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(LEAD) (PIFF) Chinese love story opens Pusan International Film Festival
By Kim Hyun
BUSAN, Oct. 7 (Yonhap) -- The Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) opened in this southern port city Thursday with Zhang Yimou's "Under the Hawthorn Tree," a Chinese love story set during the repressive Cultural Revolution.

   The story follows a doomed relationship between a poor girl and a boy from an elite family who gets diagnosed with a terminal disease. This romance film marked Zhang's return to a simple narrative film after years of big-budget projects, such as "Lovers," "House of Flying Daggers" and the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

   "I wanted to portray a pure love in such turbulent times as the Cultural Revolution," Zhang said after the film internationally premiered in a press screening. "I tried to put the political background as far as possible and focus on the love story of the two people."

   The 15th PIFF comes with a record number of world premiers, 103. During its nine-day run, Asia's largest cinema event will present 308 films from 67 countries in theaters along the scenic Haeundae Beach.

   A strong celebrity contingent is expected, Juliette Binoche of France and Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai among them. Oliver Stone will bring his latest stock market film, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," to the festival, while Abbas Kiarostami is chairing the ongoing Asian Film Academy, a PIFF educational section for cinema aspirants from Asian countries.

   Thirteen films are vying for two US$30,000 awards at All New Currents, the PIFF's sole competition section for features. This section showcases films by promising first-time Asian directors, with its jury headed this year by Emi Wada, a Japanese custom designer.

   The Special Programs in Focus section introduces Kurdish films that portray lives in wars, poverty and exile. Kurdistan evokes a special attachment for South Korea, which operated a non-combat troop unit from 2004 to 2008 in the Kurdish town of Irbil, northern Iraq, working on the reconstruction of the war-torn region.

   The PIFF also offers audiences room to reflect on the hardships of North Korean defectors. "The Journals of Musan" by Park Jung-bum, "Dance Town" by Jeon Kyu-hwan and "Dooman River" by Zhang Lu tell of the toilsome journeys North Koreans make from their impoverished home country.

   The PIFF closes on Oct. 15 with "Camellia," an omnibus by three directors: Wisit Sasanatieng of Thailand, Isao Yukisada of Japan and Jang Jun-hwan of Korea.

   This year's PIFF will bid an emotional farewell to Kim Dong-ho, the respected festival director who has spearheaded its growth into Asia's largest film festival since its inception in 1996. Kim has expressed his intention to resign.

   The Asian Film Market opens on Sunday for a four-day run. It will introduce an online screening system for potential buyers and financiers. Directors of 25 film festivals from 15 countries will attend a discussion forum on marketing.