Reel Asian invasion

International fest gathers some of the best (and the rest) of Asian cinema

REEL ASIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL from Tuesday (November 5) to November 16. Various venues. $10-$20. See Indie & Rep Film.

Good Thing

The Kirishima Thing (Daihachi Yoshida, Japan). 103 minutes. Wednesday (November 6), 8:30 pm, AGO Jackman Hall. Rating: NNNN

Winner of Japanese Academy Awards for best picture, director and editing, The Kirishima Thing is a rewarding ensemble drama of the sort we rarely see over here.

Told out of sequence, Daihachi Yoshida’s film follows a student body sent reeling by the news that popular kid Kirishima has quit the volleyball team. It’s as though someone has died, which creates a vacuum in the school’s social structure – only nothing’s really changed, and no one knows how to react. Fortunately, one student (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is obsessed with finishing a zombie movie, and this allows for a strange sort of catharsis.

Daihachi’s time-jumping structure makes the culturally specific story emotionally accessible, giving us a sense of how powerfully Kirishima (who never appears in the film) affects his fellow students both by his presence and his absence.

If you only catch one film at Reel Asian, this would be a good choice.


Dark shadows

TALES FROM THE DARK: PART 1 (Simon Yam, Fruit Chan, Lee Chi-ngai, Hong Kong). 114 minutes. Screens November 8, 8 pm, at the Royal. Rating: NNN

This trilogy of Hong Kong ghost stories adapted from Lilian Lee’s series of horror novels features some solid performances even if the subject matter isn’t very original.

Actor Simon Yam makes an awkward transition to director in the first chapter, about a grizzled, underemployed man (Yam) who stoops to stealing funerary urns and extorting money from surviving family members. Explosive sound effects and quick cuts to dolls make the shocks cheap and unearned.

The second film is much better. Superstar Tony Leung Ka-fai plays a fortune teller who uncovers a plot involving the ghost of a schoolgirl. Leung and Kelly Chen as a fellow medium exhibit crack comic timing even if the plot seems like an afterthought.

And the final work is the best. An old woman (Susan Siu) helps people wreak vengeance on their enemies by symbolically hitting paper images of their nemeses. It’s brief but atmospheric, and Siu delivers a layered, fascinating performance as a woman who doesn’t realize the implications of her actions when a pale-faced woman (Dada Chan) asks for her help.


Fine Farah

Farah Goes Bang (Meera Menon, USA). 93 minutes. November 9, 4 pm, Royal. Rating: NNN

In this road movie set during the last weeks of the 2004 U.S. presidential election, three young women (Nikohl Boosheri, Kiran Deol, Kandis Erickson) drive from California to Ohio trying to raise awareness about the Kerry-Edwards campaign – and maybe talk the awkward Farah (Circumstance’s Boosheri) into losing her virginity.

Meera Menon’s directorial debut, co-written with producer Laura Goode, impresses with its sense of character all three leads seem like real people even when they’re dealing with fairly rote personal issues. The plotting is another story – the pacing is sluggish in the midsection – and the period setting doesn’t feel as essential as it should.

But road movies are about friends on a journey, and on those terms Farah Goes Bang works well enough.


Stop Believin’

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey (Ramona S. Diaz, USA). 113 minutes. Some subtitles. November 9, 7 pm, Royal. Rating: NN

How do you return your aging band to its former greatness without your distinctively bombastic lead singer? You find a sound-alike on YouTube, bring him on board and just keep chugging along, which is how Journey replaced Steve Perry as its lead singer with Filipino rocker Arnel Pineda in 2007.

There’s almost certainly an interesting documentary to be made about this story – you could spend an hour on the cynicism alone – but Don’t Stop Believin’ ain’t it. Director Ramona S. Diaz simply assembles rock star clichés (Have you heard? It’s a long way to the top!) and hangs everything on the stranger-than-fiction sight of Pineda fronting a classic rock band.

He seems like a decent guy, but he’s either too humble or too careful to say anything interesting on camera. Even the band’s most dedicated fans will have a hard time staying focused for two solid hours.



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