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Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival – Top Picks

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reel asian film fest

reel asian film fest

Asian cinema lovers, be ready because Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival is fast approaching, so make sure you get your tickets before they are all sold out. Sponsored by Rogers Communications Inc. and the National Bank of Canada, the festival will be open from November 6 to November 17 and will represent what is deemed to be “the best in Asian film.”

While Reel Asian is certainly not as well-recognized as TIFF, which I would attribute to the absence of big Hollywood stars, it is still worth attending for the sake of the art form. Unfortunately, most people lack knowledge when it comes to Asian cinema because of one simple fact — our theaters are cluttered with Hollywood blockbusters. That is why I have compiled a list of top five features that I believe every movie fan should see at Reel Asian, regardless of whether you like Asian cinema or not.

Before we get to the list, however, I would like to mention that the movies are listed by date, not by quality, so keep that in mind!


Ron Morales’ second film to debut at Asian Reel follows the story of a pious family man named Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) whose simple life begins to fall apart once his daughter is mistakenly kidnapped in a ransom plot against a powerful politician. In order to rescue his daughter, Marlon embarks on a dark and dangerous journey into Manila’s underbelly where nothing but hopelessness and depravity prevail.

This bleak drama is certainly not for the faint-hearted since it deals with issues like child prostitution, molestation, torture, and murder. Yet, what makes this film worth seeing is the fact that it is also incredibly eye-opening — to the horrors that many of us choose to ignore. So, do not keep your eyes shut and see this powerful film!

Graceland will play at Innis Town Hall on November 8 at 9:55 PM.



Valley of Saints

This Sundance Film Festival multi-award winner is Musa Syeed’s first narrative feature and also one of the few South Asian films to play at Asian Reel. Valley of Saints follows the story of a young boatman named Gulzar (Gulzar Ahmad Bhat) and his best friend (Mohammed Afzal Sofi) as they attempt to escape their home village by Dal Lake in Kashmir to start a new life in a big city. However, their escape plans are thwarted by a military curfew, during which Gulzar develops a relationship with a beautiful young scientist named Asifa (Neelofar Hamid). The relationship creates a rift between Gulzar and his best friend, and soon enough, Gulzar is faced with a choice between his best friend and his love.

In this feature, Syeed expertly blends fiction with realism to contrast the characters’ serene dreams with their stark reality. This unique and visually stunning piece of cinema is a story about dealing with reality and change. If you are a living person with a beating heart, chances are this movie will affect you, so do yourself a favour and see it!

Valley of Saints will play at The Royal on November 9 at 8:45 PM.




Wolf Children

From director Mamoru Hosoda — the creator of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars — comes yet another animated masterpiece. This one follows the story of Hana who chooses to raise her children, Ame and Yuki, in seclusion after her husband dies. However, Ame and Yuki are not ordinary children since they are part human and part wolf — just like their dead father. As they mature, their wolf-like abilities become more and more pronounced, which forces them to make a decision between living as wolves or humans.

Unlike most of the selections on this list, this magical animated feature can be watched by people of all ages. If you liked Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro, you will enjoy Wolf Children since Hosoda has been called on multiple occasions Miyazaki’s spiritual successor.

Wolf Children will play at The Royal on November 10 at 8:15 PM.



Seeking Asian Female

In this peculiar documentary, filmmaker Debbie Lum examines an uneasy relationship between Steven, a 60-year-old white male with “yellow fever,” and his 30-year-old Asian wife Sandy, whom Steven met online. As their marriage progresses, Steven realizes that Sandy is not quite as subservient as he had hoped her to be, which results in them having numerous disagreements regarding various domestic issues.

In many ways, Seeking Asian Female is about a cultural clash — about examining the misconceptions many people have when it comes to Asian women. There is this myth that the Asian woman would do anything for her man, so it is refreshing to see a film that aims to dispel this myth.

Seeking Asian Female will play at The Royal on November 11 at 1:00 PM.




The Woodsman and the Rain

Shuichi Okita’s latest feature follows the story of Katsu (Koji Yakusho), a 60-year-old lumberjack, whose tranquil life in the mountains is disrupted by the arrival a film crew. Katsu is at first frustrated by the pushy crew, but he soon manages to develop an improbable friendship with the film’s self-deprecating director Koichi (Shun Ogun). As their friendship progresses, Katsu begins to appreciate the filmmaking process, while Koichi recovers his sense of self-worth.

This touching comedy about friendship and redemption is filled with memorable performances from some of the most talented actors in Japan. It also happens to be one of the funniest films to come out of Japan in recent years. Give this film a chance and it will win you over.

The Woodsman and the Rain will play at Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts on November 17 at 4:00 PM.
And that is the list! For more information on the tickets and pricing, please visit the Toronto International Reel Asian Festival official website at Thank you for reading!

By: Taras Trofimov


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