Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Film reviews: Reel Asian

Simon Chung charts world-shattering frictions

Reel Asian has another satisfying crop of films this year beginning Wed, Nov 23. Its queer and local works are particularly strong, further cementing its position as one of the better festivals in the city.

For evidence, look no further than the artist spotlight on writer/director Simon Chung. With only a handful of films under his belt, Chung is already a force to be reckoned with. His films frequently highlight characters who reside between worlds of language, race and sexuality. A dual citizen of Canada and Hong Kong, Chung’s movies are thoughtful and humorous reflections on what happens when worlds collide.

His debut feature Innocence (Thu, Nov 24 at 8:30pm; all films mentioned in this story screen at Innis Town Hall at 2 Sussex Ave) is a captivating look at a family in flux as they move from Hong Kong to Canada. On what seems to be a short trip to visit their uncle in Toronto, Eric and his sister Doris are informed by their parents that their move is a more permanent one. Angered and isolated, Eric (Timothy Lee) pushes away from his family while trying to carve out a life in his new country.

In adjusting, Eric soon develops crushes on the men around him. Fawning over his straight jock cousin at first, his affection eventually lands him in the lap of Larry, an older white man. But Eric soon develops feelings for bad boy Jim at school and when he tries to make a move one night, Jim gets weirded out. Soon people at school are talking and, enduring taunts of “faggot,” Eric isolates himself even further.

Meanwhile mom and dad’s constant bickering takes its toll and Eric soon finds out that the move to Canada was not easy for them, either, so he hides some darker secrets. Eric’s propensity for falling in love eventually has him smuggling his new Chinese friend Ah Cheng into the US. But things are not as they seem and Eric eventually learns some hard lessons on his quest for affection.

Innocence is a refreshing slice of queer Asian cinema, a warm and down-to-earth look at a family that can barely keep it together. The film’s strong point is that it gives realistic portrayals for each of the characters (Jovita Adrineda is particularly good as the mother) and the film doesn’t get too carried away with coming-of-age sentimentality.

Chung’s previous short works are also screened together as part of the program Of Love And Minorities (Sat, Nov 26, at 12:30pm). The program is worth it alone for Chung’s 1998 short Stanley Beloved. Kevin and James are two cutie-pie teenagers who spend their afternoons chilling, smoking weed and waxing unpoetic about Stanley, the city in Hong Kong where they live. But James’s parents are sending him to school in England and he must reconcile his feelings for Kevin before it’s too late.

First Love And Other Pains from 2001 tells the story of Mark, a student in Hong Kong who falls in love with his severely messed-up English teacher. Chung’s short makes you reconsider the student-teacher fantasy altogether.

What It Feels Like For A Grrrl is a shorts program with a lot of kick (Sat, Nov 26, 4:30pm). My favourite is Mishann Lau’s You’re Dead After School. When a young girl is bullied at school she decides to take it out on her Barbies. But her dolls turn out to be her biggest ally in this delightful horror send-up. Also of note is Nicole Chung’s Sweater People. Lesbian chic drug abuse hasn’t looked this hot since High Art. Kate is a struggling student who takes up the call of drug running to get by while her roommate Alex tries being an amateur pornographer. A subtle kiss indicates there’s something going on beneath the surface.

I’d also recommend Annie Ong: Lost And Found from the same program. It’s the follow-up documentary to The Last Seven Days Of Annie Ong by director/ subject Jeanette Loakman, who was adopted by British parents in Singapore and has been searching for her birth mother for more than 20 years. Her search ends in this movie, as we see her actually connect with her Chinese mom and the dynamics that play out with her current family. Her adopted mother has a hard time coping and Jeanette is quite candid about the growing tensions and dysfunctions her expanded family brings about.