With the 20th year of the festival’s existence coming up, we’ve had some time to reflect on how far Canada has come in terms of embracing Asian Canadian work. We reminisced on the body of work that North Americans with Asian heritage have made throughout the years, such as Richie Mehta’s award-winning AMAL, Julia Kwan’s EVE AND THE FIRE HORSE, and Yung Chang’s UP THE YANGTZE.
These filmmakers grew, and were inspired by those before them, those who made a significant impact on the landscape of Asian American (and Asian Canadian) cinema. Through our Retro Summer Series, we’ve shared some of our favourites with you, and you voted for the top films to watch again on the big screen.
Based on the novel by Amy Tan, THE JOY LUCK CLUB was one of the first film adaptations of Chinese-American immigrant literature. Exploring the intricacies of relationships between Chinese mothers and their Chinese-American daughters, director Wayne Wang took the risk of making a film with all-Asian protagonists, especially as they were not yet well known to American audiences. After a successful run at the Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and others, the film was released nationwide in the US in 1993. Decades later, this film holds resonance, most especially in exploring a woman’s self-worth and expectations set on daughters of immigrant families within a new setting.
Years before THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise, Justin Lin made BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, featuring John Cho, Sung Kang, and other Asian American actors. At its premiere screening at the Sundance Film Festival, an audience member asked Lin if he thought it was “irresponsible to portray Asian-Americans in such a negative light.” Before Lin and the other cast members could answer, the late great Roger Ebert chastised the audience member for such a “condescending and offensive” comment, stating, “This film has the right to be about this people, and Asian-Americans have the right to be whatever the hell they want to be. They do not have to ‘represent’ their people.” This paved the way to the film’s distribution deal, and a few years later, Lin would reignite the FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise with 4 directorial efforts and is now leading the charge with the latest STAR TREK film coming out this summer.
Romantic comedy AU REVOIR TAIPEI is Taiwanese-American Arvin Chen’s directorial feature debut. Although he wasn’t fluent in Mandarin, Chen wrote the script with translation help from his friends, and received the support of Wim Wenders to executive produce the film. A box office success in Taiwan, the film also won the NETPAC Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2010. When the film screened as the Closing Night film at Reel Asian in 2010, it received such positive response that an encore screening was announced a few days later in Richmond Hill.
Finally, there’s CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. Directed by Ang Lee, this martial arts epic remains one of the most influential, highest-grossing foreign-language film in American history. It also garnered hundreds of awards, Best Foreign Language Film at the 2001 Academy Awards. CROUCHING TIGER would pave the way for other wuxia film releases in North America, such as HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS.
We’re so excited to re-live these cinematic greats with you!
The Joy Luck Club
Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 • 5:45PM
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 • 8:30PM
Au Revoir Taipei
Thursday, August 25th, 2016 • 6:00PM
Better Luck Tomorrow
Thursday, August 25th, 2016 • 8:30PM
All Retro Summer films are shown at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Written by Kristine Estorninos
Head of Programming at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival