Reel Asian Film Festival 2011

5 films to see at the 2011 Reel Asian Film Festival

The Toronto Reel Asian International Festival opens its 15th edition next Tuesday, November 8th with the Canadian premiere of Lover's Discourse, four overlapping love stories set in Hong Kong. On through to November 13th in Toronto, and then for another week in Richmond Hill, the festival has booked a solid run of screenings, panels, installations, events, and appearances from Canadian and international artists.

The great thing about this year's lineup is the diversity of the screenings and the strength of the in-between films that didn't get "gala" or "centerpiece" billing. It's my third year covering Reel Asian and this has been the best batch of films so far. If you can, check out these five gems from the Far East.

Buddha Mountain (China)

Three 20ish year old friends in low-end jobs rent a room from a retired opera singer. Not surprisingly, the trio of underachievers clash with the cranky old lady. With time, and some graceful writing that doesn't lets the story slip into over the top melodrama, everyone in the home learns to connect, grow, and let go of their pain. Li Yu's was the first filmmaker to shoot in Chengdu after a major earthquake hit the area in 2008. In the film, the roommates take a trip through the luscious mountains and help rebuild a temple out of the rubble (kinda like their lives).
Closing night gala, Sunday, Nov. 13, 8:00pm @ The Royal

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (Japan)
Based on the hugely popular manga series Fullmetal Alchemist, The Sacred Star of Milos follows the franchise's central heroes, the Elric brothers, on another adventure. In this installment, they're on the hunt for an escaped convict and end up rescuing a young alchemist named Julia from his clutches. A Philosopher's Stone, it turns out, can help the brothers restore their bodies (to non-metal form), but Julia wants it too, to harness it's power for her homeland's rebellion.
Friday, Nov. 11, 11:30pm @ The Royal

Piercing 1 (China)

For something completely different, check out Piercing 1. It's an odd animated work from a first time director/artist, Liu Jian. After losing his job in a factory, the film's central character is stuck in the city, where all the police and businessmen seem to be corrupt, cruel, and kinda violent. A dark take/commentary on the effects of the 2008 financial crisis on young people.
Saturday, Nov. 12, 10:30pm @ The Royal

Saigon Electric (US/Vietnam)

A traditional ribbon dancer from the countryside lands in Ho Chi Minh City to try out for the national academy. The audition goes poorly. In no time, she gets a job, settles in the big city, and befriends a group of street kids in a hip-hop dance group called Saigon Fresh. Then, there's a dance off. The crew must beat a rival group for the opportunity to compete internationally and to save their home community center. I know, I know, it sounds godawful, but Saigon Electric succeeds where most Hollywood dance-your-way-out-of-the-inner-city movies fail - it has likeable and authentic teenage characters.
Friday, Nov. 11, 8:45pm @ The Royal

Bleak Night (South Korea)

An absentee father looks for answers about his son's death by questioning friends. At first the teenagers are evasive, but slowly the truth unfolds and we learn what happened between the boy and his buddies. Yoon Sung-Hyun has picked up awards at the Busan and the Hong Kong International Film Festivals for this hard-hitting film about bullying and highschool friendship... unfortunately, the many flashbacks and jumps in time are a little hard to follow.

Reel Asian will present more than 55 films and videos from 12 countries, including Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, China, the U.S. and Vietnam, from November 8 to 19, 2011. Tickets $10-$20 available online or cash only at the venue.


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