Reel Asian Film Festival 2012: Cold Steel Review (Kirk Haviland)

Reel Asian Film Festival 2012

Cold Steel (2012)

Starring Peter Ho, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Jia Song, Mickey Ho, Ringo Yu and Wilson Chu

Written by David Wu, Li Xiao-Min

Directed by David Wu

Making a welcome return to Chinese action filmmaking after a long absence working in North American television, frequent John Woo collaborator David Wu brings us Cold Steel. After a very successful showing at Fantasia in Montreal this year, the war-time epic has finally made its Toronto debut thanks to Reel Asian and co-presenter Toronto After Dark. So how does Mr Wu’s Cold Steel stack up to the classic films of Woo’s that he worked on?

In 1938, during the second Sino-Japanese War, Mu Lianfeng (Ho), a 19-year-old orphan, watches an American military plane crash in the forest. Lianfeng comes to the pilot’s rescue and takes him to his village where Liu Yan (Song) has transformed her teashop into a makeshift hospital. As the pilot gradually recuperates, a relationship between the three slowly blossoms. However, when Lianfeng defends Liu Yan against soldiers of the Nationalist army, commander Wu (Xinyu) arrests him. On their way back to base their convoy is attacked by a Japanese sniper who is eventually neutralized by Lianfeng. Impressed, squad leader Zhang Mengzi (Leung Ka-fai) selects him to take part in an assassination mission targeting four Japanese generals. However when nothing goes as planned, Japanese general Massaya (Chu) is infuriated prompting him to send out his best sharpshooters to take down every last one of them.

The strongest part of Cold Steel lies in its action sequences, of which there are tons. Having expert action director and editor Wu behind the lens helps elevate these to things of beauty. The script is goofy with many tongue in cheek gags and situations. Our lead is a goofy, gangly treat with a face a rubber as Jim Carrey as he mugs his way through awkward situations. The love interest is a gorgeous older woman, which could have been a risky choice but it works well in this context. The relationship between Lianfeng and Liu Yan plays out modestly, yet honestly, and helps give Lianfeng’s decisions more weight and gravitas. Chu is way over the top here, in a performance that goes almost entirely cartoon bad guy. This performance and the not so subtle fleecing of the Japanese characters in the film, it is decidedly one-sided, may alienate some. But having the director Wu actually execute the English subtitles himself leads to a lot less confusion and misinterpretation of the humor and dramatic sequences of the film, some of the things that can occasionally get lost in translation.

But as I have said, the real bread and butter are the action sequences. The ambush scene where Lianfeng proves his worth is a tightly directed treat. The final sequence where an entire village is decimated is an explosion bonanza. Throughout the film the bullets zip by with authentic pace and timing, the film does a great job of depicting just how devastating a sniper rifle can be in the right hands. Freely borrowing from films like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Bourne Ultimatum, director Wu incorporates his own spin on films that have served as inspiration to him over the years. Wu also decides to use practical explosions and effects work to heighten the tension and reality of the film, especially with the intricacies of some of the well-executed stunt work.

A solid action film, not without its issues, Cold Steel offers wall-to-wall action and should be more than enough to please any action fan. Wu proves he is more than ready to step into the spotlight and his next effort should be eagerly anticipated. Cold Steel is a recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Top 5 Reasons To Check Out Reel Asian Film Fest 2012 (Kirk Haviland)

Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival

November 6-11 Toronto

November 16-17th Richmond Hill, Ontario

Toronto’s largest and oldest all Asian film festival, Reel Asian, will play out on screens across Toronto and Richmond Hill over the next week and a half. One of Toronto’s bigger and most recognizable festivals, the 16th edition of Reel Asian brings us over 60 films, feature length and short form, from over 13 countries. Without delving too extensively into the myriad of options available, we will simply highlight the five most intriguing reasons to attend based on what we have seen on the schedule.

Seeking Asian Female

#5 – Seeking Asian Female

One of the most intriguing documentaries playing at this year’s fest, Seeking Asian Female is about a man named Steven, a man in his 60’s with “yellow fever” who is desperate to meet a nice subservient Chinese woman to become his bride, much to the chagrin of Chinese documentarian Debbie Lum. After meeting a 30 year old named Sandy online and marrying her, Steven soon discovers she is not the docile mate he had expected and we follow the aftermath of his decision.

A Fish

#4 – A Fish

A rarity for Reel Asian, A Fish is a 3D film about a man’s search for his lost wife. He hires a private detective who informs him that his wife is living the life of a shaman and communicating with spirits on tiny Jindo Island. Jeon Hyuk goes off in search of his wife and we see all of the fantastical elements of the island in stunning 3D. A Fish will likely be the most visually stimulating film of the fest.

Valley of Saints

#3 – Valley of Saints

After winning multiple awards at the Sundance Film Festival, Valley of Saints makes its Toronto Premiere. Set in the Dal Lake region of Kashmir, Valley of Saints is the story of Gulzar, a young man in search of his future. Working as a boatman, Gulzar becomes involved in the work of scientist Asifa, who is collecting water samples to test. When shocking results come back from the samples, Gulzar must decide what he will do in the wake of the news.

Wolf Children

#2 – Animated Goodies – Tatsumi and Wolf Children

Each film screening separately at the fest, Tatsumi is a documentary on one of the most revered anime creators of all time, Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Tatsumi was one of the first manga masters to start bringing dark adult themes and tones to the medium, transforming it from simply the majority of child aimed and based material that dominated it before. Sure to contain brilliant visual demonstrations of his talent, the film has already screened in Cannes and Rotterdam.

