30 Asian Films to Get Started

I stumbled into Asian film through two coincidences: first, I saw Princess Mononoke while watching TV, and then received a DVD with Oldboy as a Christmas gift. I was lucky to start off with good movies that made me want to see more. However, many people I know have never seen an Asian film. Even some people who actually live or have lived in Asia. This baffled me for awhile – why not? So I asked. The two most common answers I got were: they don’t know where to start, or they had watched some obscure Asian film and think that all of them are too artsy and or too hard to comprehend.

Therefore, our team at The Asian Cinema Blog decided to pick some of our favorite titles to give you good stepping stones into the rich world of Asian film.

Note: The list is not just for “beginners”, anyone can enjoy these movies. We just feel that the movies below have similar storytelling techniques and/or filmmaking aesthetics as those of the mainstream Western film.

South Korea

The famous live octopus scene in Oldboy.

Oldboy.

 

Oldboy (2003)

As mentioned in the intro, this film was one of the first Asian movies I got to see. And it blew my mind. This Park Chan-Wook’s cult film is a complicated and dark revenge story with breathtaking plot twists. It put the South Korean film on the maps for every cinephile out there. It even had its own yet less successful remake in Hollywood by Spike Lee. Even if you had seen the remake, the original is well worth watching. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


The Chaser

The Chaser

 

The Chaser (2008)

Though in South Korea itself there is a wide variety of films being made – including a lot of cute romantic comedies, and cheap horrors, the crime thrillers are what Koreans are known for best (clearly, as 4 out of 5 films in this list are in this genre). Chaser is another cult film with chilling intensity and visuals display of the crimes. It is up to a renegade ex-cop to figure out the case and find the girl before it’s too late. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


i-saw-the-devil

I Saw the Devil

 

I Saw the Devil (2010)

Kim Jee Won’s ultimate masterwork of blood, the action movie for horror movie fans. Gruesome torture, taxi-cab knife attacks, and vigilante rage all reach a hysterical pitch in the frantic climax. Not for the faint hearted.

Suggested by: Harrison


5

Memories of Murder

 

Memories of Murder (2003)

A film painted and precisely lensed, with a beautiful and somber landscape intervened on by the extremely grotesque. What’s worse is that this breathtaking police drama, in the style of Zodiac and True Detective, is based on a true story, which is what makes the ending so chilling. By the director of Snowpiercer and The Host. Full review.

Suggested by: Harrison


1

The Good, The Bad, The Weird

 

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)

Not a crime thriller, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is still a very thrilling movie. This Korean Western film set in Manchuria is a different version of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. It is fun and funny, with memorable characters and amazing sets, somewhat reminding of the steampunk Wild Wild West. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne

 

India

 

3

3 Idiots

3 Idiots (2009)

3 Idiots was the first film to get me really interested in Indian movies. It is a contemporary movie with issues people are currently facing. An absolute must-watch. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


3

The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox (2013)

It is a beautiful romantic story, that never crosses into the realm of cheesy and predictable. Warning – don’t watch it hungry. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


Monsoon Wedding

Monsoon Wedding

Monsoon Wedding (2001)

Mira Nair is a well known American-Indian filmmaker and her Monsoon Wedding is one of the most celebrated films. It is an intimate family story, showing the complexity of traditions meeting modernity in a very humane way. It is colorful and exciting, just like an Indian wedding. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


Lagaan

Lagaan

Lagaan (2001)

Lagaan is a period drama, a monument to the Indian struggle for independence, a great colonialism/post-colonialism film and probably the longest movie about cricket ever made. And it is an amazing film thoughout. A great watch even if you do not like cricket. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


sholay-1

Sholay

Sholay (1975)

An extensive ‘Bollywood’ celebration in the style of classic American (or Italian) westerns, this epic moves to a unique beat even still, and features an armless hero who seriously kicks ass!

Suggested by: Harrison

 

Japan

Spirited Away

 

Spirited Away (2001)

One of Ghibli’s, the famous Japanese animation studio’s, major films that really “made it” in the West. It received numerous awards at film festival around the world. The multi-layered and captivating story has something for both adults and kids.

Suggested by: Agne


Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke is my personal favorite from Ghibli’s masterworks and it is one of the first Asian films I had seen. The film is darker than most of Ghibli’s features and tackles some serious topics that I think makes it the studio’s most adult-ready film. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies

 

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Although rooted in Japanese history, and per the director’s interpretation – a deeply Japanese cultural exercise – this gentle-looking work of animation is one of the saddest, most emotionally devastating films out there. Depicting the journey of two young children during the firebombing of Kobe in WWII, Roger Ebert had this to say in a four-star review: Yes, it’s a cartoon, and the kids have eyes like saucers, but it belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made. Forget the popcorn, and spring this on family and friends for a guaranteed good return.

Suggested by: Harrison


Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

 

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999)

Written by the director of the global smash hit Ghost in the Shell, Jin-Roh tells the tale of an alternate history, where the Axis won the war and Germany’s despotic influence has seeped into Japan. With themes and images of immediate relevance today, brutally militarized police forces clash with increasingly violent citizens, and at the story’s heart lies a tragic love story, as well as a haunting treatise on the dehumanization of state violence.

