Parasite won not one, but FOUR Oscars including Best Picture on Monday and we cannot be more excited that Asian films are finally getting the recognition they deserve. So, to celebrate, we’ve compiled some of our favourite Asian films because 2020 will be the year we get over the one-inch barrier, subtitles that is, and expose ourselves to the wonderful world of Asian Cinema.
1. Tampopo (1985)
dirECTED BY Juzo Itami
“What’s important here is to quietly apologise to the pork, ‘until we meet again’.”
Some people eat to live, while some live to eat, and Juzo Itami’s brilliant 1985 Japanese comedy about noodles, sex, and movies is about the latter. Set in 1980s Japan, this cowboy western meets Japanese gastro cinema is a timeless classic that is a must-watch for any foodie. Utterly original in its concept and tone, Tampopo weaves a love story about food and how it makes us feel. A great bowl of ramen is warm, flavourful, exciting and fun, and this film reflects that to a tee. Dubbed a “ramen western”, Tampopo follows two truck drivers and a restaurant owner on their quest to make the perfect bowl of ramen. Erotic, funny and so incredibly clever, Tampopo is as self-assured a film as a good bowl of noodles. It is a delectable film unique with a cheeky sense of discovery and full of robust flavor that will leave you wanting more, and hungry for a bowl of deliciously umami ramen, don’t say we didn’t warn you!
2. Okja (2017)
directed by Bong Joon-ho
“They will also leave a minimal footprint on the environment, consume less feed and produce less excretions; and most importantly, they need to taste fucking good.”
There is only one word to describe Bong’s 2017 masterpiece, Okja: sublime. Enter the weird and wonderful world of Okja where 6 super pigs are given ‘on loan’ to farmers around the world in a competition to see who can raise the best super pig within the span of 10 years. It’s less a commentary on sustainability and more about corporate hegemony and its conflicting ideologies, along with the ethics of raising animals for meat. In the middle of all the action and adventure is a heart-warming, sympathetic core with a heart-shattering performance by Ahn Seo-hyun. It has everything you expect from a Bong film – political commentary with the right mix of funny, warmth and a sprinkle of madness. If that isn’t enough to get you pulling this up on Netflix tonight, the film has a star-studded ensemble cast including Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal being as weird as humanly possible. We suggesting watching this with a box of tissues within arm’s reach.
3. The Act of Killing (2012) and The Look of Silence (2014)
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
“America taught us to hate communists.”
A two-part series looking into the horrifying mass executions of accused communists from 1965-66 in Indonesia, Joshua Oppenheimer, provides an eye-opening expository into a murderer’s mindset and the impact it had on the victim’s families. The killers are celebrated heroes that show no empathy; the survivors live in fear next door. The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence are two haunting and poignant reflections of the proverb “history is written by the victors”. Oppenheimer’s approach of “an investigative technique, refined to help us understand not only what we see but also how we see and how we imagine” brings about two astoundingly devastating sides of the same coin. While it is technically not by an Asian director, this film delves deep into the aftermath of the killings. It questions the messages we send to others and the implications of the idea that Western modernity is the only “acceptable” form of modernity. The best kind of documentaries come into existence when a collision occurs, and these two films are one hell of a collision that will leave your head spinning for days.
4. The Farewell (2019)
Directed by Lulu Wang
“You believe that life is your own… In the East, a person’s life is part of a whole; family, society.”
You know what’s rarer than seeing yourself represented in Hollywood? Seeing your grandmother represented on screen. Never have we seen a film that so beautifully crafted the wonder of a grandmother as well as this one. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this film will leave you laughing, crying, and sometimes both at the same time. You might not think of Awkwafina as a dramatic actor, but her haunting performance will definitely change your mind. A rhythmically calming film about the collision of Eastern and Western culture, the complexity of family, and the grief and joy that it brings. How do you say goodbye to someone who doesn’t know that they’re leaving? The Farewell’s answer is to stuff them with love until they’re full, and offer them dessert after. Keep a box of tissues on hand, for this intern had to watch it twice because she cried through the first viewing. Maybe she cries easily at movies, or maybe Lulu Wang made a film so poignant that she has never been the same since.
5. Dangal (2016)
directed by Nitesh Tiwari
“I’m going to cook and clean for a man I’ve never met. At least [your father] is preparing you for your future.”
A heart-warming film about family, wrestling, and the role of women in society, Dangal is a thrilling biopic. Part sports drama, part social commentary of women’s oppression in India, this film grips its audience as firmly as a pro wrestler. Earnest and brilliant, the cast’s performance is *chef’s kiss*, the wrestling matches got us on the edge of our seats and the visuals were a feast for the eyes. Inspirational and encouraging, this film will draw you in so hard you’ll forget that it has a 161 minutes run time.
6. The Handmaiden (2016)
Directed by Park Chan-Wook
“I… I… I’m flummoxed in your presence.”
Okay, so you’ve watched Parasite and realised that you’ve been watching shit films your whole life and are looking for a film that is comparable to satisfy your palate. We present to you, The Handmaiden. A film so ground-breaking and beautiful with twists and turns that you won’t have seen coming to keep you on the edge of your seat. Lesbians scamming abusive rich men might be our favourite film genre of all time. Park’s directorial feat is no less than exquisite; his sense of control, timing and space is nothing short of utter brilliance. The mise-en-scenè of this film is so scrumptious, it’s like being fed a 3-course meal one spoonful at a time with a blindfold on. The Handmaiden is wild, erotic and audacious, we do not recommend watching it with your parents, but we highly recommend you check it out.
7. Happy Together (1992)
Directed by Wong Kar Wai
“Turns out that lonely people are all the same.”
This won’t be an Asian film feature without one from the astounding Wong Kar Wai. Happy Together is a love story about a relationship falling apart the same way that Marriage Story is a love story about divorce. This film is a sharp, emotional, devastating romance about two people blindly attached to the desire for romance and a relationship that is beyond salvageable. It is a train-wreck so visually stunning you cannot turn yourself away from it. The film’s political undertones hit a little harder in light of the recent social unrest in Hong Kong; Wong’s anxieties are still apparent. Happy Together might be Wong’s most uncompromisingly sour and emotionally draining film, so do proceed with caution. Nonetheless, it is a glorious cinematic feat with a killer soundtrack.
BONUS: Vai (2019)
directed by Nicole Whippy, Becs Arahanga, Marina McCartney, ‘Ofa Likiliki, Amberly Jo Aumua, Matasila Freshwater, Sharon Whippy, Diana Fuemana, Miria George
“The sea is what binds us, as we sweat and cry saltwater.”
Set in seven Pacific countries (which we know isn’t technically Asian but we love this film so much we HAD to include it), this beautifully crafted anthology follows one women’s journey through eight vignettes of her life. Each vignette is shot entirely in one take, beautifully composed and showcases both Vai and her land. It is a film pouring with heart and soul, carefully crafted with gorgeous cinematography and sound design. It is one that lingers with you and leaves you with a deeper understanding of our collective inheritance.
Banner image sourced from A24.