Local picture Flower Island (Kotsom), by first time director Song Il-gon, was the outstanding winner at the 6th Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea. It scooped the main prize, the FIPRESCI prize and the audience award.

The film, a story of three women literally on a voyage of self-discovery, has been substantially recut and shortened by 12 minutes compared with the version presented in the Cinema Of The Present section at Venice. A Korean-French co-production, the film was cited by the jury for "its adventurous and complex exploration of women's strength in modernising Asian societies."

"Winning the support of the jury, the press and the public is really going to help with Korean release," said French co-producer Francesca Feder afterwards. It is scheduled for a 20-print release next month. The same is likely to apply to its international career, where it has so far struggled to do business.

Other PIFF prizes went to Take Care Of My Cat, which got a special mention from the jury comprising Hou Hsiao-hsien, Nonzee Nimibutr, Peter Van Bueren, Paul Clark, Yun Chung-Hi, and also won the NETPAC first prize. The film, a charming contemporary drama about five 20-year old women coming to terms with employment and adulthood by first time woman director Jeong Jae-Eun, is set for a glittering international career. Handled by Cinema Service it is understood to have received offers from three of the major European festivals in the first half of 2002.

Another in-demand title One Fine Spring Day (Bomnarun Ganda), by Christmas In August director Hur Jun-Ho, earned a special mention from the FIPRESCI jury. The melodrama, which appeared in the Korean Panorama sidebar, is a strong tip for a competition slot in Rotterdam.

The NETPAC jury, seeking out the best Korean film in the New Currents competition section and Panorama, also gave special mentions to Waikiki Brothers by Yim Soon Rye, for the sensitive depiction of outsiders in Korean society, and to Bad Guy (Napun Namja), by Kim Ki-duk, director of The Isle.

Eva Zaoralova, artistic director of the Karlovy Vary festival, was given the Korean Cinema Prize which goes to individuals who made outstanding contributions promoting Korean cinema to the world film community. (See below for full list of winners.)

The festival itself (Nov 9-17) wrapped on Saturday and scarcely needs more promotion as it bids to become the leading festival in Asia. It is now a well rounded event with a top-notch co-productions market (PPP) (see Screendaily, Nov 14) an adjacent locations showcase, BIFCOM (Nov 11-13), attended by 30 mainly Asian film commissions, and a three day television market BCCW in the high-tech suburb of Hyundae.

PIFF's strength comes partly from the growing strength of the Korean film industry, which now has a 45% share of its domestic theatrical market, and that of its East Asian neighbours. Visitors, however, could be forgiven for thinking that the market is in a tenuous state.

At a seminar featuring senior execs from all of Korea's major studio groups, speakers pronounced themselves optimistic about the future, but then proceeded to expose fears that Korean cinema's performance cannot last. DJ Seok of CJ Entertainment and Choi Yong-bae of Cinema Service both spoke of a need for revision of the way that profits are shared out between producer and distributor, while others said that the tax system penalises local films compared with foreign pictures.

At another seminar that formed part of the Thai Cinema day, speakers also pointed out weaknesses, rather than celebrating the recent, phoenix-like rebirth of the local industry. Here, lack of a star system, a shortage of foreign investors and the fragility of local audience tastes were all identified as areas needing strengthening.

The festival closed on a high note with the last ever screening of the three-hour Thai version of Suriyothai, the historical epic directed by Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol. International audiences at theatres or other festivals will have to content themselves with a two-hour edition, likely to have been re-cut by Francis Ford Coppola (see separate story).

Pusan International Film Festival - 2001 Full Winners List

New Currents Award
Winner: Flower Island Dir: Song Il-Gon

Special Mention: Take Care of My Cat Dir: Jeong Jae-Eun

The PSB Audience Award
Flower Island Dir: Song Il-Gon

Flower Island (Kotsom) Dir: Song Il-Gon

Special mention: One Fine Spring Day (Bomnarun Ganda) Dir: Hur Jun-Ho

NETPAC AWARD (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Award

Winner: Take Care of My Cat (Goyangyi-rul Butakhae) Dir: Jeong Jae-Eun

Special Mentions

Waikiki Brothers Dir: Yim Soon-Rye

Bad Guy (Napun Namja) Dir: Kim Ki-Duk

Korean Cinema Award
Winner: Eva Zaoralova

The Sonje (Short Film) Fund Award

Siam - Hard Romance Dir: Kim Jeong-Gu

The Woonpa (Documentary) Fund Award

Farewell Dir: Hwang-Yun