Suggested by: Harrison


Berserk I: The Egg of the King

Berserk I: The Egg of the King

 

Berserk I: The Egg of the King (2012)

For those who love Game of Thrones, Berserk is the closest Japanese analog. In this terrifying medieval horror show, brooding swordsman Guts is forcibly recruited to a mercenary band with an angelic leader, who’ll prove instrumental in ending a 100-year war between two kingdoms. The first film of the trilogy begins the tale, providing just enough tantalizing detail to pull you through to the more engaging sequels – Part II is an action-packed ride ending on the suggestion of future darkness, and Part III steadfastly answers that by being the most violent, disturbing film I’ve ever seen, putting every tooth-pulling, tendon-cutting Korean revenge shocker to shame.

Suggested by: Harrison


Rashomon

Rashomon

 

Rashomon (1950)

A classic Kurosawa movie is one of the great examples of a cinema masterwork. Actually, any of Kurosawa’s movies could make it on this list. You can’t pick wrong with this cinema titan. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


Nobody Knows

Nobody Knows

 

Nobody Knows (2004)

A heartbreaking true story of a group of siblings left alone while their mother begins a new life with her new partner. What little they have is slowly whittled away until they are forced to scavenge for food and wash in the park. A poignant urban tale that is highly relevant to the world we live in.

Suggested by: Craig

 

The Philippines

On the Job

On the Job

 

OTJ (2013)

OTJ (“One the Job”) style and pace remind me of Snatch. OTJ is exciting, absorbing, but also quite darker than the British film. If you have not seen either I recommend watching both. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


Himala

Himala

 

Himala (1982)

This classic is one of the most renown and celebrated films of Filipino cinema legend Ishmael Bernal. More than 30 years after its release, the film still holds its relevance and is a captivating experience not to be missed. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne

 

Taiwan

Monga

Monga

 

Monga (2010)

Monga is a coming-of-age/gangster movie in set in 80s Taipei. It is not a very dark film and focuses more on relationships of characters than on the organized crime. An easy intro into Taiwan, even if retrofitted. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


 

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (2011)

Before people of China came to Taiwan, the island belonged to the local tribes. There is a long history of the struggle between these locals and all other people who came to inhabit the beautiful Formosa. Seediq Bale focuses on one period in history, the Japanese occupation, as shows it through the eyes of the tribesmen.

Suggested by: Agne

 

China

 

Hero

 

Hero (2002)

Hero is the first Chinese wuxia (martial arts) movie I saw and I loved it. If you put a master-director Zhang Yimou, master cameraman Christopher Doyle, and a brilliant cast of actors – you just can’t go wrong. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


The Boxer from Shantung

The Boxer from Shantung

 

The Boxer from Shantung (1972)

A martial arts film with the story structure of a Hollywood gangster film, not unlike Goodfellas: the titular Boxer rises in power, and finds life somewhat complicated at the top. A classic from one of the great Chinese directors, Chang Cheh, with a brutal, desperate final action scene.

Suggested by: Harrison


Coming Home

Coming Home

 

Coming Home (2014)

This is one of the recent Zhang Yimou’s films and is a stark contrast to his wuxia films. As a matter of fact, most of the director’s films have nothing to do with martial arts. If you like dramas, Coming Home is a good one to start. After that, you might want to check out Ju-Dou, Raise the Red Lantern and Story of Qiu Ju. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne

 

 

Thailand

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior

 

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003)

Ong-Bak is like a Tekken video game (that I love) made into a movie (that is actually good, unlike most movies made under a game title). The director Prachya Pinkaew is a master of martial arts movies and if you like Ong-Bank, you will like other of his films. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


Last Life in the Universe

Last Life in the Universe

 

Last Life in the Universe (2003)

A rich tapestry of well-developed characters set within an unexpected narrative. Sometimes touching, sometimes disturbing but always visually appealing with a strong command of composition and palette.

Suggested by: Craig

 

Indonesia

Raid: Redemption

Raid: Redemption

 

Raid: Redemption (2011)

Raid is a gem of action movies. One SWAT team, one target – take down the crime-infested building. And then everything goes wrong. A must-watch for action movie buffs.

Suggested by: Agne

 

Hong Kong

Chungking Express

Chungking Express

 

Chunking Express (1994)

Wong Kar-Wai is a giant of Hong Kong cinema and well known among cinephiles around the world. His movie In the Mood for Love is number 2 on the BBC Culture list of “The 21st Century’s 100 greatest films“. Chunking Express has a similar expressive use of color and camera angles, but it is also a more lighthearted tale of love in the Hong Kong – the populous city of neon lights. Full review.

Suggested by: Agne


infernal-affairs

Infernal Affairs

 

Infernal Affairs (2002)

This is the spiritual and thematically dense police thriller which provided the basis for Academy Award-winning film The Departed. If you were confused by The Departed’s absent thesis, all will be made clear with the original.

Suggested by: Harrison


Hard Boiled

Hard Boiled

 

Hard Boiled (1992)

The ultimate John Woo’s film that sinks or swims in the opening ballet of bullets. Motorcycles will explode in mid-air, and shotguns will pack the concussive force to shatter every wall in a hospital hallway. If you’re a stickler for realism in action movies, you’ll have a conniption fit – for those who simply love carnage and mayhem, this is your Holy Grail.

Suggested by: Harrison

 

Agne Serpytyte

Agne Serpytyte

“The Asian Cinema Blog” is my hobby project. As a major in Asian studies and cinephile, I combined my passion for Asian cultures and film into the creation of my blog. I write reviews about Asian film and Film festivals, as well as interview movie industry professionals.
Agne Serpytyte

Latest posts by Agne Serpytyte (see all)