BUSAN, South Korea (AP) — Charlie Chaplin's 1931 romantic comedy about a tramp and a blind girl is the inspiration behind the opening movie for Asia's top film festival, a South Korean director said Thursday.
Speaking ahead of the opening ceremony of the Busan International Film Festival, South Korean director Song Il-gon said his movie "Always" is a love story between two weary souls in a desolate city just as Chaplin's "City Lights" was 80 years ago.
While "City Lights" is a silent black-and-white film about a vagabond and a flower girl, "Always" paints in colors an enduring romantic relationship between a boxer and a telephone operator. Both movies present a blind girl who eventually regains her sight through the sacrifice of her lover.
So Ji-sub, the South Korean actor who plays the boxer in "Always," said Song and he both learned during filming how love is born out of seemingly impossible relationships.
"We tried to deliver the warmth and honesty of such love," the 34-year-old actor said after a screening of the movie for hundreds of journalists gathered in Busan.
Han Hyo-joo, So's 25-year-old co-star, said she felt both honored and burdened by the fact that her film is kicking off the nine-day festival. She told reporters that to smile as she embraced the life of a blind girl was one of the most difficult parts of her acting.
Han and So are two of the stars who will add to the glamor of this year's festival in Busan, a port city about four hours' drive southeast of Seoul. Originally named the Pusan International Film Festival, the event changed the spelling of its name this year to match a change in the spelling of the city's name.
The change also helps avoid confusion with PIFF, a film festival in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Another notable change is in the leadership. After being spearheaded for 15 years by film enthusiast and government official Kim Dong-ho, the Busan festival is now led by his protege, Lee Yong-kwan. Kim stepped down last year amid health worries.
South Korean culture critic Ko Hee-kyung said this year's edition will be a test for organizers as they adapt to the new leadership.
"Film festivals tend to face a make-or-break point after their charismatic leaders resign," she said.
Yet organizers are confident this year's festival will be as successful as its predecessors. A key factor is a newly opened $156 million multiplex theater that will screen more than 300 films from 70 countries.
A red carpet was laid Thursday afternoon in front of the huge theater to greet film icons from around the world. Internationally acclaimed directors including France's Luc Besson, Japan's Shunji Iwai and Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul are set to arrive along with stars like Japan's Joe Odagiri and France's Isabelle Huppert, organizers say.