The Pusan International Film Festival (Piff), Asia's most dynamic cinema showcase, is growing up fast. Celebrating its 12th edition this year, it is expanding broadly with new events and initiatives, while also increasing the premieres in its main sections. A record 92 films (out of 275 films from 64 countries) in this year's line-up are world or international premieres.

'A hundred and ninety three films in our selection are world, international or Asian premieres,' says festival head Kim Dong-ho. 'We see this as a sign that film-makers are increasingly recognising Piff as a leading showcase for their films.'

Kim, the founding Piff director who is renowned for his networking skills in establishing the event, has from this year chosen to share the directorship with Lee Yong-kwan, former Piff deputy director and programmer. Lee is in charge of local affairs and administrative duties while Kim continues to represent the festival internationally and clinch funding deals at home.

The two directors have made a running start, with a range of initiatives to bring the festival to audiences all year round and to continue in its mandate to cultivate and support Asian cinema. These include:

- the creation of a new distribution arm, the Busan Alternative Content Network (Balcon) which will co-fund low-budget digital films and buy rights to festival films.

- the Busan Asian Film Archive, which has launched to collect and preserve prints and digital masters of Asian films as well as other related materials, in co-operation with the national Korean Film Archive.

- the Asian Cinema Fund, which launched this year. In collaboration with post-production houses and public institutions, it is supporting 27 documentary and independent feature projects from across the region through development grants and finishing funds. The money comes with no strings attached, does not dictate where a film should premiere and does not claim any rights in return.

- the Asia Pacific Actors Network (Apan), which will launch during the festival. Spearheaded by veteran Korean actors Ahn Sung-ki, Kang Soo-yeon and Park Joong-hoon, the initiative aims to bring Asian actors together in a network that will move them beyond their borders on to the international stage.

The festival also inaugurates two new sections this year: the Gala Presentation for the year's most talked about films or master cineastes' new titles, such as Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight Of The Red Balloon; and Flash Forward, for innovative first and second films such as West 32nd by young Korean-American director Michael Kang. All this is in addition to the second year of the Asian Film Market with its PPP, Bifcom, Star Summit Asia and newly created Co-Production PRO (see sidebar, p25).

'We're actually a rapidly growing 12-year-old that people think looks like a 20-year-old. But that's just because of our size - like any adolescent, we still need to grow mentally and internally, and find balance in our stature,' says Lee Yong-kwan.

This year, all 11 films in the New Currents competition are either world or international premieres. The section, focusing on features from up-and-coming Asian film-makers, will include the world premiere of Asian Cinema Fund winner Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town.

Films in the Window on Asian Cinema section include world premieres of Takashi Miike's Crows - Episode 0, Zhang Ming's Love Dog and Darezhan Omirbayev's Chouga. The World Cinema section will see films such as Benjamin Gilmour's Son Of A Lion making its world premiere, next to Cristian Mungiu's Cannes Palme d'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. Mungiu is also on the New Currents jury.

The Korean Cinema section will include independent and low-budget films such as Jeon Soo-il's With A Girl Of Black Soil in the Vision section, and films including The Show Must Go On starring Song Kang-ho, and Kim Ki-duk's Cannes competition title Breath in the Panorama section. The Wide Angle section of shorts and documentaries will include Fantastic Parasuicides and the human-rights omnibus series instalment If You Were Me - Anima Vision 2.

The Korean Cinema Retrospective this year is, for the first time, focused on an actor: Kim Seung-ho, a national star in the 1950s and 1960s, who also became a producer. The late Taiwanese director Edward Yang, whom Piff has named Asian Film-maker of the Year, is to have a memorial retrospective as well. In addition, the festival will hold a retrospective on Iranian auteur Dariush Mehrjui (The Cow), who is heading this year's New Currents Jury.

Other special programmes include a focus on New Malaysian Cinema, and a line-up of Korean 'cultural heritage' films designated as national assets.

The festival will also present the Korean Cinema Award to Sabrina Baracetti of the Udine Far East Film Festival, and Jean Francois Rauger of the Cinematheque Francaise for their contributions to the promotion of Korean cinema.

The Asian Film Academy (AFA), an educational workshop modelled on the Berlinale Talent Campus and Sundance Filmmakers' Lab, is now in its third year and has Mohsen Makhmalbaf as dean, Ki-yong Park as deputy dean, and Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Kurita Toyomichi as instructors in directing and cinematography respectively.

International guests set to attend the festival include Feng Xiaogang for the opening film Assembly, as well as Masayuki and Kazuya Tsurumaki for closing film Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone. Others include Hou Hsiao-hsien, Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol with his King Naresuan, Hana Makhmalbaf with her Buddha Collapsed Out Of Shame, and Michael Kang accompanied by John Cho, the lead in West 32nd.

And with the sophomore Rome Film Fest moved back a couple of weeks (October 18-27) instead of overlapping with Pusan, Piff has a clear run this year.