One of the most beloved and colourful figures in the South Korean industry, Kim Dong-ho can take some of the credit for putting Korean cinema on the international map.

As founding director of the Pusan International Film Festival in 1996, now Asia's biggest industry event, it is Kim who shored up the state financing for the festival and managed to secure vital private sponsorship.

It is also Kim who has put a face to the festival, charming the heads of Cannes, Venice and Berlin to visit the event in 2002. Now, Pusan is one of the international industry's must-attend events. He is proud of the festival's achievements over the past 12 years, but says it is just the beginning.

'We have recently started new initiatives such as the Busan Film Archive, the Asian Cinema Fund, distribution arm Balcon, the Asian Film Academy, and of course the Asian Film Market,' says Kim, who is also vice-chairman of the Network for Promotion of Asian Cinema and was awarded the Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et de Lettres from the French government in 2000.

'We're looking forward to discovering and supporting Asian cinema all year round with something like the Sundance Channel - the Piff Channel,' he says.

Kim, who has been known to beat Busan traffic jams by hopping on the back of delivery motorcycles from one festival event to the next, has garnered a great deal of respect throughout the Korean film industry.

Colleagues admire the energy of a man who enjoys socialising until 3am, before waking at dawn for a run or game of tennis and going on to do a full day's work. Kim mastered conversational and presentational English skills in his sixties, and travels to around 20 festivals a year.

A life-long civil servant, he began working at the Ministry of Culture and Information straight out of college. Pegged as a hard worker with a memory for facts and figures, he shot up the career track.

In the post-war years, he was responsible for drawing up blueprints on much of modern Korea's cultural policies and infrastructure, including the creation of the Korean Culture & Arts Foundation (modelled on the US National Endowment for the Arts), the Korean National University of Art and the Korea Foundation.

He also oversaw the transfer of the Korean Broadcasting System from state to public management.

After stints as president of the Korean Motion Picture Promotion Corporation (now the Korean Film Council), the Seoul Arts Center and the Korean Media Ratings Board, Kim became Pusan's founding director after a meeting with Lee Yong-kwan, who is now his co-director. Lee pitched the idea of Korea's first international film festival.

Despite a health scare last year, Kim manages to remain the life of the party. Concerns about his heath remain - not least because there is no-one on the horizon capable of filling his shoes. Kim says he will stay on at least until the festival's Media Center is under construction. The massive project has yet to be fully financed.

'I would like to stay longer but as the saying goes, 'Leave when they are applauding,'' says Kim.

This year's festival starts next week and Kim is pondering how much is required of him in his bid to be the perfect host.

'I'm wondering if I'm going to have to dance on a tabletop at the Wide Angle party again,' he says, referring to the year he was lifted up onto the bar at the annual, usually raucous, party thrown for a group of independent film-makers. Typically, Kim managed to persuade the heads of the Rotterdam and Locarno film festivals to take to the bar top with him.


Favourite book: Herman Hesse's Siddhartha.

Favourite films: Mandara, by Im Kwon-taek, and Life Is Beautiful by Roberto Benigni.

Favourite newspapers and magazines: International Herald Tribune.

Favourite websites:, a Korean internet portal.

Inspirations: visual culture.