Taste my Sauce, Alfonso!
March 19, 2006 12:16 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend me some recent masterpieces of Asian cinema.

I've been out of the loop for a couple years now. I tend to prefer movies of the more oddball variery (Ichii the Killer, Suicide Club, Uzumaki), humor (My Sassy Girl, Shaolin Soccer), and horror (Ringu, Ju-on).

If you have any suggestions for some grand Asian movies I should check out from the last few years, please lay it on me.
posted by Mach3avelli to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have not seen it so I cannot vouch for it, but I have friends who think that Oldboy is one of the greatest movies EVER. I wouldn't recommend a movie on pure hearsay but I've heard so many critics and people rave about it I thought I may as well drop the name.
posted by apple scruff at 12:32 AM on March 19, 2006

Spring, summer, fall, winter … and spring. a Buddhist movie by Korean director Kim Ki-duk
posted by growabrain at 12:38 AM on March 19, 2006

Monday, Battle Royale and Oldboy
posted by aeighty at 12:58 AM on March 19, 2006

Not One Less directed by Zhang Yimou.
posted by dydecker at 1:21 AM on March 19, 2006

I third Oldboy.

2046 is one of the best movies I've seen in the last few years, though it's more of a meditation on love and may not be exactly what you're looking for.

Three... Extremes is quite the trip. It's one of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen - a horror movie that is truly horrifying. I can't quite call it a masterpiece though.

Hero is a masterpiece, mostly because of the visual style.

Finally, Kung Fu Hustle is hilarious.
posted by epimorph at 1:24 AM on March 19, 2006

I second Kung Fu Hustle.
posted by piratebowling at 1:43 AM on March 19, 2006

This isn't quite the genre you say that you like, but Yimou Zhang's Raise the Red Lantern is incredible, and was just released on DVD.
posted by awesomebrad at 1:53 AM on March 19, 2006

Survive Style 5+
posted by mushroom_tattoo at 2:14 AM on March 19, 2006

You might want to check out Save The Green Planet, aka Jigureul Jikyeora!
posted by vagabond at 2:34 AM on March 19, 2006

Ong Bak, Infernal Affairs, A Bittersweet Life.

Oldboy is a great film too.

Track down this documentary series for more tips.
posted by the cuban at 2:38 AM on March 19, 2006

If you're into "Ichii the Killer", then you must check out Ôdishon (Audition) from 1999, and Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha from 1999 as well (both Takashi Miike).

These are really quite over the top, but since you seem to be a connoisseur, they will surely be to your liking.

And of course, in case you haven't done so yet, check out Hana Bi, quite probably Takeshi Kitano's most poetic violence masterpiece.
posted by richardh at 3:44 AM on March 19, 2006

Umm... how about anime? I happen to think that Haibane Renmei is the single finest drama I've ever seen, in any format whatever.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:52 AM on March 19, 2006

Oldboy is phenomenal, and the more recent Sympathy for Lady Vengeance from the same director is also well worth checking out.

Also in Korean cinema: Save the Green Planet is probably right up your alley.

All three films have quite a bit of gruesome violence, but if you liked Ichi then this clearly isn't an issue.

Miike recommendations: Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha, Dead or Alive 2: Birds (but skip Dead or Alive 3), Audition, Visitor Q, Fudoh.
posted by neckro23 at 5:49 AM on March 19, 2006

Oh yes, and Miike's Gozu, which is probably his weirdest movie yet.

(Just saw Hana-Bi recently. Not really a recent film at all, but I'd second the recommendation. Also definitely Battle Royale if you've been living under a rock for the last few years.)
posted by neckro23 at 5:53 AM on March 19, 2006

I see that someone already pointed out Infernal Affairs, so I'll enthusiastically second it. Also a must-see is The Killer, a soulful look into the oft misunderstood life of the professional assassin, with a body count well into the hundreds, and brilliantly acted by Chow Yun-Fat.

I believe the genre is called "Gun-Fu."
posted by diocletian at 5:55 AM on March 19, 2006

I think people who are recommending Buddhist Korean movies and Zhang Yimou are not bothering to read the post and see what it is the poster actually likes. I'd recommend Edward Yang if he simply wanted great Asian movies, but given his expressed tastes, that would be a bum steer.
posted by languagehat at 6:13 AM on March 19, 2006

I'm would third Kung Fu Hustle. I hadn't laughed as much as I did when I watched it for the first time at a movie in I don't know how long.

