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The 20th Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival kicks off today, running through Saturday, November 19, 2016. With 77 titles from 11 regions, the Festival this year will devote a bit of focus to Hong Kong Filmmakers with two feature Films and three Shorts coming from the territory.
In town to ring-in the occasion courtesy of the Festival and the Hong Kong Economic Trade Office (Toronto), is Actor/Filmmaker Derek Tsang, son of Chinese Cinema and Television icon, Eric Tsang. His Film SoulMate has the honour of opening the Festival at Isabel Bader Theatre.
A collaboration between Mainland China and Hong Kong, SoulMate has opened to great Box Office and critical success in China and just opened in Hong Kong a couple weeks back. Tsang speaks at a junket for the Festival held at Ramen hotspot Momofuku in Toronto, recalling his journey as a Filmmaker after graduating from University of Toronto, heading to Hong Kong to enter the entertainment business.
He landed his first job with respected Producer Peter Chan, knowing little at the time about film production. After branching out from acting into filmmaking, it was Chan who reached out to him after seeing his debut effort, Lover’s Discourse, which too premiered at Reel Asian. Confident that he had enough raw talent but needing still the help of a good Producer and guidance to marketing a Film in Mainland China, it took about five years before they both landed upon on a project they both thought was the right fit.
The project would become SoulMate, adapted from a 21-page Novella which he later learned was a well-loved by many Chinese women growing up in the ’80s. He promised to ardent fans on the internet of the Novella, to be faithful to the story seeing how it was such an important part of the social conscience for many women.
I ask Tsang how his experience growing-up in Canada has helped him today as a Filmmaker. He says, “It’s taught me about diversity. Canada is a multicultural country, where we respect each other’s cultures”. Being from Hong Kong and working in Mainland China, he admits “As a Filmmaker going to China, it was a big culture shock. My experience in Canada helped me make a Film where I was not looking in as an outsider, but someone that understands how Chinese citizens live.”. He spent much time in China before making the Film to immerse himself in the local culture.
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We also are hearing positive buzz on Weeds on Fire at the Festival.
Contributors David Baldwin and Siobhán Rich preview for us a few titles at Reel Asian, including SoulMate.
SoulMate – Review by David Baldwin July and Ansen become best friends instantly at the age of 13, and are practically inseparable. But by the time they are 15, they begin to drift apart – each taking a radically different path with their life.
There is something inherently beautiful about SoulMate. Director Derek Tsang allows the Film to really hone-in on what it means to be friends, and the emotional toll that time and age takes on all of us. The Film has a habit of meandering through certain time periods before jumping into fascinatingly chaotic montages of others. Tsang’s message about friendship (and his darker messages about societal norms) get lost in some of these whirlwind moments, allowing the Film to fall into ridiculously predicable plot tropes – although a third act twist really shakes things up during the finale. The lead performances by Ma Sichun as July and especially Zhou Dongyu as Ansen more than make up for the plot’s flaws. They bring just the right amount of genuine emotion to their roles, making their characters’ multi-year journeys feel both real and downright devastating.
The Bacchus Lady – Review by Siobhán Rich
After a stunning debut at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival,E J-yong’s The Bacchus Lady has finally arrived in Toronto. The Film centers on So-young (Youn Yuh-jung), a sixty-five-year-old woman who ekes out a living as a prostitute in a society where many senior citizens are destitute. Her life becomes more complicated after taking in Min-ho, a half-Filipino boy whose mother is arrested in the Film’s opening minutes. To make matters worse, her clients have begun asking for far more than simple transactions for sex.
The smartly-written script defies convention at every turn even discussing the economic realities of South Korea and “young vaginas” in one awkwardly earnest five-minute conversation. Whether the Film is attempting to enlighten viewers about the difficulties of old age or the painful indignities of sex work, director J-yong’s lens never wavers. In a scene that could easily turn crass he captures the juxtaposition of So-young having sex in a park on a bed of fallen leaves with the hollow look in her eyes as she takes in the barren trees around her.
The Bacchus Lady is a must-see during the Festival for its poignant story and brilliant performance by lead actress Youn Yuh-jung.
Tyrus – Review by David Baldwin Tyrus is a Documentary telling the true story of little known artist Tyrus Wong, who celebrated his 105th birthday last year. His style helped shape and influence the look of the landmark Disney classic Bambi from 1942. After getting fired from the studio, he went on to work as an artist within the Film industry for the next three decades.
Director Pamela Tom briskly runs through the highlights of Wong’s life beginning as a Chinese immigrant in the 1920s, all the way through his multitude of works and career achievements. She fills in the gaps through interviews with Wong himself, animation historians, artists and family members. The Doc briefly glazes over some of the xenophobic struggles Wong and other Asian artists faced before, during and after World War II, as well as some family tragedies. But neither subject seems to merit much depth or discussion. Tom just seems content focusing on Wong, his work and the indelible impression his art made at the time and continues to make today.
More on the 2016 TORONTO REEL ASIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALhereincluding schedule and Films.