Puchon is a city that lives in a cloud of fantasy. A town situated uneasily between the metropolis of 10 million souls that is Seoul and the thrusting seaport of Incheon which boasts Asia's newest international airport, new town Puchon fears being overshadowed. Culture is the tool it has chosen to keep itself in the spotlight.
The town - which, with no less than a couple of hundred high rise apartment blocks currently under construction, looks as if it is preparing for a population explosion - boasts a full symphony orchestra, a slew of other brand new facilities and, of course, PiFan.
The rise of the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan) has not always been a smooth one. Its attempt five years ago to run before it could walk created severe financial problems, but the festival has always had the backing of one mayor or another. Its crop of 200 astonishingly willing volunteers also suggest it has found favour with the local youth. And the festival itself appears close to settling in to a format which it will be able to sustain in the future.
Around the main core of fantasy films which appear in a low key competition, it has spun a nebula of retrospectives, made-for-internet shorts and a panorama of contemporary Korean and other Asian pictures. For some participants there were some notions spread too thin - the concept of "festival lady", this year the super-elegant actress Jang Jin-young - was perhaps a quirk too far. But most others found the mix rich enough that something was sure to catch their fancy. (Professionals also appreciated the video library facility which allowed them to negotiate the programme in a more flexible fashion.)
For some the kernel was the Made In Korea section, a selection of recent pictures including Jakarta, Bungee Jumping Of Their Own and mega hit Friend. This was a chance for foreigners and locals to catch up on the films that had got away. Others latched onto the Korean Retrospective section, a powerful selection of local films from the 1960s presented - to woefully small audiences - in the style of the times and complete with a pre-feature newsreel. A welcome reminder that Korean cinema's current boom comes with plenty of historical context.
Serving a similar purpose was the top flight retrospective of films by King Hu, the exiled Chinese maestro credited by many as inventing the Wu Xia Pian genre of chivalric martial arts pictures. Hu is said to have been a key influence on directors including John Woo, Tsui Hark and Ang Lee. (His three hour masterpiece A Touch Of Zen is unmistakably a blue-print for Lee's recent smash Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.)
But most interesting was the debate that focused on the nature of fantasy. The selectors Ellen Kim and Cassie Yoo are understood to have discussed long and hard over where they were steering the festival; towards horror, the traditional mainstay of fantasy festivals, or in the direction of more cerebral and family friendly fare.
Using the competition, World Fantastic Cinema and Forbidden Zone sections they seemed to manage to do both. The picked films from the last 18 months such as The Butterfly (which next goes to Venice), Beating Of The Butterfly's Wings and Suspicious River (Venice 2000) to Jiang Hu The Triad Zone (Berlin 2001) and Miike Takashi's unreleased outrage, Visitor Q. And, with PiFan now an associate member of the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation, their efforts were scrutinised by selectors from six other fantasy events.
The jury members found the dilemma equally challenging. They was deeply divided, but after some amateur dramatics of their own, finally swung in favour of the least shocking. They settled on Harry Sinclair's dark fairytale The Price Of Milk (pictured, top), the hyper-coloured Tears Of The Black Tiger and Drei Chinesen Mit Dem Kontrabass, which also scooped the public prize.