I second Hero for the visuals, but it is rather mainstream Asian movie. I recently saw an Andy Lao flick where he was a small boy and ended up taking a potion that made him age really quickly. The English name is "Wait 'til You're Older." You might think it's cheesy...can't really tell how you feel about the dramas.
posted by riverjack at 6:39 AM on March 19, 2006

I'll also recommend Oldboy and ...Lady Vengeance. As well, check out director Johnny To. I also love Takeshi Kitano. Boiling Point is my fave of his films but it's more cerbral than, say, Sonatine, Violent Cop, or Fireworks. AVOID Kikujiru.
posted by dobbs at 6:47 AM on March 19, 2006

languagehat, Not One Less is not an obscure movie for eggheads and stiffs, it's funny and entertaining but just happens to be filed in your arthouse section. I'd suggest you recommend what you really like wholeheartedly and damn the consequences.
posted by dydecker at 6:55 AM on March 19, 2006

And btw there is a world of difference between Zhang Yimou and Edward Yang. Have you even seen Hero?
posted by dydecker at 6:59 AM on March 19, 2006

Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade, Year One in the North all not your typical slasher samurai flicks, dealing more with the man or family behind the sword
posted by wavering at 7:28 AM on March 19, 2006

Go deeper into Stephen Chow's catalog. I loved Shaolin Soccer, but Kung-Fu Hustle did nothing for me. The CGI was there, but the sweet, gooey, Farrelly brothers-esque sentiment was notably absent.

There's a good list of reviews of Chow movies here. I recommend God of Cookery, Love on Delivery, and King of Comedy.
posted by alidarbac at 7:56 AM on March 19, 2006

Also, the Young and Dangerous series from Hong Kong was pretty entertaining. My favorite Y&D moment was probably in the third movie when Karen Mok got hit by a car and then began to swear at the driver in a combination of Cantonese and perfect Queen's English. Absolutely hot.

Hero was a cold, sterile love letter to authoritarianism.
posted by alidarbac at 8:04 AM on March 19, 2006

I fifteenth or whatever Oldboy. Fucking brilliant film, not for the faint of heart. The original Dark Water was good, too.

And it's older, but if you haven't seen The Seven Samurai, then we have to take away your film nerd identification card.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:17 AM on March 19, 2006

Tony Takitani - based on Murakami novel of the same name. Also, Nobody Knows (Dare no Shiranai in Japanese) - based on a true story. The latter is incredibly sad, the former only a little less so, and thus perhas not exactly what you are interested in, but they are really well-shot, beautiful films and worth seeing.
posted by anonymous78 at 8:36 AM on March 19, 2006

Last Life in the Universe may be a bit slow for your taste, but it's definitely of the "oddball variety." It stars Asano Todanobu from Ichi the Killer and has a cameo by Takashi Miike himself.

Not new at all, but Seijun Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter is probably my favorite movie ever, and fits your criteria well.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 8:39 AM on March 19, 2006

I suggest Adrenaline Drive, a good-natured chase movie about a repo man and a nurse who find a pile of money and are on the run from the yakuza.
posted by SPrintF at 9:01 AM on March 19, 2006

Fair warning, most of the recent Korean stuff I have seen is incredibly dark. I don't know if that is just a trend of what's getting buzz over here or if it is actually indicative of the culture as a whole. It's not just that they're violent films; they're nihilistic, fatalistic, all the -isms you don't want to wake up in bed to. There's a lot of flat-out brutality as well. While I'll highly recommend Oldboy and Save the Green Planet for what they do in the darkness (i mean, SGP is a comedy for godssakes), they're definitely not for everyone.

As far as original suggestions... I wouldn't necessarily call these "masterpieces", but they are gems and probably fit your tastes better than the big, sweeping epic stuff that get deemed as "masterpiece".

Forbidden City Cop - Stephen Chow movie that's over-the-top and absolutely bizarre in the way Kung Fu Hustle or Shaolin Soccer are but without relying on CG-effects. Essentially, it's Inspector Gadget meets James Bond meets wuxia with pop-culture references. Crazy. Seems to be a commonly overlooked Chow movie over here but is definitely one of my favorites.

