The Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival showcases “Asian cinema and work from the Asian diaspora.” We’ve covered it before on the site and will do so again this year because there are a ton of great films on the schedule. The festival runs from November 8th to November 19th and it kicked off with Derek Tsang’s Soul Mate.
Soul Mate directed by Derek Tsang
As a Torontonian, I feel obligated to mention that Derek Tsang is a University of Toronto graduate and he’s given us a gem of a film based on the popular Chinese novella July and Ansheng. Soul Mate follows the friendship of Qiyue (July) and Ansheng, which is tested when a boy comes into their lives. Years later, a web story based on their friendship appears and forces Ansheng to confront the memories of her time with Qiyue. Of course, there’s a dark secret to be unraveled as well.
Soul Mate was…unexpected. I didn’t think this film would hook me in the way it did. I was surprised by how well the complicated friendship between these two girls (and later women) was depicted on screen. It came off as authentic and that makes perfect sense since the film had an all-woman script team. Everything about it was effortless: the music, the cinematography, the superb acting by the cast (especially Zhou Dongyu (Ansheng) and Ma Sichun (Qiyue)), the pacing and character development. I felt a full spectrum of emotions and I highly recommend checking out this film if you can.
Tsukiji Wonderland directed by Naotaro Endo
The Tsukiji Fish Market is the world’s largest fish and seafood market located in Japan. This documentary discusses the 80-year-old market’s history before it relocates to Toyosu and explores the relationships between the fishermen, vendors, and restaurants. I really enjoyed how personal the interactions are between everyone at the market, which come off as less of a transaction and more of a genuine appreciation of the process.
I’m pretty picky with my documentaries but what I did enjoy about Tsukiji Wonderland was the food history slant and how much food reveals about ourselves. If you’re a foodie, this is one to watch.
Bad Rap directed by Salima Koroma
I have many thoughts about this documentary that takes a look at Asian-American rappers and their place in the rap scene. I went in already familiar with Awakafina (Girl Code) and Dumbfoundead (Safe) and was really interested in the history of Asian-Americans in rap with Filipino rappers like Masta Plann being among the first in the early 80s.
The documentary moves on to profiles of four Asian-American rappers of today — Dumbfoundead, Rekstizzy, Lyricks and Awkwafina — which included a scene of Rekstizzy trying to justify his vision of squirting mustard and ketchup on black women as they booty shake for his God Bless America video. Would it have been less problematic if you swapped out black women? Yes but it’s also a discussion of inheriting rap’s misogyny problem as well as the other ways in which race in rap comes up a la “battle rap.”
I think this section was particularly interesting to me because I hadn’t noticed how often Asian rappers have to deal with having their race thrown at them during a rap battle. An obvious reason would be the lack of visibility of Asian-Americans in rap, and even though battle rap tends to mean a lot is fair game, going after one’s race (or at least the instances I saw in the doc) came off as low hanging fruit rather than anything truly biting or clever.
The documentary focused a lot on Dumbfoundead who the other rappers seem to look up to. It felt like they were pinning their hopes on him in terms of being an Asian-American to breaking the racial barrier in the genre. I find any discussion of rap or hip hop overall is worth having when we’re exploring race and I hope more of these types of documentaries are made. I enjoyed this one. It had an interesting structure and now I want to take the conversation further. I recommend it.