A scene from the runaway box-office success 'Parasite.' Photo: Courtesy of CJ Entertainment

Organizers of Asia’s top film festival, which opens in Busan this week, warn that a surge of global interest in the critically acclaimed South Korean movie Parasite masks a damaging underinvestment in independent cinema.

Bong Joon-ho’s darkly comic tale of class war in the Seoul suburbs won the Palme D’or for best film at Cannes and is firming as an Oscar favorite next year, in what would be the first-ever win for a Korean film.

It has been sold to 192 international markets – a record for a local production – and has already grossed more than US$90 million ahead of its highly anticipated October 11 release in the United States.

The film is a crowning achievement for veteran director Bong, whose works have been lauded by Hollywood icons such as Quentin Tarantino and two-time collaborator Tilda Swinton.

His films have long been championed by the Busan International Film Festival, a gala event dedicated to both unearthing new independent Asian talent and connecting emerging filmmakers with financiers.

But Parasite’s breakout success “hides a crisis” in the local film industry, according to Nam Dong-chul, program director at BIFF.

Nam said investors and cinema chains needed to help smaller independent productions find an audience in a market dominated by Hollywood-funded blockbusters.

“We have indeed been lazy with building a strong foothold where new talents can blossom,” he added. “We can take advantage of opportunity only when independent and art films have a stable market share.”

Bong is not slated to appear at BIFF this year as he tours the world promoting his latest work, but the spotlight will shine on an impressive collection of acclaimed international award winners.

Call Me By Your Name star Timothee Chalamet and Indian Oscar winner  A.R. Rahman of Slumdog Millionaire are expected to either grace the red carpet during the opening gala on Thursday or make an appearance in the days that follow.

Leaving Las Vegas director Mike Figgis will head the jury for the festival’s main awards, while Japanese auteur Kore-eda Hirokazu will be in town to collect the Asian filmmaker of the year award and to present his latest feature, The Truth.

The Korean star parade will be led by opening night co-host Lee Hanee, fresh from the success of her action flick Extreme Job, now the second-highest-grossing in Korean cinema history.

Local films will take pride of place with 20 world premieres in the Korean Cinema Today section alone.

There’s a nod to the rising influence of streaming platforms with four Netflix original productions on the program, along with the world premiere of the much-anticipated Malaysia-HBO co-production The Garden of Evening Mists.

Thursday’s opening film is acclaimed Kazakh director Yerlan Nurmukhambetov’s The Horse Thieves. Roads of Time, starring 2018 Cannes best actress winner Samal Yesleyamova.

His last appearance at BIFF saw him awarded the prestigious New Currents prize for early-career directors with his drama Walnut Tree in 2015.


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