Toronto 21st Reel Asian Film Festival


The (21st) ReelAsian International Film Festival runs from November the 9th to the 18th, 2017 in downtown Toronto and North York. 

Capsule reviews of selected films (as recommended by the ReelAsian publicist) follows below this article.

For more information and a full schedule of screenings, please check its website at:

Capsule Reviews of Selected Films

BAD GENIUS (Thailand 2017) ****
Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya

BAD GENIUS belongs to the category of good movies with poor titles like the recent BABY DRIVER.   From Thailand, BAD GENIUS is a feel good teen B-movie from B-country Thailand, but from the first few segments, one is immediately impressed by director’s ingenuity and ability to entertain.  Lynne helps her friend Grace to cheat during an exam in a scene that is both comical and suspenseful.  Also when Grace remarks that she needs a 3.25 GPA to be in  school play, Lynn replies that it is harder to act in a play than to study.  Lynn is a genius high school student who makes money by cheating tests, receives a new task that leads her to set foot on Sydney, Australia.  In order to complete the millions-Baht task, Lynn and her classmates have to finish the international STIC (known as SAT internationally) exam and deliver the answers back to her friends in Thailand before the exam takes place once again in her home country.   Director Poonpiriya nows how to make a feel good movie by making all the characters likeable (and performed by good looking actors), ending every scene on a high note and having a pompous wealthy school and strict (and corrupt) authoritarians as the common enemy.  The film also covers relevant Asian issues like being filial, the attraction of studying abroad and international exams.  A discrete message tied in too about life not being fair, so that one has to help oneself.  Totally enjoyable from start to finish, with the time flying fast (as in not having enough time to complete an examination) despite its bad title.

Directed by Lu Yang

The sequel to the original BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES, number II, the sequel has already done much better at the box-office as of date, than the first film owing to better marketing.  Lu Yang returns in the director’s chair with a solid sword fighting saga like the better ones Shaw Brothers used to make in the good old days.  Set in Northeast China, AD 1619, during the late Ming dynasty,  the film centres on a captain of the Imeprial Guard, Shen Lian (Zhang Zhen) who when the film begins rescues a couple of Ming soldiers from certain death, including Lu Wenzhao (Zhang Yi), who is eternally grateful.  The film moves forward 8 years later, in the summer of AD 1627, encounters intrigue and corruption in the higher ranks.  There is a bit too much plot to follow that audiences might to be used to for films in this genre.  The battle scenes are well done with good martial-arts choreography and fights on horses with the climatic battle taking place at a gorge for additional excitement.


DEAR ETRANGER (Japan 2017) ***

Directed by Yukiko Mishima

The etranger (French of stranger) here, is Makoto Tanaka (Tadanobu Asano), divorced from his first wife, Yuka (Shinobu Terajima), four years ago and now married the younger Nanae (Rena Tanaka), who herself is divorced).  Nanae left her husband, the alcoholic, dissolute Sawada (Kankuro Kudo), because he beat her and her young daughter.  Makoto and Yuka split when they couldn’t agree on a second child:  He wanted one, she didn’t.  Makoto continues to see his daughter, Saori (Raiju Kamata), who lives with her mother and new stepfather, while he tries to be a good parent to Nanae’s two daughters, Eriko (Miu Arai) and sullen sixth-grader Kaoru (Sara Minami).  Kaoru says her stepfather Makoto is a stranger and insists on meeting her real father.  The film is real family drama, one that affects the modern family whee separation and divorce are common.  Real tensions are on display without the characteristic Hollywood melodrama or cheap theatrics.  Running a bit long at 2 hours, DEAR ETRANGER is an emotional ride, nevertheless.


STAND UP MAN (Canada 2017) ***
Directed by Aram Collier

STAND UP MAN opens with the only Korean in the town of Windsor performing a hard to get comedy gig in Toronto. Moses Kim (Daniel Jun) does well, getting the laughs he deserves besides dishing out rather bad dick jokes.  At this time, he is happily just married to Yoojin (Rosalina Lee) and landed with a Korean restaurant from his missionary parents who have left for Mali.  There are lots of fun poked at the Korean community and the Canadian town of Windsor and actor Daniel Jun is appropriately lively as the lead character.  The plot takes a turn with the arrival of Kim’s younger cousin Joon-Ho (Daegun Daniel Lee) form Korea who he has to babysit.  The film is sufficiently entertaining with a message of a different kind.  It is not one of ‘chasing ones dreams’ like Kim being a successful standup that is important, but something else (not revealed in this review).



