By David Baldwin
Today is the last day of the 25th Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. You are likely SOL by the time you read this if you wanted to see the encore theatrical screening of the award winning Opening Night film Islands, but it is still available to view on the Digital portal.
That film centres on Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas). He is about to turn 50, still lives with his parents and works as a janitor in Toronto despite being a dentist in the Philippines. He has never really taken care of himself, and prays nightly for God to bless him with a wife and children. When his mother dies suddenly, Joshua must start taking care of his ailing father alongside his visiting cousin Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco), and begin to learn how to survive on his own. While that certainly does not sound like a wonderfully uplifting romp, Writer/Director Martin Edralin influses Islands with a raw emotional core that feels deeply personal and authentic. The film is paced slowly yet methodically, which allows for Edralin to hone in on the wonderful, naturalistic performances from Balagtas and Lotuaco — who you would never guess are both first-time actors! There are laughs, there is tragedy, and there is a whole lot of humanity coursing through Islands veins. It is moving and beautiful, and while you may not be on board initially, you will definitely come around to it all as the film progresses. Just watch out for Esteban Comilang as Joshua’s father Reynaldo. His very physical, very lived-in work is utterly devastating.
If that does not sound your speed, here are two more recommendations to watch before the festival ends:
If I told you there was a film called Digital Video Editing with Adobe Premiere Pro: The Real-World Guide to Set Up and Workflow, what might you guess it is about? Perhaps an instructional video on how to use Adobe Premiere, right? Or a step by step course on digital film editing? Well, would it surprise you to know its actually a horror thriller about an editor and director cutting together a film that seems to be haunted by some form of demon? That is not the only surprise at play in Hong Seong-yoon’s wildly entertaining 40-minute film that mainly takes place within both the confines of the editing suite’s computer and the cheesy romantic melodrama the team is editing. It satirizes the megalomaniacal director archetype brilliantly, has some genuine insight on crappy contemporary romantic pictures, and delivers quite a few scares (including one involving the end credits that had me laughing hysterically). While there is no real development to speak of, it is just a genuinely breezy delight to watch unfold. It was not on my radar at all, but this is one Guide you should definitely not miss out on.
7 Days tells the story of Ravi (Karan Soni, who you will likely remember as Dopinder in the Deadpool films) and Rita (Geraldine Viswanathan, who stole scenes from acting veterans in Blockers and Bad Education). They have been set up on a pre-arranged date by their mothers, and they could not have anything less in common. When a shelter-in-place mandate interrupts their date, Ravi goes back to Rita’s house to await his next move. But with the COVID-19 outbreak wrecking havoc, they end up stuck together for a whole longer than expected. I am sure you can guess just how long based on the title, and I would not blame you for being weary of a romantic dramedy taking place during the on-going pandemic. But the chemistry and humour Soni and Viswanathan share here is genuinely infectious (bad pun, I know) and rather lovely to see blossom over the course of the film. They are terrific at breathing life into these very real characters and do just as well with the drama as they do with the comedy. Thankfully, neither steals the spotlight away from the other, and each of these previous scene-stealers does a great job crafting a truly modern romance. While I was not a fan of the third act pivot, I truly enjoyed watching this odd couple’s journey and can only hope this will not be their last project acting together.
The 25th Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival concludes tonight, November 19, 2021.
For more information and descriptions of all the films, please visit the Reel Asian website.
For more information about tickets to the festival, please visit the Reel Asian box office page.
For more information about donating, please visit this page.