This post can also be named “First Time Experiencing a Typhoon”/”First Time Almost Getting Kicked Out of a Jimjilbang”/”First Time Going to a Film Festival”:
A couple of weeks ago, Nathaniel and I went to the Busan International Film Festival. If you’re ever in Korea during this time (held in either September or October), I absolutely recommend it. I’ve never been to a film festival before but now I’m desperately wanting to attend as many as possible (the Cannes International Film Festival in France and the Sundance Film Festival in Utah are now on our Life Bucket Lists).
It’s held at the beautiful Haeundae Beach and surrounding areas. This year, BIFF had 304 films from 75 countries with 93 world premieres. Most of the theaters are at the Busan Cinema Center – right outside Centum City, which is an awesome department store with tons of stores, restaurants, an amazing market, and home to Spa Land, as seen on CNN here. There are tons of booths, tents, theaters and other exhibits celebrating BIFF at Haeundae Beach, Centum City and the Busan Cinema Center (all accessible via the Metro Line 2 and within 5 min of each other).
Our first trip to the film festival was the day before a holiday, Hangul Day. Hangul is Korean’s native language, which they are incredibly proud of, with good reason. It’s a super easy language to learn and they brag that you can “say anything” in Hangul, compared to how some languages don’t have letters or characters for certain sounds.
Anyway, Nathaniel and I decided to see the “Midnight Passions” movies the night prior to Hangul Day. And no, it’s not what it sounds like – it’s a set of 3 movies they show starting at midnight to around 5/6am (usually on the weekends, but also on this Tuesday night due to the holiday). “Midnight”, I get – but “Passions”? Most of the movies for the Midnight “Passions” showings were all thrillers/horrors.
Getting tickets is kind of a pain in the ass (details below), but I luckily had midterms that day and was able to leave work early. I jumped on the “slow train*” to Busan and got our tickets around 5pm. Unfortunately, this meant 5ish hours venturing around Busan by myself since Nate wasn’t off work until later. This wouldn’t normally be much of a problem, except we also decided to go to a beach town the day Typhoon Danas was supposed to hit.
I was in search of a DVD Bang (a place where teenagers usually go to watch movies with their gf/bf in private rooms where they provide a bed and relatively large projection screen) to take refuge from the storm and more importantly, to nap before watching 6 hours of movies. In The States, finding a destination like this wouldn’t be an issue – you would take out your smart phone, go onto Google Maps or TomTom and search. If that didn’t work, you’d do a quick Google search of where to find one, possibly go onto Yelp to compare different results. In Korea, you not only don’t have these resources (not for lack of smart phones but for lack of detailed maps and Yelp-like websites), but it’s also as if every single Korean that you ask for help or directions, is new to town and has no idea where anything is. And I’m talking about people working at information booths throughout the city having no idea where anything is located.
After an hour of searching, I was beyond frustrated, completely soaked and Typhoon Danas already broke my umbrella (typhoons, by the way, are no joke. I’ve never been in rain and wind so fierce). I finally settled on going to a Jimjilbang, or a public bath house, (Haeundae Spa Center, more info and directions here) where I stripped off my soaking wet clothes and was soon harassed by an older Korean employee because she didn’t think the foreigner (me) was clean enough to enter the pools (true story – and this was after I showered, which apparently wasn’t good enough). After she made a huge scene yelling at me in Korean after multiple other Korean women tried to help me and tell her that I was clean, I admitted defeat and decided to take a nap in the upper co-ed dressed area (they give you hospital-gown-looking type of clothes to change into). Sleeping on hardwood floors isn’t my favorite, but anything was better than wandering around outside during a typhoon or having, what was probably, racial slurs yelled at me naked (me being the naked one. Although she was pretty close, rocking large red granny panties and a head band).
Nate finally arrived during the worst part of the storm. We were supposed to grab dinner in Haeundae before heading to the theater, but I hear the beach isn’t the best place to be during a typhoon, so we just went straight to the theater (getting completely re-soaked in the process). I found an abandoned umbrella at the train station which Typhoon Danas soon destroyed as well (along with Nate’s umbrella) and then we finally made it.
The three films we watched were as follows:
Last Summer (7/10, in my opinion. 6.3 according to IMDB) – a Thai thriller/horror about a girl dying tragically and then coming back to haunt all the people that screwed her over.
Afflicted (7/10 both in my opinion and according to IMDB) – a Canadian documentary-type thriller about 2 guys’ trip to Europe and shit hitting the fan when one of them kind of turns into somewhat of a vampire. It’s much better than how I just described it.
