With the recent release of “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Searching,” much of the discourse surrounding the success of these Asian-centric films has been focused on the issue of representation — and for good reason. Within the bubble of Hollywood, there’s no doubt that steps towards the normalization of Asian faces (as well as all underrepresented minorities) on the silver screen is an important cultural win.
In the process of having these conversations, however, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there’s a whole host of amazing cinema coming out all over the world, outside of Hollywood, where an entirely Asian (or Black, or anything else) cast isn’t a big deal.
In celebration of Eastern cinema, we’ve put together a list of 15 incredible movies from all over the continent that we think you should check out.
“Psychokinesis” (2018; South Korea; action/fantasy/comedy)
Love the superhero concept but getting a little tired of the monolith of Marvel and DC? “Psychokinesis” should be right up your alley. From the director of the smash hit “Train to Busan,” this fun little flick tells the story of Seok-heon, a dead-beat dad who tries to make it up to his daughter after drinking some supernatural spring water that gives him psychokinetic powers.
“The Salesman” (2016; Iran; drama)
After winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film with his 2012 movie, “A Separation,” director Asghar Farhadi picked up his second Oscar with this heavy-hitting drama about a married couple who have to deal with the aftermath of the wife’s assault. Both emotionally gripping and morally compelling, this picture is a masterclass in storytelling.
“Battle Royale” (2000; Japan; dystopian thriller)
Before there was “The Hunger Games,” there was “Battle Royale.” Only a lot more brutal. This Japanese cult classic follows a group of high schoolers who are left on an island and forced to fight to the death. If you’re a fan of Fortnite,’ you probably have this movie to thank for its existence.
“3 Idiots” (2009; India; comedy)
This coming-of-age comedy follows the hilarious misadventures of three freshmen engineering students. Offering witty social commentary on India’s education system, “3 Idiots” notably became one of the first Bollywood films to break into East Asian markets such as China and Japan.
“Chonqing Hot Pot” (2016; China; action/thriller)
Three best friends and owners of a struggling underground hot pot restaurant discover that their restaurant is directly attached to a bank vault next door, and attempt to rob it with the help of a high school classmate who happens to work at the bank. What could possibly go wrong? This heist movie is so enticing that it might just put you in the mood for a little dip…
“Chalay Thay Saath” (2017; Pakistan; romance)
This light-hearted romantic drama about a doctor embarking on a journey of self-discovery with her friends and family is both endearing and visually breathtaking (the mountains of Northern Pakistan, where it was shot, are seriously beautiful). It also portrays a rather unconventional romance, with the main character, Resham, falling in love with a backpacking Chinese tourist portrayed by Kent S. Leung.
“Wolf Totem” (2015; China; drama)
If you thought “The Grey” was cool for its depiction of wolves, just wait until you see this. Based on a semi-autobiographical book by Jiang Rong, “Wolf Totem” tells the story of a young man sent to live in Inner Mongolia during China’s Cultural Revolution, where he learns about the bond between shepherds and wolves. According to The Wall Street Journal, real Mongolian wolf pups were acquired from Chinese zoos and trained over a period of four years in preparation for this film.
“In the Mood for Love” (2000; Hong Kong; romance)
As the only director with more than one film on this list, Wong Kar-wai’s legacy in East Asian cinema cannot be understated. “In the Mood for Love,” generally considered his magnum opus, tells the gradual love story of a man and a woman whose spouses are having an affair with each other.
“BuyBust” (2018; Philippines; action)
The most recent title on this list, “BuyBust” is a pure action thriller depicting an anti-drug enforcement agency staging a bust in one of the most dangerous slums in Manila. Noted by many as a commentary on Duterte’s controversial war on drugs, this film is an exhilarating roller coaster ride through and through.
“The Handmaiden” (2017; South Korea; drama/thriller)
Set in Japanese-occupied Korea, “The Handmaiden” is a suspense thriller about a Korean con-man who enlists the help of an orphaned pickpocket in an elaborate plot to swindle a Japanese woman’s inheritance. The film was met with critical acclaim, winning Best Film Not in the English Language at the BAFTAs as well as being nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
“Departures” (Japan; 2008; drama)
The second Oscar winner on this list, “Departures,” is a gut-wrenchingly poignant film about a failed cellist dealing with the social taboos surround his newfound job as a mortician. If you’re in the mood for feels, look no further than this.
“Happy Together” (Hong Kong; 1997; romance)
“Happy Together,” which netted Wong Kar-wai a Best Director award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, depicts the tempestuous relationship of a couple holidaying in Argentina. Through a simple narrative but a delectable attention to moments and emotions, this film delivers an absolute whirlwind of emotions, and is often considered one of the greatest LGBT movies ever made.