10 Film you shouldn’t miss at the 26th Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival

These are ten films you shouldn’t miss at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival which will take place in cinemas and online from November 9 – 20, 2022.

All That Breathes by Shaunak Sen – India | 2022 – 91 minutes

Brothers Saud and Nadeem live in a working-class, predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in New Delhi, where they have made it their lives’ work to care for injured black kites falling from the polluted skies of the city. Having grown up with a fascination for the birds and learning early on that caring for them would keep troubles at bay, the brothers are all consumed with a mission that feels deeply as noble as it is overwhelming, with a record number of birds falling from the sky every day.

Set in an atmosphere of social conflict with protests stemming from India’s anti-Muslim Citizenship Act, director Shaunak Sen masterfully creates a layered and visually breathtaking look into the interconnectedness of a rapidly changing ecosystem. In an evolving and increasingly hostile city, especially for their community, the brothers show us how life endures in awe-inspiring ways and how both cruelty and tenderness can be found everywhere around them. – Mariam Zaidi

November 10, 2022 | Thursday | TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 | 8:45 pm


Bad Axe by David Siev – USA | 2022 – 94 minutes

How do you love a place that doesn’t seem to love you back Director David Siev broaches that question in Bad Axe, a complicated love letter to his hometown. Siev’s dad, a survivor of the Cambodian Killing Fields, has spent decades building a new life in Bad Axe, but the city is not always hospitable to immigrants. Siev’s sister’s outspoken support for Black Lives Matter puts her at odds with her family restaurant’s most loyal, Trump-supporting customers. Unfolding across the turbulent year of 2020, this personal documentary follows Siev’s family as they struggle to keep their restaurant afloat amid family tensions, neo-Nazis, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

At times, the film is an unsettling portrait of racism’s existence in our everyday lives, but it equally insists on being about family and community. In his feature-documentary debut, Siev gives us an intimate account of a family in troubled times, fraught with uncertainty, yet held by a bond as deep as roots go.– Ron Ma

November 11, 2022 | Friday | TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 | 9:00 pm


Beyond Extinction: Sinixt Resurgence by Ali Kazimi – Canada | 2022 – 98 minutes

When a man from the “extinct” Sinixt people in what’s called British Columbia’s Slocan Valley challenges his deportation to the United States, the question arises: How can his people be extinct when he is very much alive? Decorated filmmaker Ali Kazimi’s new documentary traces a decades-long fight by Sinixt elder Marilyn James to have her people’s existence recognized amid threats from colonial bureaucratic erasure, corporate interests, and land claims from other groups.

Told with the hallmarks of Kazimi’s style, Beyond Extinction involves a mixture of observational footage, contemporary interviews, oral histories, survival stories told by matriarchs, and personal as well as public archives, to tell a story that’s never told before. Shot over decades from the 1990s to our present day, the temporal trajectory of the film and its featured subjects gives us vital perspective on our collective place on this land and how we choose to fight for our legacies. – Aram Siu Wai Collier

November 12, 2022 | Saturday | TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 | 2:30 pm
Also available online from November 14 – 20, 2022


Crossing by Deann Borshay Liem – USA | 2022 – 94 minutes

In a crucial feminist interrogation of inter-Korean politics and U.S. imperialism, Crossings follows international women activists attempting to cross the 38th parallel, demanding an end to the ongoing Korean War. With incisive style, Deann Borshay Liem documents the Women Cross DMZ movement—including Christine Ahn, Leymah Gbowee, and Gloria Steinem—as they undertake a precarious peacemaking journey.

Weaving interviews with modern and archival footage, Liem exposes the lingering scars of the so-called Forgotten War and the complexity of the political landscape left in its wake. Women Cross DMZ’s struggle to navigate conflicting political interests, including the movement’s own controversial racial and national politics, lays bare the frustrating and arduous nature of collective action.

With rare attention to the intersections of gender and war, Crossings offers not a romantic fairytale but a reckoning with the moral ambiguity of past and present —and dares to look to the future with hope.  – Blythe Shulan Hunter

November 10, 2022 | Thursday | OCADU Auditorium | 7:00 pm
Also available online from November 14 – 20, 2022

Dream Palace by Ka Sung-moon – Korea | 2022 – 112 minutes

Hye-jeong leaves a protest group of closely knit families, mourning the victims of an industrial accident, to which she also lost her husband. To move on with her life, she buys a sparkly new apartment with the settlement money, but things go awry when she notices the unit’s construction defects that render her and her son without any usable water. When she attempts to get the problem fixed, an unexpected group stops her in the act: her new neighbours. Beyond being ostracized and called a traitor for accepting the settlement money, Hye-jeong must now stand up against her neighbours, who would do everything in their power to stop her from making the defects publicly known, for fear of their real estate getting devalued.

Having a place you can call your own in this day and age is a luxury, amid skyrocketing housing prices. That is why what seems very local and realistic in Dream Palace also resonates internationally. Seasoned actress Kim Sun-young of Three Sisters (2020) plays Hye-jeong, while the film makes a new discovery with Lee Yoon-ji, who puts up her most persuasive performance to date. The fresh yet ironic struggles between victims against victims will leave an unsettling aftertaste that tears one apart between conscience and the desperate need to survive.  – June Kim

November 13, 2022 | Sunday | TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 | 5:00 pm

Free Chol Soo Lee by Julie Ha and Eugene Yi – USA | 2022 – 86 minutes

San Francisco, 1973. Chol Soo Lee, a young Korean American man, is charged and hastily convicted of murder in Chinatown. Only Lee wasn’t anywhere near the shooting. Marooned in prison, Lee’s case gains notoriety after journalist K.W. Lee’s investigative exposé, which inspires a new generation of Asian American activists to fight for Chol Soo Lee’s release in 1983.

