By Paolo Bertolin
UDINE, Italy _ The sixth edition of Far East Film Festival (FEFF), the Italian event that takes place in the town of Udine and is renowned as the biggest showcase for East Asian popular cinema in the West, came to a close last Friday evening, with the announcement of the recipients of the Audience Award.
's all time box office record-breaker "Taegukgi", which screened in its international premiere as official closing event of the festival just prior to the final counting of votes, was presented as runner-up in a preference list led by Yamada Yoji's Academy Award nominated "The Twilight Samurai". On the receiving of his laurel, director Kang warmly thanked Udine's audiences for their support and expressed the hope that his film could find the same welcoming response with all Western audiences.
The threesome of first-classified titles pleasantly put on the spotlight three films each representing a different country, offering a fair overview of the enthralling eight-days-marathon through East Asian cinemas experienced at this year's FEFF. As the main prize winner is in fact an exquisite and thoroughly compelling rendering of Japanese "jidai geki" (period drama) centered on the touchingly humanist character of widower samurai Seibei, an unconventional hero confronted more with the everyday struggle for the maintenance of his family rather than with heroic duels, and the Korean War epic about brotherly love and rivalry of "Taegukgi" ended up second. The third spot was occupied by China, with Huo Jianqi's accurate rural drama "Nuan".
Among the many events that punctuated the course of FEFF worth of mention is the prestigious 11-title retrospective devoted to Hong Kong prolific and protean master Chor Yuen, a back-looking sidebar that renewed the spirit of developing a better knowledge of the history of Asian cinemas in the West inaugurated last year by a selection of titles from the Korean Golden Age of the 60's.
"Thai Beautiful Boxer" by first-timer Ekachai Uekrongtham was no doubt one of the festival's most prominent surprises. A Billy Elliot-style feel-good movie, it tells the real-life tale of a young muay thay (i.e. Thai kickboxing) boxer whose lifetime dream is changing sex and become a woman, with laudable sensitivity and without ever indulging into sensationalism.
The growing success of FEFF was indeed acknowledged by the always-increasing presence of foreign press and festival officials. Among them was Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival Programming Director Ellen Kim, a regular in Udine, who came for scouting out new Asian titles and revealed us in advance the selection of some half dozen films for her festival. Another key asset in the festival rising international relevance is the exposure it grants commercial Asian fare to possible rights buyers. A good example is precisely offered by the Italian market: although prospects of theatrical release for films screened at FEFF look rather unlikely, more and more titles are acquired for video release and TV airing. Mentioning Kim Ki-duk
's "Nappun Namja (Bad Guy)" and Park Chan-wook
's "Poksu-nun Na-ui Kot (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance)" as titles he first saw at FEFF and signalled for acquisition, Responsible of films programming for Sky Cinema Italia Alessandro Faes Belgrado commented that the recent bulge of Korean films on satellite TV schedules is mainly due to the possibility of discovering them at FEFF.
Paolo Bertolin is a writer specializing in Asian films for Cineforum, an Italian film magazine.