Asia's largest film festival rolls out the red carpet in South Korea on Thursday, offering a window into the region's cinema landscape and a rare screening of a North Korean film.
Organisers of the 17th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) have stressed the importance of the event in terms of promoting Asia's film industry, within which South Korea's booming domestic market is a current bright spot.
Much attention is expected to be focused on North Korea's romantic comedy "Comrade Kim Goes Flying", with its filmmakers having been invited to the screening.
It is the first time such an invitation has been extended to the North and Busan organisers say they are awaiting a reply.
"We are proud to say that we have played our part in the cultural exchange between North and South Korea," festival director Lee Yong-kwan told AFP.
Lee said one of the main aims of the event was to support and introduce to a wider audience lesser-known works and those of smaller production companies from across Asia.
"The likeliness of these films being presented at other internationally prestigious film festivals is low," he said, highlighting the importance of the Busan festival.
To that end, the 10-day event will close with the world premiere of Bangladeshi director Mostofa Sarwar Farooki's humour-laced drama "Television".
Farooki said the attention his film would attract after being screened at this year's festival would draw global attention to his country's nascent film industry. Last year's event welcomed more than 182,000 film fans.
"I believe it will inspire a whole generation of younger filmmakers to believe in themselves and dream even bigger," the director told AFP.
This year Busan will showcase a special sidebar devoted to Afghani films saved from the Taliban by the Afghanistan National Film Archive, while the Window on Asian Cinema section features 49 films from 11 countries across the region, including 13 world premieres.
The festival, which has previously featured international stars and Academy Award winners including director Oliver Stone and French actress Juliette Binoche, will this year put Asian talent in the spotlight, with Chinese actresses Zhang Ziyi and Tang Wei making appearances.
Forming the backdrop to a festival screening 304 movies from 75 countries is a domestic industry enjoying unprecedented box office returns in what has so far been a stellar year for Korean productions.
The Korean Film Council recently announced around 120 million cinema tickets had been sold across the country by the end of August, a year-on-year rise of around 20 percent.
Art-house maverick Kim Ki-duk became the first Korean to win the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice film festival with his tale of revenge "Pieta" earlier this month, and local films have topped box office charts.
Among them is casino caper "The Thieves", the second most successful Korean film in history, with admissions of more than 12.5 million.
A joint Korean and Chinese production directed by Choi Dong-Hun, it boasts Korean stars Lee Jung-jae and Jun Ji-hyun and will screen as part of the Open Cinema programme at BIFF.
Festival organiser Lee said one of the main roles of the festival was to support and promote such collaborations within the Asian film industry through its market and film fund programmes.
"This is where BIFF distinguishes itself from American film festivals or film markets where the focus is on worldwide cinema," he said.
The main competition of the event -- the New Currents Award for debut or second-time Asian filmmakers -- offers two prizes of $30,000 and has this year attracted a field of 10 productions from eight countries, including Lebanon and Iraq.
The winner will be announced on October 14, the last day of the event.
This year's Asian Filmmaker of the Year award will go to the Japanese veteran Koji Wakamatsu, 72, who produced the controversial "In The Realm of the Senses" (1976) and has directed three films in the past 12 months.
BIFF begins Thursday with the world premiere of the Hong Kong thriller "Cold War" starring Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung Ka-fai.