Taking a taxi to a gunfight

A journalist and cab driver risk their lives to report from the front lines in A Taxi Driver

Directed by Jang Hoon, A Taxi Driver starts out as a light film about Man-Seob, a cranky cab driver in Seoul. The year is 1980, and the demonstrations against Dictator Chun Doo-hwan’s martial law are an unnecessary wrench thrown into Man-Seob’s routine. He curses the student protestors getting in his way and damaging his taxi.

A widowed single-father with rent to pay, salvation seems to come along when Man-Seob overhears another taxi driver boasting about a foreign customer. For an enormous sum, all the driver has to do is bring the foreigner to Gwangju and back before the curfew. Man-Seob sneaks off and steals the passenger, thinking he’s struck the best deal of his life.

But as they approach Gwangju, things quickly become violent. The military have turned on the students and civilians, shooting, beating and shoving innocents around. Amid the bloodshed, Man-Seob’s passenger, a German journalist, is capturing the violence on tape with the intent of broadcasting the injustice to the world. This quickly puts a target on their backs, as the government has no intention of letting word escape Gwangju.

The film, which had its international premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on Aug. 2, does a superb job not only of depicting the clashes between the military police and demonstrators, but also between the journalist and Man-Seob. Whereas one wants to hightail it back to Seoul, the other wants to edge closer to the front lines. Incredibly, the story is inspired by true events that took place during the Gwangju revolt in 1980.

The tone of the film is intricately linked to Man-Seob’s perception of the demonstrators. While lighthearted in the beginning, the film grows more somber as his eyes are opened to the police’s unnecessary violence, and he sees the bodies gradually pile up. A Taxi Driver is a story of the strength of democracy and the lengths to which people will go either to hoard or share power.


Harnessing the power of the stars

Documentary on fusion power explores alternative to fossil fuels

In Let There Be Light, which had its Quebec premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on July 27, scientists are in a race against time to try to harness the power of the stars in an attempt to find an alternative to fossil fuel. This might sound like a science fiction movie, but it is actually a documentary. Directed by Mila Aung-Thwin and Van Royko, the film sheds light on the experts working on producing fusion energy — the same energy produced by stars.

Whereas nuclear energy, or fission, is the process of harnessing energy by breaking atoms apart, fusion is the collection of energy by pushing and smashing atoms together. This is done using extremely high temperatures — numbering in the millions of degrees Celsius — and collecting the energy from the bonding of two lighter elements to form a heavier atom. It sounds simple enough in theory, but it has yet to be achieved.

Let There Be Light explores some of the challenges facing fusion energy, and who’s working towards achieving the impossible. Notably, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France, which is in the midst of building a massive magnetic fusion generator. The megaproject, composed of over a million pieces, was scheduled to finish in 2019. But amid construction delays, poor management and a blown budget, the project is still far from complete.

Though the theme of fusion might seem far-fetched, as if plucked from the distant future, it has actually been around since the 1940s. The film not only shows where fusion is headed, but also delves into the past to see where it came from. In this way, it deconstructs a difficult scientific field and simplifies it for the audience to understand. The film includes interviews and expert commentary, as well as beautiful cinematography.


The things that divide us

Abu is a personal story of a man trying to reconcile with his father over what he can’t change

Arshad Khan’s Abu is a raw, emotional story of a fraught father-son relationship. The documentary, which had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 16, is composed of found footage, elements of animation, home videos and interviews.

The film follows Khan’s life, starting with his early childhood in Pakistan, continuing with his family’s move to Canada during his teenage years. Whereas Khan embraced Canadian values and multiculturalism, his mother and abu (Urdu for ‘father’) found solace in religion, turning to Islam and the religious community.

Specifically, Abu is a coming-out story for Khan about the difficulties LGBTQ South Asians face when they find themselves at the intersection of modernity and conservatism. The film tells the difficult story of Khan’s relationship with his father, whose gradual, greater embrace of Islam meant a stronger rejection of his son’s sexual identity. The use of home videos draws the audience into the story, as they can see the love, joy and tension between the different family members at different moments in their lives.

Abu is a frank, real look at a mostly taboo subject for South Asians, telling the story not only of one man navigating his new identity, but also of the hardships faced when his family cannot bring themselves to accept his lifestyle. Overall, Abu is a heartfelt, introspective look at family dynamics, and a case study for what can happen when old concepts clash with new values.


Tilt is a glimpse at the dark side of fatherhood

In this film, a father-to-be fears the loss of his freedom under the pressure and shackles of parenthood

Directed by Kasra Farahani, Tilt is the story of a man slowly giving in to his darkest and most abhorrent urges. The film, which had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on July 13, is rife with cinematic cues and hints that help the audience understand the protagonist’s fraying mental state, perhaps even before he understands it himself.

