What has been happening to Asian-Americans being attacked for no reason in the U.S.A. disgusts me. IT IS NOT A ‘CHYNA’ VIRUS. AM I CLEAR ENOUGH FOR YOU RACIST A-HOLES?! I wanted to highlight multiple cultures that have produced some of the greatest films ever, and with Asian-American celebration month taking place in May, it is the perfect situation for my list of 10 Great Asian Movies. No particular order in terms of strict history here. This is not a list with eight of the top 10 Asian pictures being directed by Akira Kurosawa. Simply an eclectic group of classics you have got to see before you die.
10. “The Legend of Drunken Master” (1994):
Let us start things off straight up. Jackie Chan is the MAN! This guy has never made a truly great movie when it comes to film criticism, but he is without question a hall-of-fame figure when it comes to cinema history. Similar to the early work of silent film stars such as Buster Keaton, Jackie Chan is a once in a generation talent. His insistence on doing his own stunts has nearly killed his ass multiple times. Plenty of iconic crazy performances to choose from. I’m going to have to go with “The Legend of Drunken Master”. Jackie is the pinnacle of comedic kung-fu mixed with embodying a daredevil. Throw in his performance as a martial artist who gets his power from booze and you have yourself a hilarious character that only Jackie Chan could pull off. And let us not forget when he runs hand and foot over a giant pile of coals on fire, which was a real time stunt! The man is crazy and also an international treasure.
9. “An Autumn Afternoon” (1962):
While American film buffs (myself included) tend to consider Kurosawa as the greatest Asian director, international film circles consistently lean towards the other master that is Yasujiro Ozu. It is a debate in which nobody is right or wrong as both are legends. Ozu is perhaps the most humanistic filmmaker of all time. All of his creations center around families living in traditional Japan during the decades surrounding WWII. None of his films are about the war, but that is simply the context of when he made his best work. Ozu was also famous for shooting while using a 40mm lens as it was the closest version of seeing through the human eye and would often place his camera at the same level of where ones head would be when sitting on a Japanese tatami mat. One of his rare late career color films was “An Autumn Afternoon”. The film stars long time collaborator Chishu Ryu as Shuhei Hirayama, an alcoholic widower businessman doing everything he can to ensure his daughter Mickiko is able to find a husband in hopes of her not experience the level of loneliness he is currently living. “An Autumn Afternoon” digs through the complexities of life with a zen like restraint in order to dissect family struggles with themes that few movies dare to touch.
8. “The Host” (2006):
You’ve always got to have one entry that is simply fun but also intelligent on a list such as this. “The Host” is exactly that. This movie is the story of a family coming together that also involves a giant monster created by radioactive waste dumped into the river. The ‘Han River’ in the city of Seoul suddenly presents a giant fish-like monster with quirky limbs and multiple eyes. The beast steals a young girl named Park Nam-Joo (Bae Doona) to keep in his underground lair for some strange reason. It is up to the group of misfits that is Joo’s family to rescue the girl before she is slowly eaten. No question “The Host” is a ridiculous a monster movie, It is also a blast of a family-centric movie with multiple political facts sprinkled in that we all need to listen to.
7. “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988):
Another picture in which the topic of war movies are often criticized because they not legitimately depict battle and the level of excitement is not what the terrors of war are. Similar to the Russian film “Come and See”, nobody could accuse the animated film “Grave of the Fireflies” of being exciting. Based on his life growing up during WWII, writer/director Isao Takahata recalls a semi-fictionalized version of what he really went through during the invasion of Japan. After an American firebombing, several children were forced to find some form of housing in the midst of the Great War. Yet the guns and bombs conflict is not what makes this film a classic. “Grave of the Fireflies” is centered around a concept that keeps everyone going. The concept of taking care of the ones you love despite all obstacles.
6. “The Raid: Redemption” (2011):
This movie is absolutely insane. Just start with the title, “The Raid: Redemption”. Is this supposed to be a sequel? Nope. The plot, a group of cops go into a drug hotel in hopes of bringing a criminal mastermind to justice. And…. that’s it. Once the police officers get caught up in the middle of a building full of criminals with nothing to loose the carnage is unending. Director Gareth Evans pulls no punches as the fight sequences are violent as hell and punch the viewer in the face at a relentless pace. Just turn to the climactic brawl with two brothers trying to take down the villainous ‘Mad Dog’ to see what I’m talking about. “The Raid: Redemption” Will make you feel as though you had just been a combatant in a life or death brawl.
5. “In the Mood For Love” (2000):
“In The Mood For Love” is a multiple viewing situation. One of the most complex stories of love, this classic directed by Wong Kar-Wai struggles with the idea of forbidden love. Two neighbors in 1962 Hong Kong reluctantly strike up a friendship that has potential for romance. The problem, both live in the strict rules that are Chinese-esque culture. Chow (Tony Chiu-Wai Leaung) is a newspaper editor with a cold yet loving wife. His neighbor Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung) is a secretary with her husband moving up in the executive world. Both are lonely and find a connection together that goes beyond the basic concept that is lust. A forbidden love in a culture that does not often accept that, “In the Mood For Love” showcases the simple idea of what could have been without making the idea cheap and instead beautiful.
