Author: Ada Wong

Review: Sky on Fire

Sky on Fire, in title, draws on the legacy of Hong Kong action film heavyweight Ringo Lam’s box office success of the 1980s such as City on Fire and Prison on Fire. Joseph Chang and Amber Kuo portray siblings who become embroiled in a battle between pharmaceutical companies whilst they desperately seek a cure for her terminal cancer. Joining them are company chief security officer (Daniel Wu), and pharmaceutical heir (Zhang Ruoyun) as loyalties and morality become muddled in a fight for x-stem cells, justice, and a young girl’s life. While Ringo Lam remains a long way from his greatest commercial successes that helped shaped the genre of Hong Kong Actions films, a lot of his trademarks and favourite themes make an appearance in Sky on Fire. Characters are placed in precarious situations, forced into double loyalties, but best of all placed into highly suspenseful situations frequently involving car chases and a rain of gunfire. Lam’s never lost his flare for splashy chase scenes intercut with sequences of close combat, and issuing guns that seem to have endless bullets for entire sequences, only to conveniently run out when the hero’s life hangs in the balance. Sky on Fire‘s greatest downfall is its overcomplicated plot and muddled presentation. Lam introduces a futuristic element not present in his iconic films that’s utterly distracting and does nothing to further the story, worse is that...

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EUFF 2016 Review: Mom and Other Loonies In the Family

Mom and Other Loonies in the Family is a multigenerational story featuring 94-year-old Berta, spanning four generations of family tales. Part wiry drama, part Hungarian history lesson, we experience the trials and tribulations of evolving values, religious persecution, and national identity through their experiences. Ibolya Fekete’s film tells not only of a single woman’s life but the history of the nation covering 100 years that include two world wars, a revolution, and other political and religious strife. She paints a picture of familiarity to many Hungarian and Central and Eastern European families, but one that is less familiar to many in North America. The film strikes a balanced tone, utilizing a mix of historical and newly created footage. It’s interesting to see the bustle of a city that is also in ruins at the same time, as well as dated propaganda in a country caught between communism and fascism. All these elements combine nicely to enhance the “storytelling” angle of the narrative. Fekete also encapsulates well in a few short conversations, the heartbreak of suddenly becoming a ‘foreigner’ without stepping outside your front door in a reality of war, border disputes, and political instability. Initially it takes some effort to digest the events in the lives of Bertha, her family, and friends, not because they’re not believable but because theirs is a world so far removed from our own. As well,...

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Review: Jean of the Joneses

Jean of the Jones is a multi-generation comedy centred around the women of a Brooklyn family. At the heart of it is Jean, a young writer fresh from a break-up who, together with her mother, aunts, and grandmother, must contend with a buried chapter of their past when a long estranged family member shows up at the door one day and then promptly dies. What we have here is some fresh and hilarious family dysfunction. More adult coming-of-age than feminist-themed despite its predominant female cast, it features a natural lead performance from Taylour Paige in the role of Jean. Paige embodies Jean’s every awkward nuance to echo the way the character approaches life, making her odd and wonderful at the same time in her displacement. Jean of the Jones contains many characters whose lives are so dysfunctionally over the top, but they play off well against Jean, rescuing the film from exaggerated dramedy, instead making the whole experience feel lively and refreshing. The male roles do feature weaker, stock characters, but overall filmmaker Stella Meghie strikes a good balance. She understands the scope of the movie and doesn’t set her sights beyond it, helping to create light-hearted, amicable tale that leaves the audience walking away with a...