Joseph (Joseph Cross) and Joanne (Alexia Rasmussen) are having a baby, and everyone is happy for them. Or at least, everyone except Joseph, who can’t seem to feel excited at the prospect of becoming a father. He might have his biological baby coming, but he also has his other creation: a documentary film on America’s “Golden Age” and the country’s almost religious devotion to consumerism. Unsurprisingly, his friends are more interested in his biological child than his creative one, a reality that irks him.

As Joseph struggles with the impending and profound lifestyle change, he slips ever deeper into darkness, his nightly escapades becoming increasingly violent and deranged. He is stressed, his project is stalling and he is facing potential financial insecurity. At the epicentre of all his concerns, frustrations and rage is his unborn child. In a particularly chilling scene, the audience realizes that Joseph doesn’t inherently have a problem with all babies — just his own.

Tilt will keep you on the edge of your seat as you anxiously watch Joseph sink deeper and deeper into his frenzied behaviour, worrying what his next outburst will be and who it will be aimed at.


Absurdity meets petty crime

Free and Easy pits one scam artist against another in this beautifully shot film

A desolate town in northern China, in which trees go missing and inconsequential crimes abound, sets the perfect stage for an absurdist comedy about crime and pettiness.

Directed by Jun Geng, Free and Easy is a film that embodies the absurdist comedic genre. A travelling soap merchant tries selling his magic soap — but smelling it makes people fall unconscious, allowing him to pick their pockets while they sleep. From there, one crime leads to another until the characters have a murder on their hands.

Free and Easy, which had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on July 17, is, in some ways, an ode to small-town life and petty crime. Life in the post-industrial, mostly abandoned town seems incredibly dull. But as the movie progresses and crimes are uncovered, one discovers the life beneath the apathy.

The editing of the film is poetic, with languid shots of the snowy landscape and a minimal, almost absent score that blends in perfectly with the cinematography. The absurdist humour comes through in the settings and the contrasts between different characters — a crook masquerading as a monk, a forest ranger thoroughly confused as to how someone could steal his trees (which tower over six metres high), and two completely useless cops asked to investigate a petty thief.

Free and Easy is a deadpan comedy of the most absurd and dry kind, finding humour in the pettiness of life.


My Friend Dahmer is hauntingly good

The film, which had its Canadian premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, focuses on Jeffrey Dahmer’s high school years

Monster. Murderer. Cannibal. There are many ways to describe Jeffrey Dahmer, one of America’s most notorious serial killers. One word that doesn’t typically come to mind, however, is human.

Yet that’s exactly how he’s portrayed in My Friend Dahmer, and it’s largely why the film is such a success. Directed by Marc Meyers and starring Ross Lynch as a young Jeffrey Dahmer, the film takes us through Dahmer’s late adolescence and young adulthood.

A loner with few friends and an interest in bones and dissecting road kill, Dahmer was a peculiar child who struggled to socialize. He manages to make friends with a group of boys interested in taking part in his silly pranks. But as he gradually succumbs to his inner demons and dark desires, they begin to distance themselves, noticing that something is wrong. Something is off about him.

The film does not romanticise Dahmer or his actions, but charts his trajectory from troubled teen to serial killer in a way that underscores his humanity. Based on the cult classic graphic novel of the same name, My Friend Dahmer is eerie, chilling and raw, portraying Dahmer as a troubled teen struggling with a family that’s breaking apart, alcoholism and his own fetishes.

My Friend Dahmer had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal on July 16. For more information, visit


Bad Genius shows there are different kinds of smart

The film, which had its Canadian premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, is a heart-stopping drama about cheating

In Bad Genius, a Thai drama directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya, high school students have taken control of their future by getting a few incredibly smart scholarship students to help them cheat on their tests.

Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) is smart. Genius level smart. A mathematical prodigy, Lynn has breezed through school with awards, medals and a perfect GPA. When word spreads that Lynn gave her friend, Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan), the answers to a math test, Lynn starts receiving cash offers from other students who desire her help. As the stakes get increasingly higher, so does the payoff. The underlying goal: don’t get caught.

As incredibly entertaining as Bad Genius is, it’s more than just a film about cheating. It is an ode to students trying to control their uncertain and precarious futures, as well as a critique of academia, where the extreme focus on grades can push students to find alternative ways to succeed. It asks the question: what do grades really mean?

Bad Genius will have you rooting for the characters and their final high-stakes plan: to fly to Sydney and take the STIC (SAT) exam in a different time zone in order to smuggle the answers back to Thailand. As the students hatch more dangerous, creative and elaborate plans, you’ll begin to ask yourself if cheating isn’t taking more energy than studying would.

The student in all of us will be cringing throughout the movie, waiting to see who wins: the system or the students.

Bad Genius had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal on July 16. A second screening is scheduled for July 21 at 5:15 p.m. For more information, visit

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