Five days of Pan-Asian cinema in the city kicks off tomorrow night, as the Reel Asian International Film Festival celebrates its eleventh annual incarnation. Bloor Cinema will present the Opening Night Gala film, Finishing the Game, at 7 p.m., followed by a Q&A session with lead actor Roger Fan and producer Julie Asato. Added bonus: local comedy troupe Asiansploitation will perform beforehand on the red carpet.
This year’s festival is poised to impress. And to help you make the most of your Reel Asian experience, we’ve assembled some previews and reviews for your perusal. Enjoy!
Even if you’re not a huge film enthusiast, this year’s RAIFF may have something for you. For the first time, special non-film events are happening throughout the festival. Highlights include the Pika Pika Lightning Doodle Project, a spectacular improvisational light show by fun avant-garde art collective Tochka, Thursday November 15 at SPIN Gallery, 8:30 p.m. Then on Friday night, at the Courthouse, check out RAMeN—the Reel Asian Music Night. Performances by dance-rockers These Electric Lives, Mississauga thrashers Dance Electric, and electro/hip-hop combo The Flashboyz. Doors are at 9:00 p.m. and tickets are $20 at the door.
Forget Memoirs of a Geisha. Director (and acclaimed photographer) Mika Ninagawa’s stylish adaptation of Anno Moyoco’s manga throws all the old courtesan stereotypes out the window, then turns around and yells at anyone who objects. Witness the perfect casting of Canadian-Japanese model/rock idol/actress Anna Tsuchiya as the determinedly cocky upstart geisha heroine. By turns sexy, brash, and vivacious, Tsuchiya steals every scene. But the true star of Sakuran is the cinematography—think Ozu’s slow subtlety splashed with Baz Luhrmann colour schemes, and you’re almost there. The effect is dazzlingly old-school-meets-new, with beautifully inventive composition. Watch for the goldfish tank placed before a window overlooking a midday market, or the endless red lanterns stretching to the horizon at night. The soundtrack is contemporary and eclectic, featuring everything from smooth lounge pop to crunchy guitar rock. A sensual stunner, Sakuran is sure to be a favourite at the festival. Highly recommended. 5/5
Owl and the Sparrow (Cu Va Chim Se Se)
What do a zookeeper, a flight attendant, and a rose-selling street urchin all have in common? In Owl and the Sparrow, a Vietnamese/American co-production from director Stephane Gauger, they’re all just lonely souls longing to be loved. The lovely Cat Ly is Lan, a disillusioned twenty-something who’s convinced no man would want her. Le The Lu is Hai, the emo elephant keeper. It’s up to Pham Thi Han as Thuy to bring them together in love. The problem is, the eventual weepy group hug right before the end credits is telegraphed practically from the opening scene. With absolutely no surprises in the plot, and uninspired performances from the adult leads, the whole affair has a decidedly Disney feel to it. Fortunately, poker-faced Pham Thi Han’s portrayal of Thuy is touching, honest and funny. She’s a little girl with a weary, old soul, but she manages to elevate the film single-handedly. 2/5
Nori and Ryerson film grad Thomas Lieu serve up Beef, skewering cultural appropriation in the process. Clueless white guy Carl—who shows up at Halloween parties dressed as a seriously outdated Kung-Fu master who would embarrass even the Wu-Tang Clan—asks his “Asian buddy” Wang to help him design a cool “ethnic” tattoo. Funny and full of sly wit (check for the ridiculously oversized stuffed toy hanging from Cece’s cellphone, for example), with a slick visual style, Beef is short and sweet. 3/5
A suite of short films screening consecutively, Power Play is a collection of wildly diverse short films that perfectly showcase both the international scope of the Reel Asian festival and the whimsical choices made by the festival’s selection committee. Here’s a look at a few of them:
The Official Guide to Watching a Saturday Night Hockey Game (For Intermediates)
From Tak Koyama, this is a completely ridiculous instructional video on how to adequately prepare oneself for raditional Canadian Saturday night. 4/5
Howie Shia’s Flutter is a sketchbook brought to life, where simple lines flow and breeze over wonderfully murky and inky backgrounds. The soundtrack is sparse electronic beats—an animated dash through the subconscious. 4/5
Miss Popularity by Wayne Yung is an often hilarious and subversive assemblage of 1950s nuclear family stock film. 3/5
Good Luck Counting Sheep in a Coffee Shop
Striking, minimalist line drawings suggest a media-obsessed society filtered via iTunes aesthetics, with Dolly the sheep taking the star turn she’s always deserved. 3/5
REVIEW BY MATHEW KUMAR
Naoko Kumagai’s The Contest is a well-shot and sweet look at a young Japanese immigrant adjusting to life in Canada, and finding meaning beyond an unhappy marriage through a contest to meet Montreal Canadiens star Guy Lafleur. 4/5
Images courtesy of Reel Asian International Film Festival.