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Oct 7, 2019

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Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival Bridges Past, Present, and Future with its 2019 Lineup

Festival Commemorates Classic Asian Cinema with The Dragon Painter and Looks to the Future of New Media with Joy Kogawa’s East Of The Rockies

Bookending the Festival Lineup are Canadian filmmaker Johnny Ma’s To Live And To Sing and Yellow Rose starring Tony-Award Nominee Eva Noblezada

Festival runs November 7 to 15, 2019

Public tickets on sale today at reelasian.com

Reel Asian Announces its 2019 Lineup

(TORONTO – October 7, 2019) The Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival (Reel Asian), Canada's premier pan-Asian festival, today announced its full 2019 programming lineup which will offer festival goers the opportunity to experience the evolution of Asian representation in cinema. First, the Festival will pay tribute to the past with a 100th anniversary screening of the silent film classic The Dragon PainterStephen Gong, film historian and Executive Director of the Center for Asian American Media will bring the film to Reel Asian for a special screening, presented with a live performance of a reimagined score by singer-songwriter Goh Nakamura. Then, looking to the future of storytelling in media, the Festival presents East of the Rockies, an augmented reality (AR) experience written by one of Canada’s most acclaimed and celebrated literary figures, Joy Kogawa. The Reel Asian Film Festival will take place November 7 to 15, 2019. For the full programming lineup and ticket information, visit reelasian.com

The Festival lineup will open with the latest from Canadian Screen Award-winning director Johnny Ma (Old Stone), To Live to Sing and closing the curtains on the 23rd edition is Yellow Rose, the debut feature from Filipina-American director Diane Paragas led by two-time Tony-nominated actress Eva Noblezada (Hadestown). This year’s lineup consists of 79 films from regions including Canada, China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Afghanistan, Cuba and the United States, 59% of which are directed by women. 

“This year’s programming represents the unstoppable growth of films and new media in all forms through distinctively Asian storytelling,” said Deanna Wong, Executive Director, Reel Asian. “We are proud of the advancements in Asian representation in media and will continue to nurture this evolution through showcasing the best in Asian cinema, adapting to new mediums and offering industry forums that educate a new generation of creators.”

The Festival will also celebrate the previously announced Canadian Spotlight Artist Yung Chang, writer and director of the award-winning 2007 documentary, Up the Yangtze and more recently, This is Not a Movie which premiered at this year’s TIFF. Chang’s career as a director and screenwriter has earned him many accolades including a Golden Horse Award, a Canadian Screen Award, a Don Haig Award at Hot Docs and countless others. The Festival has curated programming honouring Chang’s career including a live reading of his first narrative script Eggplant; a screening of Come Drink With Me, a 1966 classic martial arts film that inspired the main character from Eggplant; and a screening of one of his early documentaries Earth to Mouth. 


The festival’s Marquee section welcomes the stars of the red carpet who are master storytellers that perfect the craft of story, design, acting and adaptation. The lineup includes the Opening and Closing Night Galas To Live and to Sing, about a Sichuan opera troupe displaced by gentrification who seek new opportunities in order to survive and Yellow Rose, following an undocumented Filipina teenager whose dreams of becoming a country singer are put on hold when her mother is arrested in an immigration raid. Making their Canadian Premieres are Ms. Purple, from Twilight actor Justin Chon, the film is set in a karaoke bar in Los Angeles's Koreatown and telling the story of repressed trauma and reconciliation; Lucky Grandma starring beloved Chinese actress Tsai Chin (The Joy Luck Club); and We Are Champions chronicling two teenage brothers with nothing but each other and their love of basketball. The Toronto Premier of We Are Little Zombies rounds out the Marquee section lineup, following four teenaged orphans bonded by tragedy and their shared lack of grief who form a band and become viral rock music sensations.


Dare to explore outside the box with filmmakers from the Vista section, as they take you through their worlds of fiction and documentary, reflecting on connections with their community and their culture. This year’s lineup includes the world premiere of Gyopo; referring to an individual of Korean descent who has been raised abroad, this first feature by Toronto director Samuel Kiehoon Lee tells stories of young gyopos who travel to Korea in search of a fresh start, only to find that they are also outsiders in the country that gave birth to their parents. The short film Into Such Assembly will precede Gyopo and directors of both films will be in attendance at the Festival. Also joining the lineup is John Denver Trending, following a young boy caught in the vicious cycle of cyber-bullying; The Last Stitch, a first documentary feature from Canadian filmmaker Alfred Sung that explores cheongsam and traditional Chinese tailoring; Love Boat: Taiwan, documenting the history of one of the longest-running summer programs in the world, designed for Taiwanese diaspora to fall in love with each other and reconnect with Taiwan; the classic 1919 silent film The Dragon Painter, starring the first Asian American leading man and one of the silent film era’s biggest stars Sessue Hayakawa and presented with a live score by Japanese American singer-songwriter Goh Nakamura; The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan, about an amateur shogi player with hopes of going pro portrayed by Japanese actor Ryûhei Matsuda; and What We Left Unfinished, a compilation of five recovered and unfinished works from Afghanistan’s Communist era pieced together by director Mariam Ghani, who will be in attendance at the Festival.


