What to Watch at the 16th Reel Asian Film Festival?

I know trying to navigate a festival’s programme can be intimidating and it’s easier if someone can recommend you flicks based on specific preferences. Our staff members give their take on what films to choose based on different criteria.

GALAS – Three exciting shows that will raise you high with energy and emotion.

First Time if starring Arthurbaby and Serena Lee

The film that I’m most excited to see at Reel Asian would be opening night film, First Time. Even though it seems like your typical romance tearjerker, I’m curious to see how it stacks up to my teen favourite, The Notebook (Ryan Gosling!). Plus I’m pretty sure I’ll be crying throughout the whole movie anyway. If you’re in the theatre and the tears are out of control, do you do what I do and just sit there hoping no one would notice? And then frantically wipe your face as the credits are rolling at the end?

Richie, Chris and Aram in "Prison"

Our centrepiece PRISON DANCER is going to be amazing performative cinema with performers singing live and interacting both with their on-screen selves and with the audience. I’ve seen other aspects of this ongoing transmedia project, including the off-Broadway stage musical while I was in New York, so I’m pumped to explore more parts of this world that Ana, Romeo, and Carmen have created and are continuing to create.

Eva makes me promise to build her a BIIIIIIIIIIG house

We close the downtown portion of the festival with a tearjerker that not even the toughest of men can resist. Set in two distinct time periods, director Lee Yong-joo (who will be in attendance) created a narrative that shows us the parallels of architecture and being in love, how both involve distinct relationships between people and space and both must last the test of time. The result is a film that is nostalgic in its whimsy but not sweepingly fantastical that is typical of the genre. Those who love to cry to K-dramas, you better bring a box of tissue because Han Ga-in and Uhm Tae-woong will take you on an emotional and teary ride.

SHORT SHORTS – Great things come in small packages.

I am really looking forward to the Once Lost, Now Found shorts program. A series of shorts that make you pause and think about time, relationships, memory, family, life and death. I would particularly highlight That Which Once Was by Kimi Takesue. This short is moving and beautiful, visually and story-wise. The director is also in attendance!

Arthurbaby on TRANSIAM (part of the Hard Look shorts program)
Move over Angelababy (First Time), Bae Su-Ji (Architecture 101) and Huang Peijia (Cha Cha for Twins)! The hottest ladies (er, Ladyboys) at the festival are in TRANSIAM. I’m looking forward to the searing, personal stories from these four lovely transgendered ladies who come packing with a little extra love.

Tina as a kitty from Friday Diary

If you’re available during the day or if you work with a school, this screening would make a great field trip. Featuring the film by one of our pitch winners from last year, Stephanie Law about a girl who wants to be a terrorist plus shorts on amateur sumo wrestling, street dancing friends, a felt turtle, and copious cats, this program remind us that stories of the unexpected are everywhere.

What do I have to show for spending the summer with first-time filmmakers Althea, Ferdelle, Lisa, Thila, Jason, Albert and the indefatigable Youth Summer Video Production Workshop facilitator Tony Lau? Half a skid of leftover granola bars, lunch times at Trinity Bellwoods Park by Charles Street Video, memories of mentor Gloria Kim shouting “Semen!” on Day One, visions of the hairy/sweaty/shirtless guy at the leaky McDonalds, and oh! Six short films that are sure to make you laugh, cry, skip a breath and clap.

DELICIOUS DOCS – Food ties us together and cinema is a powerful tool of expression. Combine the two and you get magic.

Do you know about the glutinous and delicious power of Suman? Whatever your answer, you need to let Althea Balmes’ touching story seep into your heart. Then call me to go grab some of those Filipino treats.

If you are as passionate about food (especially Caribbean & Indian) and travelling as I am, and interested in the history of colonialism this documentary is a must see! I can assure you that after watching it you’ll appreciate every single bite of Roti even more. I have to give you a friendly warning though: it’s hard to watch this mouth watering documentary with an empty stomach. Be sure to check out the after party Rum’n’Roti Lime at the Monarch Festival Hub, where every attendee will get a roti wrapped in a piece of art! Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Tickets are selling fast! See you there!

Jenna puts on her Yung Chang face

As a self-proclaimed lover of food and a person who doesn’t shy away from trying something new, I couldn’t be more excited to see this film! I am especially looking forward to the sampling of exotic fruits offered after the screening.

FASCINATING LIFE STORIES – A story is only as good as the subject around it and these films about extraordinary people will inspire and enpower you.

World famous Chinese painter Liu Xiaodong returns to his hometown after 30 years and paints his boyhood friends – men who have grown into business – dealing karaoke owners, tattooed fathers, and factory shift workers. Each portrait is complemented by humourous and honest diary entries about each friend. My favourite descriptions are “Although he worships great historical warriors he does not have the same luck as heroes” and “His appearance may be gentle, but he is merciless when he attacks”.

An autobiographical drama that is heart-wrenching and tragically beautiful, Huang Ji’s first feature showcases her talents as a bold new filmmaker in this award-winning feature. Though the film is seemingly tough to take in due to the dark subject matter, it is a must see if only to witness the product that caused controversy in its native country (the power unexpectedly shut off during its screening at the Beijing Independent Film Festival). Depicting a haunting narrative where characters are surrounded by bigotry and family customs from an old world view, this film will linger in your mind long after the credits roll due to its universal themes.

