All eyes on Asia

The Busan International Film Festival continues its reign as the premier showcase for Asian auteurs

Asia's premier cine-event took off last night. The 23rd Busan International Film Festival once again draws all attention to the South Korean port city as it hosts the annual showcase of films, especially Asian films. One part to promote the South Korean film industry -- a formidable machine of creativity and commerce -- and one part to reign as a centre of filmmaking activity in this part of the world, Busan has gone through some bumps, political and managerial, but remains steadfast in being in the biggest in Asia.

A number of Thai films have been invited to this year's festival. Busan will see the world premiere of Nakorn-Sawan (after the name of the province, which literally means "paradise"), a doc-fiction hybrid by first-time feature filmmaker Puangsoi Aksornsawang . Other Thai titles in Busan are Ten Years Thailand (which premiered in Cannes in May), Manta Ray (which is having a prolific festival touring before returning home early next year), BNK48: Girls Don't Cry, a documentary film about the girl group BNK48, and lastly in the classic programme, The Scar, a restored 1979 pastoral romance by Cherd Songsri (which will be re-released in Thailand on Oct 18).

The opening film screened last night at the Busan Cinema Centre is the Korean drama Beautiful Days, which touches on the topical subject of North-South relations and the long shadow of historical sins. The closing night on Oct 13 will see the premiere of Yuen Woo-ping's Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy, a martial art film from the renowned choreographer-director.

Elsewhere in the programme, Busan shows a big roster of world cinema as well as new Asian titles that will dominate the discussion in the months to come. We'll have more from the festival, but here are some Asian titles you may want to keep an eye on.

The Day I Lost My Shadow. Photos courtesy of Busan/TIFF

The Day I Lost My Shadow (Syria)

Syrian director Soudade Kaadan gives us a street-level view of her war-torn country -- not the abstract, reportage news items of bombings and atrocity, but the psychological tension that bears down on the people whose everyday lives become a game of survival. As the title suggests, there are those who've lost their shadows -- those whose lives seem to be hanging between worlds. The film centres on three characters as they pile in a car in order to find cooking gas (more important than anything else during wartime) but end up on the run through the countryside. Films coming out of Syria these days are usually documentaries; a fiction film like this brings us an emotional truth that's even more urgent and real.

Bulbul Can Sing. Photo courtesy of Busan/TIFF

Bulbul Can Sing (India)

Rima Das directs this emblem of the #MeToo moment with this delicate, heartbreaking story of a teenage girl called Bulbul. Living in a provincial village in Assam, Bulbul (the extraordinary Arnai Das) spends her days hanging out with friends, including a gay one. Patiently and never overtly, the film sketches the structure of casual oppression against females and homosexuality, which culminates in a harrowing incident. It's an indictment of patriarchy, but the film's done with sympathetic eyes and a cool-headed temperament that makes the tragedy all the more affecting.

Jinpa (Tibet)

Pema Tseden is the best-known Tibetan filmmaker in the international circuit. His new film Jinpa has been produced by Wong Kar-wai -- and the influence is visible throughout this dreamy film. Jinpa, shot beautifully amid the swirl of desert dust, is a road movie that centres on a truck driver called Jinpa who, on the way to deliver his goods, picks up a mysterious hitchhiker who's also called Jinpa. The passenger tells the driver that he's going to a small town to kill a man to avenge the death of his father, and that sets off a surreal journey that moves in and out between what's real and what's remembered, what has happened and what's dreamed. The melancholic visual and oblique narrative evokes Wong Kar-wai, though Tseden is deeply immersed in the landscape and the faces of his people.

Cities Of Last Things. Photo courtesy of Busan/TIFF

Cities Of Last Things (Taiwan)

One life is told through three periods, in a reverse chronological order. We begin in the near future -- Blade Runner-style street neon, sleek gadgets, surveillance drones -- as a retired man roams a city at night looking for revenge. In the second part, the same man is seen as a young police detective who gets involved with a French woman as his own marriage is falling apart. And in the last part of the triptych, we see the man as a teenage delinquent. This artifice isn't new, but Taiwanese director Wi Ding Ho is confident in the way he teases out clues in piecemeal, revealing some and adding other mysteries, while the tragedy of life-in-reverse keeps us close to the character. In all, Cities Of Last Things feels like a mere exercise in storytelling, but since life can only be understood backward and film can only move forward, this is a film to look out for.

A Family Tour (Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Malaysia)

A family is torn apart, their members wedged by time, geography and transgression. Based on the life of the director, A Family Tour tells the story of an exiled Chinese filmmaker who asks her mother to join a group tour to Taiwan in order to reunite with her, however briefly (in real life the film's director, Ying Liang, is a man). But the reunion proves that reconciliation is as painful as separation. A touching portrait of a family, the film is also political in a subtle and careful way.