But freedom is elusive in Julie Ha and Eugene Yi’s moving documentary, which covers the rise of a movement and the fall of a man too battered by prison to meet the expectations of him. Expertly layered with extensive archival footage of Lee and contemporary interviews with leaders of the freedom movement, Free Chol Soo Lee is at times a justice-system drama, and a character study—and always empathetic. And it resists the typical salaciousness of the “true crime” genre to show the true human impact, between despair and salvation, on a man yearning to be free. – Aram Siu Wai Collier

November 11, 2022 | Friday | TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 | 6:15 pm


Mama Boy by Arvin Chen – Taiwan | 2022 – 98 minutes

In this oddly sweet and gentle story, Hong, a shy young man, opens his eyes to love when he coincidentally meets Lele, the mistress of a sex worker business.

After a disastrous blind date set up by his mother, Hong is dragged to Lele’s hotel by his cousin. Not yet ready to lose his virginity to one of Lele’s girls, Hong finds himself strangely attracted to the older woman instead. This comes as a revelation for Hong, who has been under the thumb of his mother Meiling all of his life, and has never acted out of his own will. Little does Meiling know that the spark in Hong’s heart for this older, experienced, and unapproved woman will truly mark the beginning of Hong’s growth into adulthood.

Two multi-talented singer-actor heartthrobs from different generations, Kai Ko and Vivian Hsu, play the awkward yet warm couple who find comfort in each other. After a break of almost 10 years since Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, Mama Boy is a welcomed return for Arvin Chen that will bewilder you with its magical colour palettes and characters that grow in you as well as on the screen. – June Kim

November 12, 2022 | Saturday | TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 | 9:00 pm


Noise by Ryūichi Hiroki – Japan | 2022 – 128 minutes

Keita is the hero and the hope of the remote island Shishikari thanks to his flourishing fig business, which is about to bring in a large government grant and revitalize the community. Then an ex-convict arrives, disturbing the island’s peace. Keita’s daughter goes missing, and because someone witnesses the ex-convict committing murder, they chase after the highly likely suspect in hopes of finding the child. But an accident ensues, and to make matters worse, Keita and his friends find themselves with unwanted corpses. Soon, detectives from the mainland arrive, and covering up what happened becomes increasingly difficult.

Based on a manga by Tetsuya Tsutsui, Noise is a suspenseful drama full of twists and turns. The great Battle Royale (2000) actor Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama of Blue (2021) reunite after the Death Note films for another synergic collaboration. With the direction of Ryūichi Hiroki, a film and television veteran, Noise delves into more than just unravelling the mystery, through its study of friendship, grudges, and desires. — June Kim

November 10, 2022 | Thursday | TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 | 8:30 pm


Some Women by Quen Wong – Singapore | 2021 – 71 minutes

In this reflective documentary, director Quen Wong turns the lens toward the intimate and vulnerable in her own life as a trans woman in Singapore, making time and space to honour acts of looking and being seen, moments of being fearful and working to communicate, and reflecting on past decisions in order to make new ones. Though gentle and quiet, these gestures are powerfully earnest, and refreshingly honest.

Against the context of a conservative nation-state, Some Women also uses dialogue and gathering to address a fuller spectrum of queer life on the island, threading Wong own story with recollections and perspectives from other generations of trans women, through the accompaniment of Sanisa and Lune Loh. These moments in the film archive and celebrate trans and queer folks’ evolving strategies for survival, protest, celebration, and continuance. Through Some Women, Wong practices vulnerability so as to request it from others, and celebrates herself so she can celebrate others. The lens is up close and personal, enmeshed fully in the act of bearing witness.- Jasmine Gui

November 12, 2022 | Saturday | TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 | 2:00 pm
Also available online from November 14 – 20, 2022


Stay The Night by Renuka Jeyapalan – Canada | 2022 – 94 minutes

When reserved, late-bloomer Grace gets passed up for a major promotion at work, she tries to break out of her shell by pursuing a one-night stand at the club. Her choice in partner, Carter Stone, an NHL player at a crossroads, is having an equally rough night. After an initial meet-cute and disastrous attempt at a hookup, the two walk Toronto’s wintry streets, wandering from bar to skating rink to office, slowly but surely finding common ground as the night progresses.

Kim’s Convenience’s Andrea Bang shines in a dramatic role as rigid Grace, whose acerbic stubbornness adds a bumbling comedy, as she learns where she can bend without breaking. The feature debut of veteran Canadian TV writer and director Renuka Jeyapalan, Stay The Night showcases delightfully familiar locals-only Toronto hangouts, while asking us to lose ourselves in a version of the city where a brief encounter doesn’t have to mean a transaction. – Vidhya Elango

November 11, 2022 | Friday | TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 | 8:30 pm
Also available online from November 14 – 17, 2022

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