Kamikaze and The Busan Mayor (Tony Rayns)

2016-04-21 15:19
In January 2016 I wrote an “open letter” deploring the efforts of Mayor Suh Byungsoo and Busan Metropolitan City to control and politically manipulate the Busan International Film Festival. Much has happened in the two months since I wrote, some of it positive and welcome. But the overall situation is worse than it seemed in January, and that’s entirely the responsibility of the mayor and his cronies.

Some 2,400 years ago Plato and Aristotle laid out the principles of good government and what we should expect from our politicians. I don’t know what education Mayor Suh Byungsoo ever had (was there any at all?), but he clearly missed the classes on political philosophy.  He is a politician with no depth or subtlety. He doesn’t understand debate and doesn’t believe in discussion. He has no respect for anyone whose views are different from his own. He tries to bulldoze his policies and opinions through all opposition, with no concern about any collateral damage. In short, he’s like a suicide bomber. In the wartime period, we’d have likened him to a Japanese kamikaze pilot, determined to take down as many people as possible as he plunges to his own meaningless political death. Nowadays I guess the most appropriate analogy would be an Islamic jihadi suicide bomber, trying to inflict maximum damage on society for no rational or definable reason.

In the last two months it has become clear that Mayor Suh Byungsoo’s actions against BIFF are driven solely by his hatred of BIFF director Lee Yongkwan. This hatred was sparked solely by Lee’s refusal to withdraw one film from the BIFF programme in 2014. So Mayor Suh’s persecution of BIFF and Lee Yongkwan is not ‘politics’. It’s more like a child’s playground tantrum.  It is at best stupidity, at worst derangement. Mayor Suh must be a huge embarrassment to the Saenuri Party, to his own staff in Busan Metropolitan City and to the tax-paying voters of Busan.

I have no first-hand knowledge of the court case which Suh Byungsoo is prosecuting against Lee Yongkwan (it concerns the fees paid to sponsorship brokers), but I’ve been assured by people both inside and outside the festival organisation that BIFF followed exactly the same practices and procedures in finding sponsors as all other arts institutions do in Korea. In my country, the United Kingdom, common practice would be a credible defence against such charges of financial impropriety, especially when no other institution is being targeted in the same way. Maybe Korean law is different? Maybe Koreans see nothing strange about singling out BIFF for prosecution when identical practices in other institutions are ignored?

As I write, it seems depressingly likely that there will be no Busan International Film Festival in 2016. In his “Greetings from the Mayor” on the Busan Metropolitan City website, Suh Byungsoo promises to strive for such goals as enhancing the prosperity of the city and its people – and to strengthen the city’s culture. It would be interesting, would it not, to hear how he thinks that destroying BIFF will honour those promises. In fact, killing BIFF will not only deprive the Korean film industry and its friends abroad of an important forum; it will also deprive Busan city’s economy of billions of Korean won.

If Mayor Suh Byungsoo gets his pig-headed way, there will be no winners – least of all Suh Byungsoo himself, whose political life will soon be over and whose reputation will lie in ruins. The festival will be dead, hoping to revive under a more rational and sensible mayor in the future. The hotels, restaurants and shops of Busan will lose a huge amount of income. The people of Korea will lose a major element in their modern culture. As I said, no winners.

I have written harshly of Mayor Suh Byungsoo in this short letter. My teacher was Suh Byungsoo himself.  His rudeness in dismissing both Korean and foreign protests against his persecution of BIFF – without offering a single rational counter-argument or in any way defending his idiotic actions – showed nothing but contempt for his constituency.  He deserves no better in return. He has spent his whole life – sixty-odd years – climbing the greasy pole of politics, and now he’s sliding right back to the bottom, landing on his fat, stupid ass.


Tony Rayns is an award-winning film-maker, writer, film critic and festival programmer with a long held interest in the cinemas of East Asia. He has been a program consultant to the Busan International Film Festival since its inception. Click on this link for his earlier "'open letter"  to the people of Busan

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