Wolf Children is the new anime from the director of Summer Wars and The Girl who Leapt Through Time, Mamoru Hosoda. The visuals displayed from the film during the Reel Asian press conference were enough to get me on board as this film looks to have the charm of a Princess Mononoke. This coming of age story could be one of the hits of the fest.

Cold Steel

#1 – TAD Co-Presentations – Graceland and Cold Steel

The Toronto After Dark Film Festival will be co-presenting two films this year, also screening separately, at Reel Asian aimed straight at genre fans. Graceland is a taut noir film set in the streets of Manila. Marlon is a family man taking care of his daughter Elvie and frequently visiting his bed-ridden wife in the hospital. But Marlon’s life takes a drastic twist when his daughter is mistaken for that of a local gangster’s and is kidnapped. Marlon must now decide just how far he is willing to go to get her back.

And last but not least is Cold Steel from the long-time editor for John Woo and sometimes action director, David Wu. Being hailed as a Chinese war epic, and using a lot of bone crunching action packed choreographed fight sequences, Cold Steel is the story of a hunter turned sniper torn between the woman he is growing to love and his mentor. In the hands of a true action master like Wu, Cold Steel looks to live up to the hype and not disappoint.

For more information on the fest check out the Festival Website, complete with schedule and detailed info on all the films.

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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Email me at moviejunkieto@gmail.com

Fantasia 2012 – Top 10 (11) Films of the Festival

I’ve had about one week to marinate on everything that happened during Fantasia 2012. I was no stranger to the festival scene, but in no way was I prepared for a festival the size of Fantasia, particularly the social aspect. I assumed that I would watch 3-4 movies a day and then write up 2-3 reviews each morning. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only did my lower back start to give out after about 10 days, limiting the number of movies I could comfortably sit through in a day, but my sleep time was sliced in half by nightly trips to the Irish Embassy, Fantasia’s festival bar of choice. Each night would see debates about movies that screened that day and encouraging recommendations for movies that I had missed. Also, some very real friendships were made and I have no doubt that anyone who fully immerses themselves in Fantasia will have a nearly identical experience. An experience that no true movie buff  should be without. However, the social aspect aside, film festivals are about the movies.

I knocked back about 60 screenings, but this was still only a sampling of the 160+ film program. I saw a few stinkers, and a fair share of mediocre films (as is true about ANY festival), but I also witness some GREAT ones. I’ve managed to compile a numbered list of what I feel are the top 11 movies that I saw at Fantasia. Any film that appears on this list is definitely worth a watch, while the ones towards the bottom are a must see! I also want to thank everyone at Fantasia for having me and to all the wonderful cinephiles that I met throughout my stay. I’m already counting down for next year.

11. Replicas

Review

Replicas displayed some fresh dialogue and screenwriting at the tail end of the festival and I was very thankful for the experience. The beginning is stellar, while the rest of the film falls victim to some rather generic plotting. However, the entire movie features some gorgeous photography and some excellent directing.

10. Resolution

Review

Resolution was one of the few horror movies on display at Fantasia, largely do to the number of quality horror titles available this year. However, Resolution is included on this list, not as a nod at the horror genre, but purely based on its own merits. Some great performances from the lead actors and very original screenwriting highlight the film.

9. Black’s Game

Review

The drug trade is not of much interest to me, but cold snowy settings are. I’m very happy that I chose to check out this Icelandic thriller as it was possibly the movie with the best pacing out of the entire festival.

8. Game of Werewolves

Review

Game of Werewolves starts out as a funny film, but has multiple scenes that are an absolute riot. Add to this director Moreno’s masterful understanding of what made horror movies fun in the 80’s and you end up with an incredibly enjoyable movie with nothing but practical effects. A very accessible horror/comedy for true fans and the masses alike.

7. Dead Sushi

Review

Want to immerse yourself in a J-splatter movie and learn something in the process? If so, then Dead Sushi is for you as it features the most sushi violence out of any movie in the last 100 years! Also, you will learn proper sushi etiquette and some secret tips to make your sushi infinitely more delicious. Dead Sushi was a riot with an audience. Danger!

6. Cold Steel

Review

Cold Steel is a great sniper movie with a heart of gold. Exciting, funny, and at times emotionally gripping, this is not to be missed by fans of Asian cinema, although I would strongly recommend it to anyone.

5. Jackpot

Amateur crime gone horrible wrong. Buckets of blood are spilled accidentally in this hilarious crime/comedy about a few relatively normal guys hoping to get rich quick. Despite some one-dimensional characters there are some fabulous performances which you’ll remember for years. Pling!

4. Wrong

Review

Hands down the weirdest movie at the festival, although it manages to feel logical by the end of it. Another very funny film that deserves to be seen by everyone, regardless of your taste. Words will not do it justice.

3. Grabbers

Another great horror/comedy with some amazing laughs, a great script, CGI and practical effects, and just an all-around good night out at the movies.

2. Afro Tanaka

Review

I walked into Afro Tanaka to kill some time, but it wound up being my second favourite movie of the festival. Funny how that works. Afro is pretty much a Bro-mantic comedy, but has some incredible facial acting combined with some laughs which will catch anyone off-guard. Highly recommended!

1. Crave

Review

I have been a champion of Crave since the moment the credits started to roll. A great movie with intriguing characters, a great story, and some very original and professional use of classic cinematic devices. Also it’s a directorial feature debut that succeeds wonderfully. What’s not to like?

Did I make good choices? Awful ones? Leave a comment and let me know.

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