The Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival 2019

The Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival® is a unique showcase of contemporary Asian cinema and work from the Asian diaspora. Works include films and videos by East, South and Southeast Asian artists in Canada, the U.S., Asia and all over the world. As Canada’s largest Asian film festival, Reel Asian® provides a public forum for Asian media artists and their work, and fuels the growing appreciation for Asian cinema in Canada.

The (23rd) Reel Asian International Film Festival runs from November the 7th to the 15th, 2019 in downtown Toronto. 

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

COME DRINK WITH ME (Hong Kong 1966) ****
Directed by King Hu

Undeniably the best film to be shown at the Asian Film Festival this year and free as well, COME DRINK WITH ME a must-see if you have not already seen it.  This is the film that sprouted the wuxia swords sagas and the film that catapulted its director King Hu to fame.  King Hu went on to make DRAGON INN and A TOUCH OF ZEN followed by classics like the stunning RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN and THE LEGEND OF THE MOUNTAIN.  COME DRNIK WITH ME,a Shaw Brothers production stars starlet Cheng Pei-pei as Golden Swallow, 20 at the time of the making of the film, as the swords lady extraordinaire.  Golden Swallow’s task is to free her captive brother from bandits led by an evil Abbott.  It all sounds terribly delicious.  All the elements of a classic sworsdsaga are present, including a fight at an inn, unparalleled sword fights and incredible acrobatics.  COME DRINK WITH ME influenced Ang Lee’s CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN TIGER that also featured Cheng as an elderly fighter named Jade Fox.  Free screening November 1st at the Innis Town Hall at 8 pm.

Trailer: (unavailable)

GYOPO (South Korea/Canada 2019) **

Directed by Samuel Keehoon Lee

GYOPOS is abut gyopos.  A “gyopo” is someone of Korean descent who has been raised abroad.  The film opens impressively in black and white, probably because director Lee draws his inspiration from Jacques Tati’s black and white comedies like PLAYTIME.  Samuel Kiehoon Lee’s first feature tells the intimate stories of gyopos who have made a journey to Korea, only to find themselves outsiders in the country that gave birth to their parents.  Lee weaves together vignettes from a diverse band of well-educated 20 and 30-somethings as they get drunk, laugh, fall in love, and get into fistfights over a 24-hour period in Seoul.  sounds better than it is!  Instead of nuance, heart, humour, and snark, Gyopo’s portrait of the gyopo experience is misguided, non-directional confusing and eventually disorienting.  Lee could have down a much better job with fewer characters and concentrate n maybe just one or two and tacked their passage of coming-of-age.  Lee shows potential but it is wasted potential in the case of this film.


LOVE BOAT TAIWAN (Canada/Taiwan 2019) ***
Directed by Valerie Soe

Thee is no boat in LOVE BOAT TAIWAN.  That is the nickname given to the Taiwanese program designed to attract young Taiwanese and Chinese visitors from abroad to spend a few weeks in Taiwan to be immersed in Taiwanese culture.  A typical daily routine involves a flag raising ceremony, Mandarin language lessons, Chinese brush painting and martial-arts training before being taken on a bus for an afternoon excursion, often to visit Chang-Lei Check monuments.  The program is not totally successful as the young ones , being youthful are rebellious are out for a good time, often breaking curfew to go partying.  The film is comprised of interviews of past visitors who lend both their humour and points-of-view on what they experienced.  Director Soe knows that her doc is to be taken in with a grain of salt, resulting in an entraining while enlightening documentary on her bananas.  These visitors are called bananas as they are yellow on the outside and white on the inside. 



Directed by Toshiaki Toyoda

Shogi is the name of Japanese chess.  This film tells the true story of shogi (Japanese chess) player, Shoji “Shottan” Segawa. Despite consistent dedication, Shottan (Ryuhei Matsuda) fails to go professional by the time he turns 26, permanently forfeiting his chance according to the game’s strict rules. Shottan does not abandon his dream and continues as a top amateur until, at 35, he makes an unprecedented bid to go professional.  MIRACLE is a feel good crowd pleaser that works best when the unexpected occurs - showing that life can dish up unexpected twists.  And that is the miracle and wonder of it all.  The film is inspired by the director’s

personal shogi experience (he trained to go professional as an adolescent).   This tale of late-blooming self-realization is an inspirational study of perseverance against all odds.  Both a sensitive character study a fascinating glimpse into the closed world of shogi, director Toyoda’s film though based on the chess player’s biography does not feel like one.  A bit lengthy at over 2 hours, the film could be improved if edited more tightly.   Excellent camerawork too!                                                                                                                          



Directed by Makakoto Nagahisa

WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES is a bad and boring film but at least off to a promising start for a while before unfortunately fizzling out.  This is not a film about zombies though a few references are made to them.  It is a story of 4 children Hikari, Ikuko, Ishi and Takemura with bad parents.  The parents have died in different ways but the four orphaned children who meet in a Tokyo crematorium relate their stories under the narration of the first boy.  The first story is the most interesting.  Before one can get attached to this child, the film shifts to the next.  The disorientation is only matched by another less interesting tale of childhood angst.  The film, a long haul, is deliberately made to feel like a video game (with fast edits, fast motion and jump cuts) which soon loses its lacklustre.  The kids (three assorted boys and a girl) deliberately made to be un-cute by Nagahisa eventually form a band and sing mediocre songs.  The point to all this is that it is better to stay alive but there are better ways to get this message across.



YELLOW ROSE (Philippines/USA 2019) **
Directed by Diane Paragas

Rose Garcia (Eva Noblezada) is a young Filipino teen going to school with dreams of becoming a country singer.  She is quite good, evident from the songs that she sings, and she goes under the wings of famous country singer Dale Watson (playing himself).  But trouble brews when her mother, Priscilla (Princess Punzala) gets arrested and faces deportation back to the Philippines for being an illegal alien.  The lazy script fails to explain how they got to the U.S. and why Rose’s aunt and husband is wealthy (supposedly legal) American citizens.  What is most corny is the use of songs to to state the heroine’s current emotional state.  When Rose is down, for example, she croons the lyrics: “You can take the roof from above my head, but you can’t take my freedom away…”  For lack of a credible happy ending, the film does best with Rose performing one of her songs on stage, again with the corny lyrics telling the audience of Rose’ s new state of affairs:  “You can’t get the best of me.  I ain’t going down.’ I’ll be standing tall’.


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