Nothing Bad Can Happen or “Tore tantz” (6/10, in my opinion, 6.9 on IMDB) – a German drama about every possible horribly-bad thing that can happen to an innocent person. The 6-rating is mainly due in part to the trauma I experienced.
American/Hollywood films have a habit of making films that are happy. Sure, they might be tragic or dramatic or whatever, but they usually still end with you feeling content. If it’s not an obviously happy ending, someone learned something or maybe you gain some kind of understanding – but you don’t want to shoot yourself after watching, unlike Nothing Bad Can Happen. What I both love and hate about foreign movies is that they sometimes make you uncomfortable. Hollywood movies don’t – you might feel sad, angry, scared, but you’re rarely uncomfortable. People (at least a lot of Americans) don’t prefer it. They’d rather have the plot and the twists and the “happy endings” and the tears and the lessons-learned. Uncomfortable just doesn’t sell as well as Hollywood.
So as we wandered out of the theater deeply disturbed, following the showing of Nothing Bad Can Happen, we had no idea where we should go. It was about 530am and we were still strung out on coffee and I personally was afraid to fall asleep in fear of the terrifying dreams that would ensue. Luckily, Koreans feel comfortable sleeping anywhere (which is something I definitely have in common with them), so we stumbled upon a “book/reading cafe” on the first floor of the Cinema Center where there were a bunch of ottoman-style couches that people were crashing on freely and hanging out on until morning.
We came back to Busan on Friday and Saturday, which were both typhoon-free days, thank you baby Jesus. On Friday, we were at the lovely outdoor theater (shown at the very beginning of this post) and saw:
I’ll Follow You Down (5/10 and 6.6 on IMDB) – another Canadian film that was like a dramatic, not-nearly-as-good Back to the Future with a grown up (and very fluffy) Haley Joel Osmant.
On Saturday, we watched the closing film of the festival:
Savaged (5/10 and no rating on IMDB) – a low-budget American movie about a girl who’s murdered and then comes back to kill her murderers. No, this isn’t unoriginal because an ancient Apache warrior spirit inhabits her body. It’s about as good as it sounds.
BIFF was an amazing festival, overall. Tickets to all the movies are around 6,000 won ($5-$6ish) and the Midnight Passions were 10,000 won for all three. One of the best parts about Korea is their love for alcohol and snacking so I highly recommend bringing a few bottles of wine, some cocktails-to-go, and cheese and crackers to further enhance your experience.
Getting Tickets to BIFF:
Most tickets sell out ridiculously fast – I think someone said the reserve-able tickets sold out in 5 minutes. However, they keep 20% of tickets to sell at the door, the day of. There are multiple tents where you can purchase tickets, the least-crowded one (that I saw) being the one at Centum City. From the metro, there was a red-carpet type of sticker on the ground that led you outside the department to a tent set up with people selling tickets. You can also call their box office (someone there should speak English) to see how many tickets are left for any movie that day. Movie times and more details can be found on their website here.
How to Get to Haeundae, Busan from Ulsan:
(Since I struggled a bit)
There are multiple ways you can get to Haeundae, Busan from Ulsan. While UlsanOnline.com probably has more information hereand here, here’s a really simplified guide with Google maps that are hopefully compatible with your phone:
NOTE: This train station in Haeundae is now closed and was moved to Jangsan (a short cab ride away from Haeundae Beach).
The slow train departs from Taehwagang Station in east Samsan (new downtown) to Haeundae. You can tell a cab driver “태화강역” or “Taehwagang Yeok” (“yeok” kind of sounds like “yuck”) or take a bus here (if you have Google Maps on your phone, it can tell you which buses go there from your location).
Ulsan Online has some of the train times listed here. This train costs about 3,400 won and takes about an hour to reach Haeundae Station, which is right at the beach on the main strip. If all the seats are taken, you can do “standing only”.
This (pin A) is the intercity bus terminal in Ulsan which has buses that go to the bus terminal at Haeundae beach (a few buildings to the right of the Haeundae train station if you are facing away from the ocean). There are many buses that drop off in Samsan or Gonguptop Rotary/Grand Park from Haeundae. These buses run a bit later than the train and run more frequently (so good for nights out drinking in Busan if you don’t want to stay the night). Your best bet is to go inside and check the schedule they have on the wall. They vary in price, usually around 3,000-7,000 won.
The KTX is the high-speed train. The Ulsan location is in Eonyang (any 5000 bus can take you there, along with the 807 and 327 + many more). This train takes about 15-20 minutes to Busan Station and costs around 8-9,000 won. From there, it’s still about 30 minutes on 2 different metros to transfer to Haeundae Beach. If you’re close to Eonyang, this would be your first choice. If you’re closer to new/old downtown, the slow train or bus is easiest because it takes you directly to Haeundae.