By David Baldwin
The 25th annual Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival kicks off today and runs until November 19. This year’s festival offers a diverse slate of 19 feature films, short films, conferences, panels and more. All are available digitally, alongside an in-person screening of tonight’s Opening Night Film Islands at the Hot Docs Cinema. This is my first year being accredited for the festival, and what a banner year to be a part of. There are so many great titles from other festivals appearing here, many available to Toronto audiences for the first time. Here are just a few of the films you should be keeping on your radar.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes was one of my favourite films I saw at Fantasia this past August, and I am delighted to see it screening here for anyone who missed out. It’s a wild 70-minute(!) must-see centering around Cafe owner Kato (Kazunari Tosa), his co-workers and his friends who discover a time loop on a TV where they can see exactly 2 minutes into the future. The concept may sound complicated and overly sci-fi, but the clever execution is anything but. The cast is having a blast as Director Junta Yamaguchi and Writer Makoto Ueda take the idea of time travel and turn it on its head in unique and unexpected ways. They set the rules very early on, and then spend the rest of the film playing within the confines of them, ever so slightly twisting the narrative in hilarious directions. Watching this group test the waters of what they can achieve or prove with their 2 minute headstart is a truly entertaining experience. Did I mention that the whole thing is edited to look like one continuous shot despite its low budget, DIY aesthetic? That may sound like a knock, but it’s actually more reason for why the film is so great. I am still trying to decipher how Yamaguchi and this cast managed to create certain wild moments, and how they managed to make everything look so seamless. It’s a lot of fun and I cannot wait to experience these Infinite Two Minutes again.
Taipei Suicide Story is another unique entry at this year’s festival. The title is bleak to say the least, but what Writer/Director KEFF has created is nothing short of extraordinary. The film takes place in and around a Taipei hotel specifically designed for suicidal individuals. The staff make their one night stay comfortable, and offer these individuals a variety of items should they decide to go through with their decision. There’s quite a bit of dark humour peppered throughout, and plenty of discussion about dead people (you do not really get to see many of them from what I remember, but there are plenty of body bags present in multiple scenes). Through all of this, the film focuses on a tender love story between a hotel receptionist (played by Tender Huang) and a hotel guest (played by Vivian Sung) who is indecisive about whether to commit suicide or not. The romance and chemistry between the pair is terrific, and the way they capture what it means to be alive and what it means to die is deeply moving and emotionally resonant. There may be a whole lot of death, but there is just as much life and humanity coursing through this Story’s veins. It clocks in at 45-minutes, yet uses its time efficiently and effectively, saying more than dozens of bloated blockbusters that run 3-4x longer.
Inbetween Girl is a quirky coming-of-age teen comedy about Angie Chen (Emma Galbraith), a young mixed-race Asian woman who is not all that popular at her high school. She does not have much time to care though, as she is still reeling from her parents’ sudden divorce. She is not sure how to handle her new family situation, and ends up becoming the secret side piece for the super popular Liam (William Magnuson). As you might imagine, feelings, awkwardness, teenage angst and drama follow Angie at every turn. It is not an original tale and you likely can guess how it all plays out, but Writer/Director Mei Makino injects a sense of honesty into the proceedings that is missing from other films of its ilk. Additionally, she spends time examining race and cultural identity through Angie’s lens while she lives in a predominantly white city. It is not particularly deep, but it does not need to be. This is a modern teenager living through the hellacious time of becoming an adult, and in that respect, Makino and Galbraith succeed at making Angie feel like a genuinely lived-in character with a rich backstory. Inbetween Girl may touch on a few too many things (and does not stick the landing the way I hoped it would), but it is a noble effort that I can admire and appreciate for how different it feels from its contemporaries.
Hoping to share my thoughts on a few other titles over the course of the festival including Islands, Try Harder!, See You Then and whatever Short Films I can place within my schedule!
The 25th Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival runs November 10-19, 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.