Hello A Very Sweet Blog readers! This is Rowena and I blog over at rolala loves. I'm absolutely thrilled that Kim has asked me to share some of my favorite Asian films with you all here today in honor of the upcoming Lunar New Year. My love affair with Asian movies began at a young age since I grew up in a Chinese household.
Asian cinema has never been as popular as it today and has gained much recognition at many prestigious film festivals throughout the world. Some like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have enjoyed international success, winning over 40 awards including an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
You may not even know it but many critically acclaimed Western directors draw heavy inspiration from a number of very influential and celebrated Asian filmmakers. In fact a number of Hollywood films are remakes of Asian favorites like Old Boy (Old Boy, The Departed (Infernal Affairs), The Lake House (Il Mare), Shall We Dance (Shall We Dance), The Ring (Ringu) to name a few.
Subtitled Asian productions are quite accessible these days. You can watch them on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Asian entertainment video sites like Dramafever or Viki. These films are a selection of some of my favorites across a few genres. If any of these interest you, don't let subtitles intimidate you and give one a try! Don't forget to let us know what you think if you do. And if you've watched any Asian films before, do share your thoughts and favorites.
1. A Bittersweet Life : 2005 | South Korea | Director: Kim Jee Woon |
Watch the trailer
Watch the trailer
A stylishly gripping gangster tale which may be one of the best in the noir genre. Lee Byung Hun who may be the sleekest gangster ever pulls off an emotionally charged performance as a mob enforcer who finds himself in terrible jeopardy after an act of mercy. This ultimately leads him down an extremely violent path of vengeance.
2. A Good Rain Knows : 2009 | China/South Korea | Director: Hur Jin Ho | Watch the trailer
Dong Ha (Jung Woo Sung) and May (Gao Yuanyuan) who were once close as students in America, cross paths again in Chengdu, China. As they are reacquainted, old feelings are rekindled. Dreamily filmed against a picturesque backdrop, this film which is like a love letter to the city of Chengdu, presents an examination of the emotional journey in which a romantic relationship re-develops.
3. Chungking Express : 1995 | Hong Kong | Director: Wong Kar Wai |
Watch the trailer
Like many others, I fell in love with auteur director Wong Kar Wai's work after watching this film which is comprised of two separate narratives. In the first, officer no. 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) hopelessly pursues mysterious woman (Brigitte Lin) following a breakup with his girlfriend. The second features a lovelorn officer no. 663 (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and the charmingly quirky waitress (Faye Wong) at a lunch counter he frequents who becomes infatuated with him. The impressionistic colors and languorous camera work along with an intoxicating soundtrack make watching it quite an experience.
4. Eat Drink Man Woman : 1994 | Taiwan | Director: Ang Lee | Watch the trailer
Before Ang Lee directed Brokeback Mountain and The Life of Pi, he made this heartwarming drama centering around a widowed Chinese master chef (Sihung Lung) who prepares a magnificent weekly banquet for his 3 single adult daughters. This poignant tale filled with surprises you won't expect is a wonderful exposition of family dynamics and cultural expectations. And the delectable presentations of Chinese food are food porn at it's best.
5. Heavenly Forest (Tada, Kimi wo Aishiteru) | 2006 | Japan | Director: Takehiko Shinjo | Watch the trailer
This film features an incredibly powerful and heartrending love story that made me bawl my eyes out. It's told with humor, heart and gorgeous cinematography. Aoi Miyazaki is absolutely captivating as Shizuru who develops a crush on her friend Makoto (Hiroshi Tamaki) as they bond over a shared love of photography. She disappears from his life after they take a photo at her request for a photo contest in which they both share their first kiss. Two years later he receives an invitation to her photo exhibit in New York...
6. Hero : 2002 | China | Director: Zhang Yimou | Watch the trailer
This is an artistically epic feeling martial arts film with visually stunning action sequences, costumes and scenery. The cast and performances are solid. A man called Nameless (Jet Li) gains an audience with the ruthless king of Qin and relays a series of tales which may or may not be true of how he took down the 3 assassins; Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Long Sky (Donnie Yen) who targeted the king. After listening, the king counters with his account of events before the sobering truth is revealed.
7. In The Mood For Love : 2000 | Hong Kong | Director: Wong Kar Wai | Watch the trailer
This is probably Wong Kar Wai's most acclaimed film. A deeply stirring tale of love and longing that is both aesthetically and dramatically arresting. Set in in Hong Kong during the 1960's, two neighbors form a bond after discovering that their respective spouses are having affairs. The nostalgic atmosphere adds to the sense of melancholy and restrained passion. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu Wai both deliver beautifully nuanced performances. She also has one of the most amazing film wardrobes ever, never repeating any of the resplendent qipaos (Chinese style dress) she wears in every scene she appears in.
8. Love In A Puff | 2010 | Hong Kong | Director: Pang Ho Cheung | Watch the trailer
A witty, smart and fun romantic comedy set in Hong Kong two years after the country passed a public smoking ban. Cherie (Miriam Cheung) encounters Jimmy (Shawn Yue) during a smoke break in a public alleyway and they begin an awkward courtship. This film boasts a good deal of foul language, local references and jokes that may be lost in translation if you don't understand Chinese but that takes nothing away from the overall charm of the interaction between the main characters that feels very genuine and intimate. It's largely dialogue driven and works well thanks to the likable leads and their candid conversations filled with wry humor.
9. The Good, The Bad, The Weird | 2008 | South Korea | Director: Kim Ji Woon | Watch the trailer
A highly enjoyable Korean style western set against the Manchurian desert during the 1930's. The Weird (Song Kang Ho) steals a treasure map from a government official. The Bad (Lee Byung Hun) is sent after him to retrieve it. The Good (Jung Woo Sung) is a bounty hunter tracking both of them. A chase filled with unexpected humor and surprises ensues for the map with the Japanese army and Chinese bandits getting into the mix.
10. The Man From Nowhere : 2010 | South Korea | Director: Lee Jeong Beom | Watch the trailer
A well plotted action thriller with heart starring Won Bin as Tae Shik, a reclusive pawn shop owner who develops an unlikely and touching bond with his young neighbor (Kim Sae Ron). When the girl and her drug mule mother are kidnapped by drug dealers, Tae Shik embarks on a violent rampage to save his only friend while his dark past comes to light. I also have to say that Won Bin looks good even while disheveled and covered in blood and is a master at conveying emotion through his eyes and body language.
Rowena, you are truly a doll! THANK YOU so much for putting together this awesome list of your favorite Asian movies. I'm going to Netflix right now to fill up my DVD que. HaHaHa I can't wait to watch them! I've only seen a couple of Asian movies: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (you mentioned above), Memoirs Of A Geisha, Curse of The Golden Flower and The Joy Luck Club. They were all very good. I encourage my readers to watch international films. Embrace them. You'll be surprised at how easy subtitles are to read. There's so much you can learn. I'm going to expand my knowledge by watching Asian, French, Spanish and Italian films. Add Rowena's Top 10 favorites to your viewing list :).