berlin Film Festival for 2004's "Samaritan Girl", and Park Chan-Wook received the Cannes Grand Prize for his thriller "Oldboy" (2004).
The festival's main prize is the 30,000 dollar New Currents Award, which hands out two such cheques to first- and second-time Asian filmmakers.
Head of this year's New Currents jury is Oscar-nominated French director Jean-Jacques Beineix ("Betty Blue") -- who has spearheaded a controversial industry drive in support of Roman Polanski as Polanski fights his arrest in Switzerland over US child sex charges.
PIFF is also launching a 20,000 dollar Flash Forward Award for first- and second-time directors from outside Asia.
This year's festival is housed in the plush surrounds of the Shinsegae mall in Centum City, a purpose-built suburb which the South Korean city hopes will become an Asian hub for both pre- and post-film production.
The programme boasts 98 world premieres among its 355 scheduled films from 70 countries, as the PIFF fights back against growing competition from elsewhere in the region.
The 22-year-old Tokyo International Film Festival, held this year from October 17-25, is re-emerging as a major industry player. June's Shanghai festival is now seen as the gateway to China's fast-growing film industry.
The South Korean show is expected to draw more than 200,000 people this year. Organisers are on alert for swine flu, setting up medical booths at all locations and requesting prior cooperation from nearby hospitals.
Source: AFP Global Edition