The sixth edition of the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) got underway on Friday with an air of self-confidence and regional prosperity.

Proceedings got underway on Friday with the world premiere of Bae Chang-ho's highly anticipated Korean War drama The Last Witness. This was followed by a mix of public, industry and press screenings that amount to one of the best showcases of Asian cinema anywhere in the world and arguably eclipse the in-decline Tokyo International Film Festival.

The Korean Panorama section boasts another three world premieres and the festival as a whole counts dozens of international and Asian firsts among the 201 pictures that will screen by next Saturday.

Although the number of international visitors is acknowledged to have been hit by the September 11 attacks and many people's subsequent unwillingness to fly, the festival is increasingly being used as a film market and a platform for international ventures.

Many sales companies from Korea - nine are in attendance - and abroad are expecting to close deals that were started at the London and MIFED markets. That is especially true concerning Japanese buyers, who have a greater presence here than they did at the more established autumn film markets.

The schedule includes conferences and receptions to promote the Thai, Japanese and Korean industries. Fortissimo Film Sales is to unveil a high-profile co-production Three, involving directors Nonzee Nimibutr, Peter Chan and Kim Jee-hwon. And in the margins of the festival, in the town's Haendae high-tech business area, a major conference is due to be held on Asian digital media.

Visitors to have arrived already include Hou Hsiao-hsien, who yesterday planted his hands in concrete in the city's PIFF square, Korean institution Shin Sang Ok, superstar Christy Chung, festival heads Dieter Kosslick and Simon Field, Miramax' Edward Noeltner and The Others producer Park Sunmin.

The festival is expected to get a further injection of pace today (Monday Nov 12) with the beginning of the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP), a three day-co-production market which includes projects for sale and investment by heavyweight directors including Imamura Shohei, Bakhtiar Khoudoinazarov, Kim Ki-duk and Danny Pang.