Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Busan Cinema Center - Busan, South Korea

For the past three years I've spent a lot of time thinking and writing about stand-alone movie theaters. Describing them, chronicling their existence, their atmosphere and their frequent demise. Between a few Southeast Asian countries, I've visited over two-hundred of them, some palatial and grand, others dingy, faded or on the verge of collapse. Each possesses a unique character worthy of documentation. On rare occasions, I've written about theater treasures like Yangon's Thamada, or the Scala in Bangkok; how such theaters exemplify the spirit of the times in which they were built, the aspirations of their builders and the forward looking gaze of the societies they served. Such beauties continue to dazzle decades after their construction. But this past weekend I was in a movie theater that, for all its grandeur and architectural magnitude, its aspirations and representations, defies anything I have ever seen.

The Busan Cinema Center, opening in conjunction with the 16th annual Busan International Film Festival, elevates movie-going to a level seldom seen. It recaptures the essence of what it's all about. The sanctity of the process is reborn, as the movie-goer is reminded that a trip to the cinema used to be about more than just being entertained.

The Busan Cinema Center

It's no easy task to summarize the Busan Cinema Center. For one, at over 60,000 square meters of floor space, it's enormous. Not a structure that can be taken in in one gaze without the benefit of a bird's eye view. The design was put together by the Austrian firm of Coop Himmelblau, known for their post-modern architectural extremism. In keeping with their extreme theme, their Busan Cinema Center includes the worlds largest cantilevered roof, rising dramatically from a single column and suspended over an open air plaza. This feature has an awe inspiring affect. Once under the cantilevered roof - especially at night, when the ceiling lighting system is activated - the transportation process begins. Welcome to the world's preeminent cathedral of cinema.

Busan. International. Film. Festival.

Funding for the Busan Cinema Center was largely shouldered by the municipality of Busan. As proof of its commitment to civic engagement, a 4,000 seat open air theater comprises the most dramatic of viewing options. This is where the opening and closing ceremonies of the festival, along with the awards ceremonies, took place.

Movie-goers en route to the Busan International Film Fest (BIFF) and the inaugural run of the Busan Cinema Ceneter.

Entrance to the Cine Mountain portion of the Cinema Center: the nine-story tall home to three permanent movie halls and one mixed use venue.

The above photo depicts the entrance to the Cine Mountain, the main functional portion of the Center, housing four auditoriums on three levels. I was only able to enter one of the auditoriums during my visit: the 841 seat, triple tiered Haneulyeon Theater - a multipurpose auditorium, just as well suited for concerts and live performance as it is film. Elegant wooden seats topped with cherry red cushioning echo the red balcony surface, which wraps around the side walls of the theater like a ribbon.

Sloping walls.

Entering the lobby of the Cine Mountain, into a sleek world of film.

A glass enclosed elevator brings movie-goers to the second and third floor balconies of the Haneulyeon Theater.

Elevated view via escalator

The upper levels of the Cine Mountain hold three auditoriums: one medium sized and two small. These three auditoriums will hold regular commercial screenings year round when BIFF is not using them.

Upper lobby lounging

Concession lines

The crowning part of this entire experience for me was having a collection of SEA Movie Theater Project images beautifully displayed in the lobby of the Busan Cinema Center.

Here's a few shots of the exhibit:

In a post-modern sense, the Busan Cinema Center does for Korea what the Sydney Opera House does for Australia: it confirms, definitively, a level of commitment to the arts and culture, and an inspired disposition for the entire world to see. It creates a recognizable emblem. But ultimately, it lifts Korea and its film industry onto the world stage. A well done and well deserved achievement.

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