Toronto hosts first Asian film festival

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By Jill Koskitalo

If you love short films like The Cat Came Back and The Log Driver’s Waltz but feel the National Film Board somehow just isn’t multicultural enough, your prayers have been answered.

Apparently, the folks in charge of bringing those amusing (and often very confusing) moment to Canadiana to life grew tired of Inuit and French-Canadian lore and decided to go eat. Far east.

The result is the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, sponsored by Canada’s Year of Asia Pacific (which helps foster Canadian business relations with Asian countries) and helped along the way by the fine staff at the NFB.

Running Nov. 20 to 23 at the Bloor Cinema and the John Spotton Theatre (at Richmond and John Sts.), the festival is a showcase of feature-length and short films by writers, producers and directors of Asian background.

One of the best features is the fest’s closing night film Yellow, by Chris Chan Lee.

The film, which has received rave reviews after U.S. screenings, is the story of eight Korean-American teenagers on the night before graduation.

The focal character is Sin Lee (Michael Daeho Chung), who loses $1,500 of his dad’s money and fears that unless he pays it back, he’ll be forced to work in the family’s convenience store instead of going to college.

What follows is a wild teenage romp through the streets of Los Angeles while Sin Lees friends attempt to scrape up the money. After a succession of misadventures, the gang finds themselves penniless and much worse off than they were before. However, they learn from the experience, grow as people and live to party again another day.

True, the formula sounds familiar, but Yellow remains remarkably fresh. Partly a study of relationships between immigrant parents and their native-born children, the film resonates with a depth not found in films premised on a similar theme.

The cast of Yellow is superb, with veteran actors such as Soon Tek-Oh (he has credits on everything from M*A*S*H to ER) and Amy Hill (the crazy grandma on All-American Girl). Several of the younger actors are worth noting as well, especially Angie Suh and Jason J. Tobin, who both give absolutely hysterical performances and often carry the picture through its few dry spots.

A killer score and great photography make the film captivating.

Yellow is filmed mostly in English (with subtitles for the few scenes in Korean), which makes it accessible to a wide audience.

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