Best Asian Movies
Normally, we inculcate the love for movies in our childhood. Probably, it begins with what you are allowed to watch or what your parents are watching. In most cases it usually is the cinema from your own country or the most universal language of films – English.
A more eclectic taste is most often developed through friends, travel or a foreign film being too hyped up or having won the Oscar or the Golden Globe, in the foreign film category. The two major international awards that in most cases acts as a stamp of approval and recommendation for the world.
In 2019, the Golden Globes for the Best Foreign Film was awarded to Bong Joon Ho for his ground breaking film – Parasite. During his acceptance speech for the coveted award Ho stated that “once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
The two lines about the one inch barrier of subtitles found at the bottom of the screen often times restricts us in expanding our horizon and increasing our repertoire of appreciation for films. The behemoth machinery of Hollywood is so powerful that it has projected the American cinema culture as the most widely accepted and appreciated export across the international market. The fact that Hollywood English films are translated into multiple foreign languages has been the main reason for its expansion across the world.
We do love American or even British films for its variety and high production value, don’t get me wrong. However, there is literally a world of interesting and equally engaging movies that are produced by countries around the world.
In this article, we will focus on some of the best Asian movies that have been released over time and have had a good run. These Asian films managed to spring out of the accolade of a subcategory and boldly made a mark in the mainstream entertainment sphere.
In 2018, Roma received rapid popularity through its release on Netflix which widened accessibility beyond that of theatre reservations. This new wave of online streaming has pushed other platforms to mimic Netflix’s approach of embracing international films with unprecedented outreach and advertising pushes.
Train to Busan (2016)
Released in 2016’s ‘Train to Busan’, is on the list of the best Asian films, even though it is a horror film and not a drama or a comedy that have a wider appeal. The film storyline consists of a father and his daughter in the midst of a zombie outbreak. While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan. The Zombie genre may not be too popular and the film may not sound as sophisticated as ‘The Farewell’, but the response it received was huge. Directed by Sang-Ho Yeon, the film proved to be a teaser trailer for things to come in the future from the South Korean film industry. The film managed to highlight the capability of South Korean cinema and helped it get noticed around the world. Later, ‘Parasite’ would fully solidify this country’s cultural impact. The film’s cast included Gong Yoo, Yu-mi Jung and Ma Dong-seok. The story revolves around familial love and about the extent a father is willing to go in order to protect his family.
Which brings us to the film, which served as the opener for this article and that brought a legitimate authority to South Korean Cinema and its capability. The film went on to win four Oscars in 2019 including the best motion picture, being the first foreign language film to accomplish the feat in the history of the academy awards. Before the Oscar win as best director for the film, Bong Joon-ho had been a popular name in Korean cinema, having had earlier success with ‘Snowpiercer’ and ‘Okja’. But 2019 pushed him in to the big international league. ‘Parasite’ was a movie about discrimination, about the curse of classism and greed. The massive sweep at the Oscars of 2019, established the credentials of Bong Joon-Ho both as a director and writer and also proved that there was a gap in the industry, coupled with a great demand for Asian films and that it needed to be desperately filled. The cast of the film included Kang-ho Song, Sun-Kyun Lee and Yeo-jeong Cho.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
The film is considered one of his greatest works of director Ang Lee. It is a sprawling period film and martial-arts epic that deals with love, loyalty and loss. Released in 2000, The film’s story centers around a young Chinese warrior who steals a sword from a famed swordsman and escapes into a world of romantic adventure with a mysterious man in the frontier of the nation. It swept the Oscar nominations, eventually winning Best Foreign Language Film, as well as Best Director at the Golden Globes. The Ang Lee masterpiece became the highest grossing foreign-language film ever released in America. Even before winning an Oscar as director for Brokeback Mountain in 2005, Ang Lee directed this gem of a movie – ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. The nominations and the win at the Oscars made the movie a hit overseas to the extent that it became the first foreign-language film to make $100 million in the United States. The film also pushed Ang Lee in the limelight as a serious director with loads of talent. He would go on to direct huge Hollywood films like Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi and win the Academy Award for both these subsequent films. The cast of the film included heavyweight Chinese and international stars like Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang.
