Asia has one of the most exciting film industries in the world. However, as an English speaker, we’re much more exposed to movies coming out of Hollywood than we are Bollywood. Really good foreign films are also harder to find because we’re less familiar with the directors, the actors and movie trends from around the world.
Asia is such a fascinating region because of the diversity of films, from Chinese kung fu to Indian Bollywood, Japanese Anime or South Korean horrors and mind-blowing thrillers. Here are 20 of the most highly rated, internationally-acclaimed movies from Asia.
Chennai Express (2013) is a Bollywood romantic comedy starring Shah Rukh Khan (aka The King of Bollywood) about a man who falls in love with the daughter of a local don. Khan also plays in the fantastic movie My Name is Khan (2010), a drama about a Muslim man with Asperger’s Syndrome in America after 9/11. Another personal favourite is The Lunchbox (2013) about, well, a lunchbox. Just watch it! I love Bollywood films for their romantic stories, humour, and stunning brightly-coloured visuals. For another comedy, check out 3 Idiots (2009) about two college buddies looking to reunite with their friend.
South Korea has produced some incredible movies, the most famous of which is Oldboy (2003) directed by Park Chan-wook. It’s so good, you have probably seen it already. And if you haven’t, you absolutely must. That being said, it’s not for everyone. Generally, I’m a big fan of Korean films and Park Chan-wook in particular. Other movies of his include Lady Vengeance (2005) and Thirst (2009). Horror and violence are never a deterrent for me, quite the contrary. Another really good one from a different director is The Chaser (2008) about a pimp and former police detective whose prostitutes go missing.
Battle Royale (2000) is on every best world movies list. It had a huge impact on me when I first saw it. At that time, the concept of children fighting to death blew my mind. It’s an epic Japanese film, although the sequel, Battle Royale II (2003) fell far short of the critical acclaim received by the first film. Battle Royale is one of the few Japanese films to have received worldwide fame. They are much more famous for their novels and anime, which is a different kind of film genre. For example, The Wind Rises (2013) and Ghost in the Shell (1995), which recently got a Hollywood remake starring Scarlett Johansson, are incredible animated movies.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) is probably the most famous Chinese film. It’s also one of the most beautiful ever made and a masterpiece in every sense of the word. A number of famous films have come out of the big country, and actors like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan! It’s not all kung fu, although the kung fu is awesome! Too many to mention, such as anything with Bruce Lee, but also Kung Fu Hustle (2004) and the Ip Man (2008) saga. Other great ones are The House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). I’ll also mention The Last Emperor (1987) here, an amazing historical film, although it’s not a Chinese-made movie.
Thailand and Indonesia are also making their name in the movie industry, Ong Bak (2003) from Thailand and The Raid (2011) one and two (2014) from Indonesia are two epic movies featuring some of the best martial arts scenes ever. I realise that I haven’t watched many, if any, Malaysian, Vietnamese or Philippino movies, which is probably a combination of the fact that I live in the west, so there is little exposure, as well as budget constraints on the film-making industries within these countries. But I have a feeling that this region is going to be one to watch!
What are your favourite movies from Asia?