Asia's top film fest set for glitzy opening

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Organisers lay out the red carpet at Asia's biggest film festival later Thursday hoping the opening movie -- a comedy about Korean political intrigue -- will inject some light relief in a gloomy climate for global cinema.

Financial restraints have hit the world film festival circuit this year and Asian filmmakers in particular have found it tough attracting investors in the depths of the global economic crisis.

But the October 8-16 Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) -- which uses the South Korean port's old name -- remains determined to hang onto its spot as Asia's premier cinematic showcase with the help of an impressive new venue.

The festival begins Thursday evening with "Good Morning President", an offbeat look at political machinations in the host country, directed by Korean box office champion Jang Jin.

There will be plenty of glitz and glamour 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 will join 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.