The Reel Ideas programme blends education and industry at the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival. The program includes dynamic community sessions where emerging and established creative minds come together through panels and artist talks, to envision and inform what the future of Asian cinema in Canada and around the world will look like. Reel Ideas is an extension of Reel Asian’s ongoing mandate to nourish the growth of Asian diaspora in the arts. 

This year’s Reel Ideas special event is Measuring Up with TallBoyz, featuring an Artist Talk with the full cast of CBC’s hit sketch comedy show TallBoyz, Guled Abdi, Vance Banzo, Tim Blair and Franco Nguyen. This event will take place on Wednesday, November 13 at 6:00 pm at The Commons @ 401 Richmond.


Wee Asian returns for its fourth year! Kids can explore the art of moviemaking and fuel their creativity through films, colouring and storytelling sessions from event partner Type Books as well as local author, Thao Lam, reading their recently-released book, My Cat Looks Like My Dad. This free drop-in event takes place Saturday, November 9 from 9:00 am in the TIFF Bell Lightbox Green Room. 

This year’s Wee Asian short film lineup includes: 

In Passing
Little Bird
Ray’s Great Escape
Pit Stop
09:09 F
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

PULSE (Shorts Programme)

This year’s shorts programming features thought-provoking films from around the world that encourage discussions on important topics such as race, gender, activism and anxiety.

This year’s Pulse programming includes:

TURNING POINT: Held at a stand still, these films follow the choices made and risks taken to impel even the smallest of pivots.

WOMXN: A selection of Films by womxn, led by womxn. These stories delve into the nuanced roles that womxn take up to be resilient, resourceful and responsive despite what comes their way.

SPATIAL AWARENESS: Shorts considering our impact and influence on the environments we move through and simultaneously how space informs those very actions.

DRAWN CLOSER: Short animation films showcasing the breadth of artistic craft and talent while inquiring deeper about the world we live in.

DOUBLE ARTICULATION: Five films showcasing the power of digital mediums to show and tell stories, histories, and (re)actions.

A SWEET & SOUR CHRISTMAS: A CBC short documentary from Toronto filmmaker Aram Siu Wai Collier that peers behind-the-scenes at a family-run Chinese restaurant during Christmas time. This short will be preceded by a reading by Ann Hui from her documentary book Chop Suey Nation. A National Food Reporter for The Globe and Mail, Chop Suey Nation chronicles Hui’s adventures exploring Chinese Canadian cuisine while traveling across Canada.

NINE COURSES: Nine films to showcase the myriad of ways food takes part in our lives whether for enjoyment or to confront a difficult situation.

LINGER: Starting from a place of loss, these stories ruminate on what remains and what it takes to move on.

UNSUNG VOICES 8: Fearless first-time female filmmakers who embarked on an intensive summer-long video production workshop now show their work in the world premiere of Unsung Voices 8.


EGGPLANT LIVE SCRIPT READ: A live script read of Canadian Spotlight Artist Yung Chang's first narrative script (in pre-production). The reading will be followed by an Artist Talk with Yung Chang, moderated by Vivian Lin (Killjoys) and a special Gala Reception.

COME DRINK WITH ME: A Spark screening of the 1966 classic martial arts film Come Drink With Me, starring beloved Wuxia actress Cheng Pei-pei (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The film was selected for the Festival by Yung Chang and inspired the main character in his new narrative script, Eggplant.

EARTH TO MOUTH: Directed by Yung Chang, Earth to Mouth (2002) is an exquisitely filmed and meditative look at one complete farm cycle of Asian vegetables and the people who grow them at the Wing Fong Farm in Ontario.


Reel Asian: X showcases film and video projects that stretch beyond the four walls of cinema.

AR Installation: East of the Rockies is an interactive narrative AR experience written by one of Canada’s most acclaimed and celebrated literary figures, Joy Kogawa (Obasan). Kogawa is also a former internee at the Japanese Canadian internment camp at Slocan, BC.

Narrated by Kogawa’s real life grandchild, Anne Canute, this interactive story is told from the perspective of Yuki, a 17-year-old girl forced from her home and made to live in Canada’s Slocan internment camp during the Second World War.


The Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival gratefully acknowledges the support of government funders the Canada Council for the Arts, Government of Canada, Telefilm Canada, Government of Ontario, Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Creates and Toronto Arts Council.

Tickets go on sale today on reelasian.com

About Reel Asian

The Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival (Reel Asian) is a unique showcase of contemporary Asian cinema and work from the Asian diaspora. As Canada’s largest pan-Asian film festival, Reel Asian® provides a public forum for Asian media artists and their work, and fuels the growing appreciation for Asian cinema in Canada. This year’s festival runs in November 2019 in Toronto and North York. Reel Asian will be showcasing special projects featuring prominent artists, content creators, up-and-coming filmmakers and will also include the “Reel Ideas” program for creative minds in the industry to connect. Works presented at Reel Asian include films, videos, and presentations by East, South and Southeast Asian artists in Canada, the U.S., Asia and all over the world.