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Reel Asian 2016 Review: Tsukiji Wonderland

The Tsukiji Fish Market is renown as being the biggest fish market in the world, a well deserved title but some feel that doesn’t even properly describe Tsukiji as it is in many aspects one of a kind. In Tsukiji Wonderland we get an in-depth look at the market and its inner-workings, from the 14,000 people that play various roles working within the market, to chefs who reap the benefits of their expertise, to researchers and archivists looking to encapsulate into words the magic that exists within this institution. Much of Tsukiji Wonderland feels like it’s dedicated to the praise of their ‘Intermediate Wholesalers’, which is not unfounded given the importance of their role in selecting the fish that is best suited for their clientelle. Celebrity chefs, fishmongers, and virtually everyone they interact with comments on their distinct knowledge and the great focus they place on relationships with their customers, recognizing how that is even more important than the fish itself. From their different perspectives, we gain an understanding of how complex the role of the Intermediate Wholesaler really is, and how they may be the unifying element within the market. Truly the compliments are endless throughout the film, it drives the message home but at points reach redundancy for the audience. Audiences are also given a glimpse of the different areas of the market, from the ice manufacturing workers,...

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EUFF 2016 Review: A Noble Intention

Kicking off the European Union Film Festival for 2016 is Joran Lursen’s A Nobel Intention, based on events from the book “Publieke Werken” (Public Works) by Thomas Rosenboom about the troubles encountered during the construction of the famed Victoria Hotel in Amsterdam. The story is told from the perspective of cousins Vedder, a cabinet turned violin maker, and Anijs, a chemist overstepping his bounds in his medical practices.  When each of the two men encounter their own set of troubles, Vedder with negotiating the sale of his house on the site of the future Victoria Hotel, and the threat of malpractice looming over Anijs after he tries to help a family of peat farmers, the two men come up with an idea that exercises social conscience and gets them out of their binds all at the same time. Though events were partially fictionalized, A Nobel Intention is an interesting story to behold, giving us glimpses from different perspectives. The narrative drags for the first half of the film, as audiences are introduced to an array of characters. The plot meanders as we’re left guessing who the important people are, and who we’re meant to sympathize with. For example, we begin with one cousin, out for personal gain but well-meaning in relationships with his neighbour and family, who descends into deception and mental instability as time goes on. However as...

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Reel Asian 2016 Review: Soul Mate

The Reel Asian Film Festival kicks off Tuesday, November 8, 2016 with Derek Tsang’s Soul Mate. A moving tale of friendship between two young women that is put to the test when a young man enters their life, soon followed by other harsh realities that growing up can bring. This is the story of 20 years portraying the ebb and flow of a relationship between two women. Ansheng and Qiyue become friends amidst a moment of mischief in the schoolyard when they are 13 and form a bond that will connect them for better or worse throughout their lives, in which they will share their most inner desires, secrets, and dreams. Each girl’s admiration for the other entwines them, but in moments of jealousy also rips them apart. The wedge causing their greatest divide being Jia-Ming, Qiyue’s boyfriend whose devotion and repressed emotions could destroy them all. It’s limiting to classify any film as appealing to one particular gender, but if there was ever a film targeting young women and marginalizing the importance of males, Soul Mate might be it. On one hand it’s nice to see a film focusing on female friendships that don’t rely on physical comedy gags, or cliché man-hating rants. Soul Mate truly centralizes on Qiyue and Ansheng, with the male lead Jia-Ming present in a clearly-defined supporting role. Jia-Ming’s character is somewhat weak, and given the...

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Cinéfranco 2016 Review: Rebellious Girl

Laila is no stranger to activist causes at home in Morocco, but when she decides to help support her family by taking a job in Belgium as a migrant working on Andre’s pear and apple farm, she discovers a new fight as she strives for fair treatment and better working conditions for herself and her fellow labourers in a foreign land. Laila rallies her peers and brings out their fierce spirit, and she unites them in a battle to stand up for themselves. Jawad Rhalib’s sophomore film is rooted in realism and deftly ties together two nations dealing with conflict of a very different nature through a single character. His camera takes on an observational role, as if to create a cinema verite style. Laila is the predominant focus but with minimal backstory presented for everyone on screen, the audience soon learns as much about those whose spirit and passions she incites as they know about Laila herself. Later on in the film there are glimpses into Andre’s struggles running the farm as well, but those are largely recorded in an unsympathetic manner. When it comes to storytelling, there are instances when one can perhaps be too straightforward. Regrettably Rebellious Girl‘s narrative unfolded more like a flow chart, where one thing happens, that leads to the next, and then to the next in a linear fashion with little dramatic...

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