Joy Osmanski and Hiroshi Watanabe enjoy an awkward moment in White on Rice. Joy Osmanski and Hiroshi Watanabe enjoy an awkward moment in White on Rice.

Now in its 13th year, the Reel Asian Film Festival has gained recognition as one of Toronto’s major film festivals. Autumn in the T-dot offers an array of specialty cinema festivals, so as you narrow down your list of flicks to catch, why is Reel Asian worth checking out?

Of the 49 Asian and Southeast Asian films presented this year, 30 are homegrown Canadian titles. Whether your preferences lean towards political issues—A Schoolgirl’s Diary follows the life of a North Korean adolescent; action—Overheard explores the ethics of surveillance in urban Hong Kong; or even the erotic—The Ache is about a heroine with magical beauty and powers; with the array of selection at the fest, you’re sure to find at least one or two that will catch your interest.

White on Rice 3.5/5
White on Rice is the follow-up to 27-year old American film director, David Boyle’s Big Dreams Little Tokyo (2006). The comedy follows the trials and tribulations of main character Jimmy (Hiroshi Watanabe), as he tries to adjust to American suburban life following a divorce from his wife in Japan. Living under his sister’s roof, the 40-year old bachelor, much to his brotherin- law’s dismay, un-apologetically squats without an end in sight. Watanabe, known for his comedic role in The Last Samurai, undeniably carries the film with his endearing, though at times slightly annoying, demeanor. With a fair amount of laughs and a heartwarming message, the film’s accurate portrayal of the subtle nuances in a Japanese-American family is great for those who want to see something light enough for a date, but substantial enough to remember. Emphasizing the difficulties of cultural and emotional transition, White on Rice exhibits the earnest attempts of a character trying to find love and happiness despite of himself.

Overheard 3/5
Everyone has a secret in this financial crime drama, and perhaps the investigators who are decked out with all the latest surveillance equipment have the most to hide. Set in Hong Kong, Overheard was written and directed by Alan Mak and Felix Chong. You may know Chong’s work, although indirectly, as he also wrote The Departed before Scorsese made a remake for English tastes. The film covers all sorts of moral territory as the cops who overhear the secrets of an insider trading deal decide to cash in on the black market information. Their personal lives also get mixed up with their work as affairs, lies and secrets pile up. While I found myself becoming attached to the characters, I was somewhat tired of caring by the end as the post-climax pulled a CSI-style “I told you so” with the bad guy (who also, somewhat predictably, was the only person to use English in the whole movie).

Fish Story 4/5
Music can save the world, or at least save it indirectly according to Japanese director Yoshihiro Nakamura. A fictional punk rock band that predates the Sex Pistols by one year struggles to get their music released without compromise is only one facet of the story of how the earth was saved from an incoming comet. One flaw this movie may have is that it tries to be too many things at once as it takes itself seriously through rockumentary, martial arts, horror and comedic sequences. While these more serious elements are quite funny, I began to wonder what it was that I was supposed to be feeling. It wasn’t funny enough to be an all-out laugh-fest, but it didn’t take itself seriously enough for me to be moved by its drama.

Yang Gaw 2.5/5
Blantant sound editing problems and poor decision making in the second-half of the plot overcame the few well-crafted moments of terror in this film. The story centres around a rural Phillipino family whose daughter, Amor, returns home due to a mysterious illness. Family loyalty and economic troubles test the characters during Amor’s slow transformation into an aswang monster. Take one part Blair Witch, one part Exorcist, a bit of hunger paradox from Interview with a Vampire, and you get Yang Gaw. The setting and context of the rural Phillipines makes the whole experience feel fresh, but it wasn’t fresh enough to make me ignore all the potential plot outcomes that could have been.

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