As a mixed-race person, I can’t help but be intrigued by the notion of mail-order brides. While my parents met at University, they still encountered a host of cultural snafus– the likes of which I’m sure are exacerbated when a couple comes together from half a world apart.

I am totally excited about this film because it’s a really engaging documentary profile about a charismatic young performer AND because we have teamed up with Toronto’s ukulele community to make this Canadian premiere something really special. Local ukulele prodigy Adrianne Chan will be performing before the screening and torontoUKES will be hosting our live music showcase after the screening.

For the adventurous who wants to try something different and outside the mainstream.

Standing in line for the Spadina streetcar at Dundas will never be the same after immersing yourself in People’s Park; you’ll smile longer, breathe deeper, and maybe restore your faith in public space.

Arthur on COLLECTOR(S) – Exhibition
When I was in Guangzhou with Siya Chen earlier this year, she introduced me to Zhou Tao. He was on his way to film parts of his new project with his shooting partner, Cipher (whoa, Best English Name chosen by a Chinese person!). Instead of shaking my hand, Cipher politely offered me some of his freshly purchased McChina goodies: taro and pineapple pie. Somehow, I think that sort of thoughtfulness translates into creative awesomeness. Also: Chinese McPie products are wonderfully different from their North American counterparts.

Serena on AUTUMN COLOURS – Exhibition
Autumn Colours after Zhao Mengfu: The panorama, which spans classical Chinese painting and contemporary cinema creates a narrative of natural landscape intertwined with culture and history, is this season’s must-have for mix-and-match casual and elegance!

INTERNATIONAL DELIGHTS – For those who want something more straight-forward, check out these international and critically-acclaimed titles.

Mike's Cold Hard Steel

Arthur on COLD STEEL
Gotta hard-on for late-night rowdy screenings? Chinese sniper film by the legendary editor/director who cut John Woo’s Hong Kong 80s classics (Better Tomorrow, Hard Boiled) is equal parts hilarious, cheeseball romance and hair-raising gun action.
Add on by Chris: I think it’s amazing that David Wu is going to be here to do a master class, a Q&A at his film, and most amazingly to provide feedback as a guest pitch juror! We’re offering people unprecedented access to a major industry professional, and to get to pitch in front of him is an incredible opportunity for our finalists.

Wolf + Children + Animation. Best combination EVER. What if you fall in love with a guy who happens to be a descendant of the Japanese wolf, and then you end up having to raise two wolf children as a single mom? (No, it’s not a Twilight prequel.) Watch Hana grow into motherhood as her two children face what it’s like to be a human and a wolf. If you liked Mamoru Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, you will fall in love with his latest animation all over again :)

Jennifer on GRACELAND
Marlon, a driver for the Manuel Chango family for 8 years, is put into a situation where he is forced to play on both sides of a kidnapping. The story involves a wealthy and corrupt congressman in the midst of a re-election, his daughter, as well as Marlon’s daughter, Elvie. The story unravels nicely into plots that you might not have guessed, so your full attention is necessary! Movie takes after Hollywood’s Taken with Liam Neeson, with the addition of deceit, manipulation and exploitation, illustrating the struggles of everyday Philippines. While watching, I was completely captured by the characters, scenes and stories are very raw and real! Definitely not your typical hero story!

Cha Cha for Louanne

Taiwanese cinema has been making a huge comeback with quality entertaining cinema and Cha Cha for Twins is no exception. Like many films from the region over the last few years, Cha Cha explores the concept of coming to terms with your self identity in a fun and quirky way. Directors Yang Yi-Chien, herself a twin, and Jim Wang takes a theme we’re all familiar with, that of growing up, but makes it unique by reaching into the emotional side of being a twin.

Louanne: Imagine an old Japanese lumberjack, spineless director and crew of zombie extras. It sounds like an unlikely situation, but Shuichi Okita pulls off this quirky light hearted comedy, so much so that you will want slap on the fake blood and play along with this eccentric logging community by the time you leave.
Eva: One of the films that I would recommend from this year’s line-up would be The Woodsman and The Rain starring Koji Yakusho and Oguri Shun. Surprisingly funny in a quirky and charming way, the film highlights a developing friendship between a widowed lumberjack and a young filmmaker through a zombie film production. The Woodsman and The Rain is peppered with dry humour and heartfelt moments that are brought forth effortlessly by the superb performance from the actors

Staff picks were chosen by:
Louanne Chan – Director of Marketing
Chris Chin – Operations Manager
Arthur Yeung (aka Arthurbaby) – Industry Series and Education Coordinator
Henry Wong – Marketing Coordinator and Industry Series Assistant
Gina Rim – Volunteer Coordinator
Serena Lee – Programming Coordinator
Jenna Rodgers aka Yung Chang – Box Office Coordinator
Tina Zafreen Alam – Guest Services Coordinator
Eva Ho – Marketing Committee Co-Chair
Ieva Balciute – Marketing and Special Event Committee member
Jennifer Dang – Marketing Committee member