Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese's new film finally premiered at the Busan International Film Festival on Saturday after being pulled from the programme in Venice and amid criticism of its commercial nature.
The 16-minute film, titled "The Audition" and starring Robert De Niro, made its world debut in an inconspicuous cinema tucked away at the back of a South Korean shopping mall.
The idea for the film was conceived by Australian playboy billionaire James Packer and his business partner Lawrence Ho to promote Studio City, the US$3.2 billion Hollywood-inspired casino the pair’s Melco Crown Entertainment are building in the Chinese enclave of Macau, and another similar project titled City of Dreams being built in Manila.
With lingering shots of the attractions that will be on offer at the properties when they open, the film doesn't shy away from openly commercial references.
But the cast plays up to the conceit, playing obviously exaggerated versions of themselves, including Scorsese, with the director leading the premise that he has them all vying for the one role in some imagined new production.
Elizabeth Kerr, The Hollywood Reporter’s reviewer in Busan, summed the experience up by saying the film was "keenly self aware."
- Mystery project -
Performances by De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt ensured a full house at the 10 am screening of the Busan International Film Festival's Short Film Showcase programme.
There had been an air of mystery surrounding the project ever since it was announced in 2014, due to its rumoured subject matter and the origins of the project.
It had been scheduled to show first at the Venice Film Festival and was one of the event's most hotly anticipated screenings, but it was pulled from the programme at the last moment due to "technical problems", according to a statement released by festival organisers. They had earlier defended showing such a commercially influenced production.
"It's a Scorsese film, not a commercial. The casino paid for the film, but it's not in the film at all," Venice director Alberto Barbera told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year.
US media estimated the film cost $70 million to produce with each actor paid around $13 million to appear, but this has been denied by Melco Crown.
BIFF programmer Pak Dosin had earlier told AFP his festival had first been approached by the film's Hong Kong-based representative in May, asking if he might be interested in screening it.
He insisted the film had been chosen on its merits and that he "liked it very much."
The last Scorsese film to screen at BIFF was "Taxi Driver", which formed part of a retrospective programme in 2009.
Scorsese and De Niro are long time collaborators and have had a number of hits together including 1995 drama "Casino". The director also regularly works with DiCaprio.
Tongues first started wagging about the nature of the film after a brief trailer -- which revealed De Niro and DiCaprio arriving at a casino, scripts in hand and apparently ready to audition for the same role in a Scorsese production -- found its way on the YouTube in January but was soon pulled from the site.
The Busan festival continues until October 10.