4. “Sansho The Bailiff” (1955):
The other cog of the top three Japanese filmmakers has got to be Kenji Mizoguchi. He was another brilliant storyteller bringing pinnacle work to the Japanese cinema renaissance. He made arguably the region’s greatest period piece with 1954’s “Sansho the Bailiff”. The tragedy set in medieval Japan gets going very quickly with a regional governor banished by the evil feudal lord named Sansho. Why was the governor banished? Because he was standing up for the rights of impoverished citizens constantly oppressed by the wealthy government. That leaves his family publicly shamed and desperate to reunite with their father. His wife Tamaki, son Zushio, and daughter Anju desperately try to fend for themselves. As always, bad guys in power love to flex their position and the family suffers an even worse fate for no reason. “Sansho the Bailiff” is one of those rare experiences that is both inspiring and tragic as it questions just how much punishment one can withstand before the human spirit is broken. Yeah I know, sounds depressing. This film is not and once you get to the ending it is impossible not to be inspired by this Mizoguchi masterpiece.
3. “Spirited Away” (2001):
When it comes to ‘Anime’ there is Hayao Miyazaki and then there is everyone else. His 40-plus year career making some of the most beautiful animated films in the world is unprecedented. The themes of Miyazaki have the ability to touch children as well as adults around the globe. Themes such as “My Neighbor Totoro” teaching you the importance of true friendship or “Princess Mononoke” facing climate change head-on. Yet the master’s true opus is without a doubt “Spirited Away”. The story is loosely vailed in being a very, very, strange remake of Disney’s “Alice and Wonderland”. It is so much more. From industrialism to child labor to political corruption, “Spirited Away” presents ideas that children can learn from without ever lecturing them. In a way, the adults are too stupid to understand the messages presented here. “Spirited Away” is a piece far more important than those that dismiss ‘Anime’ cinema. To be fair I do the same thing mostly too. Not with this picture.
2. “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (2010):
I am a 100% Atheist. But if there is an after life the way in which writer/director Apichatpong Weerasethakul sees death it would be the most hopeful and inspiring way to go out. “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” does not look at death as a tragedy. It instead reflects on the idea of it being another journey of the soul in the grand scheme of things. It could be considered Buddhist, Hindu, or even a Catholic mentality. In the end “Uncle Boonmee” shows a bizarre way for things to end. The idea that our spirit lives on through a multitude of levels is hard to conceive. Your loved ones carry your memory and your essence exists in some form. Maybe that essence is a jungle monkey with red eyes stalking the family house. Who knows? The point is the fact that our spirit continues on, at least we would love to think is the truth. A very hopeful feeling when it come to death.
1. “Ikiru” (1952):
Nothing worldwide deserves to be celebrated right now more than learning from your mistakes. Look no further than the legendary director Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru”. Often referred to as the Japanese version of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Ikiru” is a beautiful story centered around recognizing what is truly important. Long time collaborator with director Kurosawa, Takashi Shimura stars as Kanji Watanabe, a bureaucrat of 30 years. Takashi has always been a company man, caring little for the community. When he receives the news that he’s gonna die from cancer the ‘Scrooge’ decides to do what he can for the community. His story is told in recollection by several of his equally cynical former co-workers enjoying sake. “Ikiru” is all about the idea that it is never too late to do the right thing, An I idea that all of us wish to not face, even though we all will in some way. Facing your mistakes and helping others is the best anyone can achieve.
Bonus Clip: My Favorite Asian Export of the Last 10 Years. ‘BTS’ Is Amazing:
The vague title that is ‘K-Pop’ is growing on the international scene. It is different and also similar to the boy band explosion in America during the 90’s. Most performers and groups with ‘K-Pop’ do multiple types of music. There are some acts I respect. Solo artist ‘Jackson Wang’ from China is pretty good. The band ‘GOT7’ is respectable but middle of the pack. There is also the boring such as ‘BlackPink’ or ‘NC127’ that feel thrown together by a weak producer from ‘American Idol’ and interest me in no way. I am not a ‘K-Pop’ fan. What I am is a super fan of the king of this new musical movement. ‘BTS’ are unbelievable to watch perform. It is not quite there, but their concerts are in the realm of seeing a Michael Jackson concert back in the day. Add in the millions of dollars they have given towards ‘Black Lives Matter’, hurricane relief for islands in the Pacific Ocean, and most recently donating millions towards helping health workers getting bombarded in India with their spike in COVID-19 deaths and how do you not like these guys? ‘BTS’ is generational.