If the biggest headlines from Toronto are usually reserved for the Hollywood stars and the upscale English-language movies poised for the upcoming Oscars race, there is much else in the selection worthy of discovery. The strong selection from Asia is a highlight.
Asia (and Australasia) is always strongly represented in Toronto, a reflection of the globe-trotting selectors’ determination to show the diversity of Far Eastern cinema, and also of the city’s multicultural mix. This year is no exception.
The Asian line-up ranges from the unashamedly commercial (“Veteran,” which last week became the 10th highest grossing Korean film of all time), to the experimental (Christopher Doyle’s “Hong Kong Trilogy,” a fiction film with a narrative strung together from documentary footage). It stretches from big-budget, starry Chinese drama (“Mr. Six” pictured) through to the low-budget miracles of Southeast Asia, where powerful features (Erik Matti’s “Honor Thy Father” or Joko Anwar’s “Copy of My Mind”) are made for less than a Hollywood executive’s annual expense account.
In “A Tale of Three Cities,” Mabel Cheung employs top stars Tang Wei and Sean Lau to retell more of the remarkable story of Jackie Chan’s parents, a drug peddling widow and a spy on the run — material she previously covered in 2003 investigative documentary “Traces of a Dragon.” Ace Australian cinematographer and visual artist Doyle set out to tell a tale of three generations, but fortuitously ended up documenting last year’s pro-democracy Occupy Central movement in his adopted Hong Kong home town.
Others focus on epic journeys: 2,000 kilometers on foot through the Himalayas for the pilgrims in Zhang Yang’s “Paths of the Soul” and across the vast wastes of the Outback for a terminally ill taxi driver in Jeremy Sims’ “Last Cab to Darwin.”
For still others in the selection, the journeys are shorter and more personal — and in some cases they even end up in uplifting places. For the young man in Stephen Page’s “Spear,” on a traditional Aboriginal journey of initiation, the discovery is spiritual. For the jilted woman back in her home town in He Ping’s “The Promised Land,” it is emotional and romantic. For Matthew Saville’s protagonists in “A Month of Sundays” the bumpy ride is one of family conflict, mourning, suburban strife and improbable salvation. For the baker and the old lady who offers unsolicited help in Naomi Kawase’s “An” (which premiered in Cannes) the process is one that involves opening their hearts to reveal old wounds.
Toronto (and Venice, where it was the closing film) has secured “Mr. Six,” a potential crowd-pleaser starring director Feng Xiaogang and Zhang Hanyu, which is set for a peak-season Christmas release. Similarly, Toronto has scored a coup in “Guilty.” The film is the latest vehicle for “Lunchbox” star Irrfan Khan.
Toronto’s lineup appears designed to prove that the Hong Kong film industry — under pressure and overshadowed by its mainland Chinese big brother — is flourishing.
In addition to “Trilogy” and “Three Cities,” Sylvia Chang delivers her heart-felt musical “Murmur of the Hearts” and Hong Kong veteran producer Nansun Shi brings Eric Khoo’s Singaporean erotic drama “In the Room.” Superstar Chow Yun-fat and Chang get all corporate in “Office,” directed by Hong Kong icon Johnnie To, from a story by Chang. Hong Kong’s Soi Pou-Cheang also delivers world class action directing in “SPL2,” which shows in the Midnight Madness section.
But if accolades are to be awarded by nationality, Australia claims the crown. It has three shorts and 10 features in the Toronto lineup, including the already acclaimed debut “The Daughter” by Simon Stone and Jocelyn Moorhouse’s period drama “The Dressmaker.” That boasts a stellar cast including Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth and Hugo Weaving.