Chinese action debut and South Korean family drama win at Busan

A thrill-a-minute actioner from China and a moving South Korean drama about a unique family reunion have taken the top prize at Asia’s largest film festival, with judges lauding both for their “original” takes.

“Savage”, from first-time Chinese director Cui Si-wei, pits a forest ranger against gold thieves in a snowy mountain range and won praise from the New Currents award jury at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) for being “strikingly accomplished and riveting”.

South Korean production “Clean up”, from debut feature director Kwon Man- ki, charts the tale of a struggling woman who is offered a salvation of sorts when she meets someone from her past.

It is a film with “perfect control and masterful psychological development,” the jury statement read.

BIFF’s New Currents award comes with prizes of $30,000 for the two most impressive efforts from first- or second-time Asian filmmakers and there had been a buzz around town after screenings of “Savage” in particular. The film now looks certain for wide commercial release in China and beyond.

Veteran South Korean director Kim Hong-joon, who led the New Currents jury, said the judges were unanimous in their decision to award “Savage” its prize.

“[It shows] a mastery of genre cinema, with multi-dimensional characters and thrilling action sequences,” said Kim.

Other highlights of this year’s BIFF included a documentary section that featured films that scratched away at the region’s political and social scars.

The gripping Taiwanese effort “Opening Closing Forgetting”, from director James T. Hong, looked at how Chinese farmers survived human experimentation by occupying Japanese forces during the Second World War, but have never really recovered from the horrors they were put through.

It took the BIFF Mecenat Award for best documentary — winning praise from the award panel for its “profound dedication to its story” — along with Kelvin Park’s “Army”, which shed light on lives led by South Korea’s military conscripts.

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