The Busan International Film Festival will screen films from 70 different countries.

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The Busan International Film Festival started on Wednesday with an opening ceremony that features stars such as Kim Kyu-ri on the red carpet. Photo by Yonhap

The 26th Busan International Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday with a full slate of in-person events and screenings, a stark contrast to last year, when it was almost entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.The opening ceremonies of Asia’s largest international film festival, which runs from October 6 to 15, were held in the outdoor theatre of the Busan Cinema Center, located in the heart of South Korea’s second-largest city.

The gala, which was hosted by Song Joong-ki, star of the recent Netflix hit Vincenzo, and Park So-dam, star of the 2019 Academy Award-winning Parasite, drew over 1,000 guests.

After last year’s scaled-down affair, in which no opening and closing ceremonies were held, glamour made a return as stars such as Han So-hee and Yoo Ah-in walked the red carpet and director Bong Joon-ho waved to cheering crowds.

A limited number of international filmmakers, actors and industry professionals are also making the trip to Busan this year.

French filmmaker Leos Carax will arrive with his film Anette, which opened this year’s Cannes Film Festival, while Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi will present two films: Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, winner of the Silver Bear Prize at the Berlin film fest and Drive My Car, awarded best screenplay at Cannes.

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Carax will host a master class at the festival and Hamaguchi will take part in a discussion session with Bong Joon-ho on Thursday.

In all, the film festival will screen 223 films from 70 countries in several theaters around Busan, a significant expansion from last year’s online-centric festival.

Virus control measures will limit seating to 50% capacity, and all festival attendees are required to be either fully vaccinated or to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

The festival’s opening film Wednesday was Heaven: To the Land of Happiness, a road movie by director Im Sang-soo that features veteran stars Choi Min-sik and Park Hae-il. The film had originally been scheduled to premiere at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, which was canceled due to the pandemic.

In addition to screenings, a full program of offline events will be held during the 10-day fest, including director talks and live interview sessions with leading South Korean actors.

A new section called “On Screen” is dedicated to series on streaming platforms, arriving in a year that has seen South Korea soar to the top of the global market with hits such as Netflix’s Squid Game.

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Episodes of Hellbound, by Train to Busan director Yeon Sang-ho and My Name by Kim Jin-min will be screened ahead of their releases on Netflix, while Thai supernatural thriller Forbidden will premiere before it makes its way to HBO Asia.

The festival is taking place as South Korea prepares to enter a new phase of eased social distancing as soon as next month. The country still is battling a fourth wave of infections driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, but vaccination rates have climbed rapidly over the past several weeks.

As of Wednesday, 77.5% of the population have received at last one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 54.5% are fully vaccinated.


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