Reel Asian Film Festival 2012: Graceland Review (Kirk Haviland)

Reel Asian Film Festival 2012

Graceland (2012)

Starring Arnold Reyes, Menggie Cobarrubias, Dido De Le Paz and Ella Guevara

Written and Directed by Ron Morales

One of the grittiest films to play Reel Asian this year is the crime thriller Graceland from the Philippines. Not to be confused with the lavish estate of Elvis in Memphis, Graceland in this case refers to the seedy underground that inhabits and seeps out of every pore of the city of Manila. A place where everything has a price and nothing appears to be as it seems.

Marlon Villar (Reyes) is a pious family man who minds his own business, takes care of his daughter Elvie (Guevara) and visits his bed-ridden wife at the hospital every night. He holds down a day job as a chauffeur for a powerful and corrupt politician named Chango (Cobarrubias). Marlon’s world falls apart when Elvie becomes the victim of a botched kidnapping and ransom plot against Chango, when the kidnappers mix her up with Chango’s daughter. As the sole witness, Marlon becomes tangled between the kidnappers, Chango and the police, all while stopping at nothing to get Elvie back.

A well thought out script and tight direction is at the heart of this tense thriller. Reyes and Cobarrubias are both excellent here. The men are at different ends of the social ladder yet they both are bonded by Chango’s secret activities of which Marlon has been pressed to be complicit in. The desperation of Reyes’ Marlon is matched by the stoicism of Cobarrubias’ Chango, Marlon being his number one suspect. The film jumps between the parents trying to track down the children and the kidnappers trying to stay ahead of them. The film creates a sense of atmosphere and building tension around each corner instead of your typical action shoot out.

The city of Manila, and all its griminess, becomes an integral supporting character in the film as we work through the backstreets in and out of brothels and seedy hotels along the way. Even the hospital, in which Marlon’s wife stays, feels like it has a thin layer of grime on everything. Manila is a place where you can buy a 14 year old girl, the same age as the daughter in question, for your sexual pleasure almost as easily as food on the street. The level of corruption on display plays heavily in to the motivations and decisions of the characters we follow throughout the film.  The actions of the past rest heavily on the shoulders of these two fathers.

One of the better thrillers I have seen all year, Graceland has a way of staying with you after it’s over. A bold film that is not afraid of taboo subject matter, Graceland is definitely a film to keep an eye out for. Graceland is a solid 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.

Follow me directly on twitter @moviejunkieto and by liking my Facebook page at Movie Junkie TO

Email me at moviejunkieto@gmail.com

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