Review: Animated films at Reel Asian

By Grace Wang, 2011 Reel Asian Features Programming Committee

The amazing line-up of this year’s Toronto International Reel Asian Film Festival include 55 films and videos from over 12 countries. In particular, the 15th anniversary of Reel Asian marks the presentation of two animated films that are drastically different in style but undoubtedly fascinating in each’s own right: From rural China to the fantastical land of Creta, realistic social satire to surreal action adventure, these films will challenge and entertain you – often at the same time. Don’t miss them.

Director Liu Jian | China 2009| Canadian Premiere | Mandarin w/English subtitles

Set in Southern China at the end of 2008, Piercing 1 is that rare blend of cutting social commentary, sophisticated drama and accessible entertainment, all set in traditional 2D animation graphics with every frame hand-crafted by its creator Liu Jian.

The film opens to a familiar sight in an urban nightscape and cuts immediately to a security office in which the security of Zhang, a factory worker, is being mercilessly violated by a supermarket guard. Such is only one of a string of injustices that Zhang faces in his daily life, as we come to learn. A recent university grad from the countryside, he came to the city with a friend to seek fortune. The global financial crisis resulted in factories closing, and Zhang is now jobless and fortuneless. Prepared to return home to life as a farmer, a series of accidents and coincidences take place on his last night in the city that changes everything.

“Coincidences lead to destiny” – The prologue to the film is both prophetic and ironic in its weight. This is no more a cautionary tale than a mirror of reality in China. Using simple lines and dark, monochrome colors, Liu Jian saturates the landscape with a palpable gloom while relentlessly moving the narrative forward with perfect logic and reason. The result is a microscopic tale that glaringly reflects the culture of a generation. Corruption, injustice, lies, truth, lust, greed… each event is absurd in nature but completely believable in context, weaving into a bewildering escalation of motivations and consequences.

Crafted over three years by Liu Jian, who is not only its director but also the screenwriter, DP, set designer, animation artist, sound mixer, editor, and voice of the lead character, this is a stunning debut. Liu’s mastery in plot construction and deft mix of dark comedy and satire reminds me of another early masterpiece: Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple. Indeed there is a final showdown in a teahouse that can be easily transported to a Texan bar. But this is not Texas. This is China. In this piercing vision, there is no mistaking the fact.

Piercing 1 will be screening on Saturday, November 12, 10:30 PM at The Royal.

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star Of Milos
Director Murata Kasuya | Japan 2011 | Japanese w/English subtitles | Toronto Premiere

The latest addition to the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise and based on the popular manga and television series, The Sacred Star Of Milos is a rollercoaster of adventure that should be embraced by fans and newcomers alike.

The story takes place after episode 20 of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and during chapter 11 in Hiromu Arakawa’s original manga. Faced with the violent escape of an alchemist using an unusual form of alchemy, Ed and Al, the state alchemists, are sent to country Creta to investigate. They meet Julia, a leader of the Black Bats resistance force and part of a group of descendants from the ancient Milos race, who now live in the slums in a deep valley separating Creta and Armestris (another country). Once inhabitants of the beautiful Table City, these ancient Milos people were forced out of their homeland and viewed by the people of Creta as lesser beings. The Black Bats seeks the Doorway to the Truth, said in a Milosian myth as the key to great powers that will help to restore their people to their rightful land. Together, Ed and Al join Julia and the mysterious alchemist on a dangerous journey to Creta, where they realize that great power comes at a steep price.

Evoking universal themes of exile, family, rebellion, revenge and triumph, this is a beautifully crafted film that will resonate with all audiences. The storylines are complex enough to engage adults while the vivid graphics and entourage of characters will appeal to the youth demographics. Visually, the film is pure fun to watch on the big screen. Animations are energetic and dazzling, with a fight sequence above a moving train that rival live action films. Director Kasuya Murata develops the tension from the very start and carries it through with a tight pace and generous doses of suspense and drama. As a first time traveler into the Full Metal Alchemist world, it was a joy ride from beginning to end.

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos will be screening on Friday, November 11, 11:30 PM at The Royal.

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