I seem to be in the mood for listicles lately — since I just finished off a post surrounding my top five K-dramas, I felt it would be fitting to head over here to talk about some of my favorite Asian movies (only some, mind you; I have to cap it off somewhere).
The theme for this post is simple: great films that I’m basically always in the mood to watch. The genres range, so hopefully there’s something here for everyone. And who knows? You may just find an unfamiliar gem or two you’d like to check out.
Let’s get to it.
*Parents/guardians of younger readers are strongly cautioned to research and okay the films before any viewing takes place.
Hot Young Bloods
One of the most iconic coming-of-age films out there, South Korean 80’s-era Hot Young Bloods tells the story of Joong Gil (Lee Jong Suk), the guy all the girls like. He’s dorky, clueless, and a total player. His childhood friend Young Sook (Park Bo Young) is the leader of a tough girl gang who harbors a one-sided crush on him. She, however, is the object of affection of boy gang leader Gwang Sik (Kim Young Kwang). Throw angel-faced new girl So Hee (Lee Se Young) into the mix, and you’re in for one serious mess of adolescent hormones — and one of the sweetest (and most hilarious) love stories ever.
This one can be pretty violent, especially in terms of bullying and gang violence. It’s not gory per se, but the film is about a bunch of angry, hot-tempered teenagers with little to no adult supervision…you do the math.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to gamble for your life in a lethal game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, you’re in luck because that’s the bare bones of Mainland China’s manga-to-film adaptation of Animal World. It tells the story of Zheng Kai Si (Li Yifeng), a debt-ridden young man who barely makes enough money to keep his comatose mother in the hospital, let alone marry his girlfriend (played by Zhou Dong Yu). After losing his last hope for survival, Kai Si’s only choice is to gamble his life for money in the highest-stakes game of Rock-Paper-Scissors anyone’s ever seen…and he must rely on his killer math skills to survive.
The cinematography of Animal World is mind-blowing, with stunning, high-quality graphics to boot. It’s well-filmed, well-acted, and the story is so engaging that the 2+ hours go by quickly (and with a lot of nail-biting because this baby’s intense). This was one of those films I randomly started — with zero knowledge about it — and was hooked immediately. And I do mean immediately…that opening sequence, though. Oh, and the fact that we get to see Li Yifeng and Zhou Dong Yu as a couple is a total bonus.
(If you don’t know a thing about gambling and your math skills aren’t your proudest attribute, don’t worry! I fit both of these categories and was still able to keep up with the film and enjoy it thoroughly…that’s why it’s on this list.)
My Little Monster
Getting back into light-hearted territory is Japan’s film adaptation of both the manga and anime of the same name, My Little Monster. It tells the story of two lonely teenagers: studious Shizuku (Tao Tsuchiya) — who thinks only of her academics — and eccentric Haru, (Masaki Suda), whose bizarre and uncouth ways give Shizuku little choice but to venture out of her comfort zone as the two form a fast (albeit odd) friendship.
My Little Monster is refreshingly honest and unapologetically offbeat. It refuses to remain tucked into any solitary category, focusing on friendship and family just as keenly as it does romance. It contains both heavy and whimsical material that will leave you deep in thought one moment, and chuckling (or shamelessly laughing out loud) the next. Characters are larger than life, yet beautifully relatable — a tribute to the film’s excellent way of transitioning manga characters to real life ones while still maintaining the general vibes of anime that we all know and love.
Psst! If you’re a fan of Masaki Suda, you must check this one out. The character of Haru allows Suda (who is often cast in darker, heavier roles) to showcase his brilliant comedic timing while also highlighting his physical versatility as an actor. (Haru’s crouchy, twitchy movements are often animal-like.)
Shoot Me In The Heart
Speaking of offbeat films, South Korea’s Shoot Me In The Heart tells an unconventional tale of two unlikely protagonists — Soo Myung (Yeo Jin Goo) and Seung Min (Lee Min Ki), two psychiatric patients whose friendship fuels hope for each other and their fellow patients in an otherwise bleak, oppressive environment.
The plot is simple and about as slice-of-life as it gets. Aside from the abusive male nurse Jeombak-yi (Park Doo Sik), there’s really no physical villain of the film; the antagonist manifests itself in the form of stigmatization and the patients’ own feelings of self-worthlessness. But it’s not all doom-and-gloom; clever humor and powerful moments of truth pervade the overwhelming hopelessness, creating an overall uplifting, upbeat film.
I’d like to point out that I believe the trailer and promotional posters make it look far more light-hearted and comedic than it is. I don’t think it was anyone’s intention to deceive viewers, but I just want to highlight that the film itself is really a lot more thought-provoking, artistic, and deep than the trailer (at least, any trailer I could find) makes it look.
A Werewolf Boy
An unconventional love story spans across species and time in South Korea’s A Werewolf Boy. When a young girl’s family moves to the countryside, she finds an unusual friend in the feral boy living in their barn.
Before we get into the characters, I have to point out one of my favorite aspects of this film: the aesthetics. It’s. So. Beautiful. If you didn’t already want to move to the Korean countryside, you just might after watching this.
Park Bo Young plays protagonist Soon Yi, who befriends the wild feral boy (Song Joong Ki) her family finds living outside their home. Neither are trusting of other people, yet the two develop a deep bond. He is fiercely loyal to her and her family (especially when it comes to their sleazy landlord, played by Yoo Yeon Seok) and she teaches him manners and how to behave more human-like. (This was the first thing I ever saw Song Joong Ki in and I was blown away watching an actor who has essentially zero lines deliver such a compelling performance.)
A Werewolf Boy is the epitome of what I believe is an oft-overused description when it comes to film: a timeless classic. If you want to see what this expression truly means, give this movie a shot.
Thanks for reading!
What are some of your favorite Asian movies?
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