Stars and fans gather for top Asian film festival

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The Independent Culture

Stars from Hollywood, Bollywood and China gathered with film-makers and fans Thursday for the launch of Asia's most prestigious film festival in the South Korean port city of Busan.

The 15th Pusan International Film Festival kicked off with an outdoor screening of Chinese's director Zhang Yimou's "Under the Hawthorn Tree" at the Haeundae Yachting Centre, with thousands of screaming fans lining up to welcome South Korean heartthrobs such as Won Bin and Lee Yo-Won.

Attention also focused on international stars Kim Yun-Jin, star of the hit TV series "Lost", Japanese starlet Yu Aoi and Chinese star Tang Wei.

A few hundred lucky fans were able to pick up tickets to the screening and they roared their approval when the event was officially opened with fireworks by its founder and outgoing festival director Kim Dong-Ho.

From next year the festival will move to the 133-million-dollar purpose-built Dureraum, or Busan Cinema Centre, and Kim took time to thank the fans who had made the festival "so special."

"It is an event for the people and for the benefit of Asian cinema," he said.

The opening ceremony began with a touching musical tribute to Kim, played to screen shots of the history of the festival.

Outside the event, American-based star Kim said she had been dazzled by the attention and the spirit of the South Korean fans.

"It's remarkable," she said as she waited to walk the red carpet. "It's just so exciting to be here and it looks like being a wonderful night."

Acclaimed director Zhang, known both for blockbusters such as "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers" as well as being the man behind the opening ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said he was honoured to have his film selected to open the event.

"I have been to Busan before," the director said. "It is a wonderful festival that does a lot to introduce Asian films to fans. It is the largest and greatest festival in Asia and I am proud to be here. It is a great honour."

Zhang's "Not One Less" was screened as the closing film at the festival's 1999 edition and the director revealed the attention it received had helped introduce his work to the world outside his homeland.

"It is a festival that gives filmmakers opportunities," he said.

"Under the Hawthorn Tree", Zhang's touching drama following a love affair set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution and starring Shawn Dou and Zhou Dongyu, was the first of 308 films to be screen at the festival, 103 of them world premieres.

Hollywood heavyweights Oliver Stone and Willem Dafoe were scheduled to arrive in town for the festival, along with Bollywood golden couple Aishwarya Rai and her husband Abhishek Bachchan, and French actress Juliette Binoche.

The festival's main award, called New Currents, offers two first prizes of 30,000 dollars to first or second-time Asian directors.

There are 13 films from across the region vying for the award, which will be announced on October 15.
The festival will close on that day with the screening of a project driven by festival director Kim as a tribute to Busan.

"Camellia" tells three separate stories set in the city and directed by Thailand's Wisit Sasanatieng, Isao Yukisada of Japan and South Korea's Jang Jun-Hwan.