The Farewell (2019)
The premise of the film revolves around a Chinese family that discovers that their grandmother has only a short while left to live. Knowing the little time they have with their grandmother, they decide to keep her in the dark and schedule a wedding to gather before she dies. Another one of the more recent films from 2019 is directed by Lulu Wang – ‘The Farewell’ stars Awkwafina. The famous rapper and actress who became a household name being part of the film – ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and was part of Ocean’s 8. Even though Lulu Wang has directed only a handful of movies and only two before she directed The Farewell, she exudes the experience of a veteran in the field. ‘The Farewell’ dwells deeper and tries to highlight the differences between America and other Asian countries and most importantly throws a light on what it is like to be an Asian American for an audience that are not. The film’s cast include Awkwafina (Nora Lum), X Mayo and Shuzhen Zhao
In the Mood for Love (2000)
A film about secrets, glances and desires. Writer and director Kar-Wai Wong is known for his visually unique, highly stylized and emotionally resonant work. His film ‘In the Mood for Love’, released in 2000, became an instant classic and an example of intelligent cinema. The original title of the film was ‘Fa Yeung Nin Wah’ and is a story about romantic yearning and treading the fine line between flirting and friendliness. A story, about two neighbors who form a strong bond after both suspect their spouses of extramarital affairs. However, they choose to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs. The film exemplified the treatment of the subject with delicacy and in a subtle manner. ‘In the mood for love’ shone a light on cinema from Hong Kong and was also ranked by BBC as the 2nd best film of the 21st Century. The cast of the film include Tony Chi-Wai Leung and Maggi Cheung.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
The 2018 film was one of the first films to have an all-Asian cast, something which had never been done since the early 1990s. Jon M. Chu’s films became the highest-grossing romantic comedy of the last decade and became the 6th-highest-grossing romantic comedy ever. It proved to Hollywood and to the world that it was in desperate need of Asian representation. The success and the box office numbers proved Jon M. Chu absolutely right and made it one of the best Asian movies on Netflix.. The Asian cast of the film immensely benefitted from the success of the film and went to become highly popular like Henry Golding, Constance Wu, and Awkwafina. The cast also included Hollywood veteran Michelle Yeoh. The film checks the boxes of comedy, romance and drama and is based on a global bestseller. The film follows a native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family. Chu had previously directed diverse genre films like G.I.Joe: Retaliation and Step Up 2: The Streets. Even though the film was not successful at the major award ceremonies, it had a massive impact across the world and was lapped up by audiences everywhere.
The Raid: Redemption (2011)
The initial title of the film was – The Deadly Raid, which would have been absolutely bang on. This 2011 martial art films is a roller coaster entertainer from Indonesia. In the film, an elite squad is tasked to infiltrate a high-rise building run by a ruthless drug lord in the slums of Jakarta. Making a good martial arts movie is always a challenge coupled with the burden of managing an engaging plot and storyline. But Gareth Evans pulls off a great and monumental task and lays out a cinematic and action packed treat that contends with the best of Asian films. The fast paced action will keep you at the edge of your seat or glued to your couch. The film was released in Indonesia in 2011 as The Raid and in 2012 in the US as The Raid: Redemption and stars Iko Uwais who had previously worked with Evans in another action film – Merantau.
Guilty of Romance (2011)
A grisly murder occurs in a love hotel district in Tokyo – a woman is found dead – a police officer is called to investigate this case, she will discover the story of two women who, despite appearing respectable on the outside have all manner of darkness hidden away. One of the best Asian films from Sion Sono, the Japanese director who is well known in the film festival circuit, specially for his 2008 film ‘Love Exposure’. In ‘Guilty of Romance’, Sono shows how to handle the extremes and uses the signature tactic of leaving nothing to the imagination. The cast includes Megumi Kagurazaka who is also the wife of the director Sion Sono. In the films she plays the part of Izumi. The film is a noirish murder mystery that serves more as a sympathetic rallying cry to its female characters. In a nutshell, the film can best be described as a story of how boredom and suppression can lead to sexual deviancy.