Directed by Akira Nagai

Based on the manga 'Teiichi no Kuni' by Usamaru Furuya that ran from 2010 to 2016, the film is a brilliant satire on Japanese politics.  The film is filled with surprises, irony, messages, comedy, suspense, romance and ultimately drama.  The young actors, over-acting half the time are nevertheless fantastic in their roles.  The subject is Teiichi who dreams one day being the Prime Minister of Japan.   His father urges him to succeed politically at all costs.  But Teiichi have to take things one step a time, which he finds really tough, especially having a girlfriend who has no interest in politics but gives him good advice, nevertheless.  Teiichi has to make sure he supports his candidate for class president at his elite high school wins the election.  Teiichi’s right  hand man is a tech whiz who has the hots for him.  Lots of homo-eroticism in the film that includes a drum performance by the athletic club members wearing lion-cloth (see photo inset).  Still, a hoot of a film from start to finish and clearly the film that wins my vote for best film at Reel Asian this year.



TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Johnnie To

TIFF Cinematheque Presents - The films of Johnnie To

Considered one of the greatest Hong Kong directors still working today, Johnnie To has amassed an impressive list of films that include many different genres. To is best known a an action director with films like PTU and THE HEROIC TRIO, both films spurning sequels.  His films have graced Cannes as well as the film festivals in Venice, Berlin and Toronto.

This is TIFF Cinematheque’s first retrospective of To which will include films that have influenced him. One is King Hu’s DRAGON INN one of the best sword sagas ever made.  The climatic battle at the end is unforgettable.  To will be present to introduce that film as well  as a few other screenings.  A real treat!

A total of 19 films are in the series.  A full review of OFFICE and capsule reviews of selected films are found lower down this article.

For complete listing, venue and ticket pricing, please check the TIFF website at:

The program runs from October 26th right through Christmas, a good well spread out of the 19 films. 

THE HEROIC TRIO (Hong Kong 1993) ***
Directed by Johnnie To

THE HEROIC TRIO stars three of the most famous stars in Hong Kong films of the 90’s - Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung.  They play action super heroes with super powers battling the ’evil one’ who has a scheme to rule the world forever with his emperor who is to be chosen for kidnapped babies.  Meanwhile, back on earth, the police led by Inspector Lau (Damian Lau) are baffled.  They are not the only ones, as the audience often feels the same way for the way the convoluted story unfolds.  Anything can happen in the film and does with no time boundaries.  There is old fashioned martial-arts combined with machine guns and motorbikes, computers mixed with swords and ancient artifacts.  But at least To’s film is full of energy and invention if one can put up with the nonsense.  The ending with the charred skeleton emerging from an explosion is an un-shamed copy from TERMINATOR 2, but who cares as long as the film is uninhibited fun not meant to be taken seriously.  And the three females stars are exciting to watch.


ELECTION (Hong Kong 2005) ***
Directed by Johnnie To

The ELECTION in this film refers to the election of the new head of the Triad gangsters in Hong Kong.  The two candidates are Big D (Tony Leung Ka-fai) and Lok (Simon Yam).  Lok is the more stable, even tempered and logicalmone while Big D is flashy, hot-tempered and unpredictable.  When Lok gets elected, Big D threatens to unstable by forming a new group.  The cops want no Wars while Lok agrees to some truce.  There is some fight over the baton, which symbolizes power.  There is more dialogue and story in ELECTION compared to the other To films, credit given to its scriptwriters Yau Nai-hoi and Yip Tin-shing, who seem to somehow know how the underworld operates.  The film premiered at Cannes before opening in Hong Kong and is one of the more successful of the To films spawning a sequel ELECTION 2.


OFFICE (Hong Kong 2015) ***
Directed by Johnnie To

The story of OFFICE follows the IPO (Initial Public Offering) of shares by a major  company, Jones & Sunn led by the Chairman (Chow Yun-Fat) and his CEO who also happens to be his mistress (Sylvia Chang).  The film opens as two new interns Lee Xiang (Ziyi Wang) and Kat-Ho (Yueting Lang) start new jobs but learn that there are lots of kissing asses and dirty business that need be done in order to be successful.  Lee Xiang is earnest and naive. Two other characters that play a part in the plot are high flyers Sophie (Wei Tang) and David (Eason Chan) who forge financial figures.  OFFICE is pleasant to the eyes - great set decoration and design.  Each office space is designed artistically and modern, often with crystalline and curved shapes.  Wardrobe, especially those worn by Sylvia Chang are haute couture.  The characters break into song at any time but the songs are often clumsily inserted, and break the flow of the narrative.   OFFICE barely succeeds as a musical and satire and runs a bit long at just under two hours.  The novelty of the sets and songs wears off quite soon. 


TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Andrei Tarkovsky

TIFF Cinematheque Presents - The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky (4 April 1932 – 29 December 1986) was a Soviet filmmaker, writer, film editor, film theorist, theatre and opera director.  He is considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and much respected by other respected filmmakers notably Ingmar Bergman.

Tarkovsky's films include Ivan's Childhood (1962), Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1972), Mirror (1975), and Stalker (1979). He directed the first five of his seven feature films in the Soviet Union; his last two films, Nostalghia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986), were produced in Italy and Sweden, respectively.   His work is characterized by long takes, unconventional dramatic structure, distinctly authored use of cinematography, and spiritual and metaphysical themes.

TIFF Cinematheque presents for the first time a good retrospective of Tarkovsky films with weeklong engagement of both STALKER and SOLARIS (both films capsule reviewed below).

My favourite Tarkovsky film is SACRIFICE (OFRET) with the single long tie at the film’s end of a burning house with its inhabitants running around outside it.

Full fill program and schedule of screenings, please check the Cinematheque website at:

CAPSULE REVIEWS OF Selected Tarkovsky Films:

SOLARIS (USSR 1972) ****

Directed bh Andrei Tarkovsky


SOLARIS is Soviet science fiction art film adaptation of Polish author Stanisław Lem's novel Solaris (1961).  Co-written and directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, SOLARIS moves at the low moving pace one has associated Tarkovsky’s films with.  This one runs 2 hours and 42 minutes, so be prepared for a long haul.   A meditative psychological drama occurring mostly aboard a space station orbiting the fictional planet Solaris, the story involves a stalled scientific mission because the skeleton crew of three scientists have fallen into separate emotional crises.   The terror in space is not physical but mental and emotional.  Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donata VBanionis) travels to the Solaris space station to evaluate the situation only to encounter the same mysterious phenomena as the others.  He meets who could be or could not be his wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) as she had previously died 10 years back.  He sends her off in a rocket getting himself burnt, but she re-appears.  Great ideas but the please in this film has to be earned.  SOLARIS won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury, the FIPRESCI prize and was nominated for the Palme d’Or and was remade by Steven Soderbergh in a film with the same title.


STALKER (USSR 1979) ****

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

STALKER refers to the guide to a special place called The Zone in Tarkovski’s boring mini-masterpiece of the same title.  In it three men, THE STALKER, the guide, and two others referred to as the professor and the writer (it be best to remember who is who) enter a place called The Zone.  The Zone is apparently inhabited by aliens and contains the Room, where in it is believed wishes are granted.  The government has declared The Zone a no-go area and have sealed off the area with barbed wire and border guards.  However, this has not stopped people from attempting to enter the Zone.   The writer wants to use the experience as inspiration for his writing and the professor, who wants to research the Zone for scientific purposes.  Things do not turn out as expected.  Neither does this sci-fi film, so beware!  One scene has the trio roaming in a long pipe (tunnel) before one says:  “There is a door.”  They argue not only who should go in first but why bring and point a gun through the door.  “No one waits at the door,” one answer when questioned whether to enter.  This scene is typical of what happens throughout their trip into The Zone.  Nothing happens but a lot of arguments.  The sets like the tunnel dripping with water from the ceiling are stunningly bleak and typical of a dystopian society.  Running at over two and a half hours with nothing much happening for a sci-fi film, STALKER is undeniably boring.  Very, very boring!  But crazy as it might sound, it is still a captivating film that should be seen by all cinephiles.


Film Review: Visages Villages (Faces Places)

VISAGES VILLAGES (Faces Places)(France 2017) ***** Top 10

Directed by Agnes Varda and JR


Faces Places have received high critical praise from critics at Cannes, many calling it a masterpiece.  That might be too big a term to use for this little personal film but VISAGES VILLAGES is simply the most delightful and personal film that premiered at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.  Director Agnes Varda (wife of the late Jacques Demy), now 89 is famous for her films, photographs, and art installations that focus on documentary realism, feminist issues, and social commentary with a distinct experimental style.  In this latest and perhaps her last doc (she is losing her vision), she and fellow friend and artist known as JR travel around France, particularly the North in their photo camion to take pictures of the people they visit.  At Le Havre, for example they photograph the images of three wives of the dockworkers and paste them on stacked containers.  In a deserted mining town, they paste the photograph of the last woman (wife of a miner) still staying in the old house district.  When asked the reason she does this, she replies it is too demonstrate the power of imagination.  No doubt about that, this film is personal, inspiring, powerful, sad and happy and handsdown, the best and most enjoyable documentary to be seen this year.





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