Organ tunes and AI art open star-studded Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival

Actor Son Ye-jin walks down the red carpet for the 28th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival on July 4. [YONHAP]

The sound of an eerily sublime organ filled the hall as the opening ceremony of the 28th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (Bifan) began on Thursday evening, lending the cinematic event centered on the intersection of science and society a “fantastic” edge.

This year's festival was the first of its kind since its rebranding as “Bifan+,” an extended event encompassing technology and AI. Most importantly, it offered its first competition section for “AI films,” showcasing works that “creatively utilize AI in video, script and sound.”

“This year's Bifan will leap forward through 'Bifan+,'” said Chung Ji-young, head of the organizing committee, while kicking off the festival.

“Bifan will showcase its unique sense of artistic challenge and its status as Asia's leading genre film festival through new attempts to broaden the scope of content using AI," Bucheon Mayor Cho Yong-eek said.

Bifan will be in full swing until July 14, with 253 films from 49 countries screening at venues in Bucheon, Gyeonggi, and streamed online through streaming platform Wavve.

The 28th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival kicked off on July 4 at the Bucheon Art Center. [BIFAN]

Of the 253 films, 15 films will compete in the AI section and will screen during the festival.

The opening ceremony was held at the Bucheon Art Center, which opened in May last year, with stars such as Son Ye-jin, Park Joong-hoon, Kwon Eun-bi, Kim Jae-joong, Ye Ji-won and Vivian Sung in attendance.

Singer and actor Jung Soo-jung, also known by her stage name Krystal, and actor Jang Dong-yoon hosted the ceremony.

The show began with a pipe organ performance of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from the legendary sci-fi film “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), often referred to as “the sci-fi Bible” for its genius imagination and blend of science with fantasy.

This year's Bifan slogan of “Stay Strange,” introduced in 2021, is no less eccentric.

Actors Jang Dong-yoon, left, and Jung Soo-jung host the opening ceremony of the 28th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival. [BIFAN]

And there was plenty of “strange” at Bifan. Its official ID film, created by generative AI, was shown, questioning the identity of AI — with an answer, “I’m just your mirror,” coming back.

Festival director Shin Chul emphasized that “the film environment is changing” in accompanying remarks.

“Film festivals must also evolve,” Shin said. “We will continue the 27-year tradition of the Fantastic Film Festivalbut start innovating it for the future this year.”

Actor Park Joong-hoon poses at the red carpet event held before the opening ceremony of Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival on July 4. [YONHAP]
The cast of horror film ″The Shrine″ poses during the red carpet event before the opening ceremony of Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival on July 4. [YONHAP]

The festival period includes various workshops and conferences offering filmmakers a chance to learn how to utilize AI and discuss the future of filmmaking as the technology grows.

“We will work to flourish with the golden opportunity to beat Hollywood cinema without big capital in Bucheon,” Shin added.

Despite its seeming distance from AI or sci-fi, opening film “Love Lies Bleeding” actor Anna Baryshnikov called the work “perfect for the festival.

“It is a twisted, dark, oddly romantic story about love and the extremes that love drives us to go through,” Baryshnikov said. “It’s pulpy. It’s gory. There’s bodybuilding, [but] not for me, and it has a lot of delicious things.”

The 28th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival kicked off on July 4 at the Bucheon Art Center.[BIFAN]

“Keeping with the theme of the festival, it's very, very strange,” the actor added.

The crime romance film follows the journey of two lovers, played by actor Kristen Stewart and Katy M. O’Brian, and their love that leads to violence. Rose Glass, who directed the movie, won Bifan's Director's Award in 2019 for “Saint Maud” (2019).

Actor Son Ye-jin — selected for this year's Bifan's Actor Retrospective, which will showcase her career at the festival — also took the stage to express excitement and gratitude toward the event.

Spectators wait for the red carpet event held before the festival's opening ceremony on July 4. [KIM JI-YE]

“I’m so excited to meet the audience,” Son said about her upcoming meet and greet with moviegoers, as it has been a while since she met them after her last film, “The Negotiation” (2018). “I think it will feel like visiting my hometown.”

Bifan's Series Film Award was presented to Netflix Series “Parasyte: The Grey,” directed by Yeon Sang-ho, as the festival's first prize during the opening ceremony.

Festivalgoers were no less excited to get to their seats and “Stay Strange,” despite the monsoon rain that poured down on Bucheon throughout the evening.

“It's our first time coming to the event together,” Kim Hyun-soo, a university student who visited the festival with his movie club members, said to the Korea JoongAng Daily. “We are eager to experience and soak in the festival’s atmosphere.”

“I personally like sci-fi genre films,” said Han Eun-chan, 22, a university student who'd come with Kim. “As the festival name has the word 'fantastic' in it, I’m looking forward to what sci-fi films the festival will present.”

Kim and his clubmates planned to see sci-fi noir film “Aire: Just Breathe” the following day.

The 28th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival kicked off on July 4. [KIM JI-YE]

Some were eager to see their favorite stars and works.

“I’m here to see Jaehyun from NCT,” said Desy Rahmi, 28, from Indonesia. The idol's big-screen debut, “You Will Die In 6 Hours,” is slated to be screened for the first time during the festival.

As the festival kicks off, various programs like actor Son's Actor Retrospective, free screening programs dubbed “Visiting Local Movie Theater” and a series of audience events including water gun fights, drink parties and photo zones are also available for visitors.

The festival will end this year with film “Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In” as its closing film.