What to Watch at the 2012 Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival

By Jef Catapang

The Toronto International Reel Asian Film Festival is back and running from November 6 to 11 in downtown Toronto, with a second round November 16 to 17 in Richmond Hill. This year’s program includes a lot of worthy pictures, and for the first time includes a South Asian feature.

If you can’t make it out to all of them (what’s wrong with you?), check below for a handy guide of five films to catch at the 16th annual Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival.

GRACELAND

A chauffeur for a prominent congressman, Marlon (Arnold Reyes)’s most frequent driving assignments include his daughter, the congressman’s daughter, and the young girls that his boss abuses. When a kidnapping goes awry and his daughter is mistaken for the congressman’s, Marlon finds himself caught in a plot that worms down into Manila’s child prostitution rings. An unsettling, uncompromising thriller that squeezes the morality from its well-drawn characters, Graceland is hard to take and hard to forget.

THU NOV 8 | 9:55 PM | INNIS TOWN HALL

VALLEY OF SAINTS

Valley of Saints traces a low-key romance between a working-class boatman named Gulzar and a young scientist, Asifa, in a Kashmir community near the Pakistan border. The two meet when a military curfew kiboshes Gulzar’s plan to blow town, and he instead takes a job ferrying Asifa as she collects water samples. Naturalistic performances perfectly capture the emotions as Gulzar falls for Asifa and learns about the fragility of the local ecosystem, and director Musa Syeed keeps the threat of political violence bubbling near the surface of the gorgeous, pastoral lake setting.

FRI NOV 9 | 8:45 PM | THE ROYAL

WOLF CHILDREN

With Wolf Children, acclaimed anime filmmaker Hamoru Hosoda reigns in the narrative scope and fancified visuals of his first two films and presents a charmingly pared-down tale of a mother and her kids. Even though her kids happen to be magical wolf-children (NBD!), Hosoda largely ignores fantasy tropes and concentrates on the trials of single-parenthood and the resourcefulness of loving, non-traditional families. A touching departure from his more eventful films, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) and Summer Wars (2009), Wolf Children sets itself apart beautifully.

SAT NOV 10 | 8:15 PM | THE ROYAL

COLD STEEL

In Cold Steel, small-towner Mu Liangfeng (Peter Ho) gets drawn into the Sino-Japanese conflict after sticking his neck out for a band of National troops. Directed by David Wu (film nerds know him as one of John Woo’s good-to-go editors), this is a racially tense war epic with insanely gripping sniper battles straight from the hard-boiled 1990s. There are some too-long romantic diversions that hamper the pacing, plus a string of creepy/funny gun fetish moments, but don’t let that keep you away.

SAT NOV 10 | 10:45 PM | THE ROYAL

ARCHITECTURE 101

Lee Yong-zoo’s Architecture 101 is a fresh-faced meller dappled with 90s nostalgia and an appreciation for buildings. The film jumps timelines to explore the non-relationship between former school chums who floated around each other but never made good on their mutual attraction. Years later, Lee Seung-min (Uhm Tae-woong) and Yang Seo-yeun (Han Ga-in) are no longer innocent and aren’t even always likable, causing a whole lot of contemplation and picturesque pining. Unrequited young love is a worn theme, but this one nestles in nicely with the genre’s best.

SUN NOV 11 | 8:15 PM | THE ROYAL

Check the Reel Asian website for full festival info.

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