Chungking Express (1994)
Chungking Express is considered a timeless classic from the ‘90s and one of the most renowned and best Asian films of the era to have come from the Hong Kong film industry. Chungking in the title refers to the Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong, where Wong grew up in the 1960s and which was an area where Chinese and Westerners freely mingled together. The film consists of two stories told in sequence, each about a lovesick Hong Kong policeman mulling over his relationship with a woman. It highlights conventional people from the mix of cultures that was the characteristic of Hongkong before it was handed over to the Chinese. Directed by Wong Kar-wai, Chungking Express tell the story of love, loss and memories. The film’s cast includes Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Toni Chiu-Wai Leung.
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017)
The film is a 2017 Indonesian thriller film directed by Mouly Surya. The Indonesian film with its spaghetti Western style, tinges of feminist vengeance and a rural setting is perhaps one of the best Asian films and was given the name of a Satay Western. The story revolves around Marlina who kills her rapists belonging to a group of thieves. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a must-watch for every woman. The film was only the fourth film from Indonesia to be included in the Cannes Film Festival and was also part of the Toronto International Film Festival before that. The film stars Marsah Timothy, Egy Fedly and Tumpal Tampubolon.
Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)
The film is a definitive example of Bollywood’s best which garnered an Oscar nomination for the film. With a soundtrack written by A. R. Rahman — the composer behind Slumdog Millionaire — and an epic sports plot, everything comes together beautifully for an engrossing film experience. Written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker and produced by Aamir Khan the film is an epic marriage of two of the greatest love of Indians – Cricket and Music and offered as a sumptuous dish through another great love – film. The film received rave reviews and critical fame worldwide and at various film festivals. It was nominated for the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language film.
Wife of a Spy (2021)
Probably the best Asian film most recently has been the Wife of A Spy. The veteran Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s (no relation to Akira Kurosawa) directs this old-fashioned World War II drama film and establishes it as a cultured piece of work. The film is a historical tale of duplicity and misplaced loyalty. The Asian film was the biggest winner at the 15th Asian Film Awards, taking home three awards, for best film, best actress and best costume design. Wife of a Spy delivers an elegant World War II drama and spans five years, beginning in 1940. The film includes Yu Aoi, Issey Takahashi and Masahiro Higashide.
Seven Samurai ( 1954)
This list would not be complete without the name of Akira Kurosawa who is regarded as the most influential and important filmmakers in the history of world cinema. Seven Samurai is a film released in 1954 and written and directed by Kurosawa. It is one of the most remade and reworked films of all times with the Magnificent Seven with Yul Brynner being one of the films that was inspired by Seven Samurais. The visuals, plots and dialogues of the film have inspired numerous directors like George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino. Even the popular Hindi film – Sholay is loosely based on Seven Samurais. Perhaps the best Asian movie of all time it was also voted the greatest foreign-language film of all time in BBC’s poll of 209 critics in 43 countries
I hope this list of the best Asian movies of all time will encourage you to not be bogged down by the one inch distraction of the subtitles and will expand your boundaries of genre by watching some quality films. This list is a reflection of a whole world of film waiting against the one-inch barrier fence.
In an effort to list down some of the best Asian movies of all time we came up with the above list and felt were the ones that truly stand out in terms of quality, impact and sheer entertainment they offered. The order of this list could be different but our effort was to present great films and not to categorize them. Our suggestion would be to watch them all and decide for yourself.
The most recent Asian film on the list is Wife of A Spy. I am sure the article would have awakened the interest in Asian cinema and you will be eager to experience the wide array of films and genres that it has to offer.
The easy answer to that would be to pick any one film from the list mentioned above. The list includes films from different countries and different eras and will surely appeal to diverse taste in films.
The top Asian movies of all time will be tough to limit to just the top 10, considering the many countries that come out with fantastic films each year and are continuously evolving and applying newer technology to their craft. The mentioned films here are an honest effort to highlight the best from the East.
In the list of the best Asian movies, we have tried to put focus on diversity in style, themes and the country of origin. Any of the films above may appeal to your taste or favorite genre of movie.