Duel to the Death - Maybe not exactly what you are looking for, but it's oddball and it's $9. The premise is that every so often Japan and China each pick their best swordsman who fight to the death to determine which country is teh best. Plenty of different parties try to compromise the integrity of the event, so it is up to the two fighters to survive long enough to kill each other (with honor). This movie simply has it all: kung fu monks, ninjas, samurai, flying ninjas, giant ninjas, amputees, naked ninjas, and everyone fights everyone!

House of Flying Daggers - Have you seen this? It's a bit more quiant than Hero, from the same director (so you get all the fancy technicolor work). Its combat sequences are clever despite not being grandiose. If you have a surround sound setup, it's definitely not to be missed thanks to the titular flying daggers and the film's opening combat sequence (more of a dance, really) filled with drums and pebbles.
posted by pokermonk at 10:03 AM on March 19, 2006

Oldboy Oldboy Oldboy
posted by Robot Johnny at 10:14 AM on March 19, 2006

Lots of great films mentioned already, I'd add, A Tale of Two Sisters and To Live. Also anything by Kiyoshi Kurosawa fits the oddball bill, especially, Kyua and Kairo .
posted by btwillig at 10:17 AM on March 19, 2006

On the wacky side of things, two films I saw at last year's Toronto film festival might be up your alley.

Citizen Dog is like a Thai version of Amelie, but even more whimsical, if you can imagine. I absolutely loved it, and it's on my top ten list of 2005.

Bangkok Loco, another from Thailand, is also wacky wacky wacky. If you liked Kung Fu Hustle, I think you'll adore Bangkok Loco. It's full of lots of broad comedy and puns (which, admittedly, make no sense to this English-speaker, but I could tell that they were puns, if that makes any sense). The humour reminded me of Airplane! a lot of the time, but the exoticness of the movie being Thai, seemed to jack the fun level of the movie up several notches.
posted by Robot Johnny at 10:21 AM on March 19, 2006

I got hooked on J-Horror and have been seeking them via online rentals like GreenCine. One thing I noticed is that this craze originally started via Japanese TV - you can see some of these shows via the Kadokawa imports. I've found them on DVD as Kadokawa Mystery & Horror Tales Vols 1 - 3, J-Horror Anthology Legends and J-Horror Anthology Underworld, Dark Tales of Japan, Tales of Terror from Tokyo Vols 1 & 2.

I really like Kiyoshi Kurosawa, all of his films have been pretty good. Hideo Nakata (Ringu) has done some other good films like Ringu 2, Dark Water, and Chaos. Takashi Miike is also interesting (Audition, Gozu). Hirohisa Sasaki's "Crazy Lips" is a really strange horror comedy. Other J-Horror films I've enjoyed so far are: Ju-Rei: The Uncanny, Cursed, Premonition, Infection, The Hypnotist, Pyrokinesis, Mail, and Marebito.

Of all the Korean directors, Kim Ki-Duk is the one to watch! I'm really impressed with "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring" and "3-Iron." These aren't horror films per se but more of a drama of "damaged" characters. There is hardly any dialog from the main characters in these films, yet they are strange and fascinating.

I also liked Kim Sang-Jin's "Attack the Gas Station" and "Jail Break" which are good escapist Korean comedies.
posted by plokent at 12:31 PM on March 19, 2006

Another vote for Ong-Bak. I've seen a lot of no-wire-work action and it blew me away. (Partly because I hadn't seen any Muay Thai before.)
posted by Aknaton at 1:23 PM on March 19, 2006

Check out subwaycinema.com - a website that highlights any Asian movies that play in New York City. Which turns out to be a lot.

From their 2005 New York Asian Film Festival, I recommend two -

Kamikaze Girls is about two young women - a Lolita-type and a biker chick-type - who form an alliance against the rest of the world.

University of Laughs - starring that guy from the Japanese version of Shall We Dance as a WWII-era government censor who has to ensure that all plays are patriotic and ideologically sound. In the process of re-aligning a satire of Romeo and Juliet, of course, His Life Is Changed.
posted by klpage at 5:15 PM on March 19, 2006

I think that this is one of the best English language sites that covers Japanese cinema. In fact, I think these people know more about Japanese cinema than most Japanese people do.

I don't know if you could get a DVD or video where you live, but A Stranger of Mine (Unmei-janai Hito) by first-time Japanese director Kenji Uchida is a great, great film (won four awards during Critic's Week at last year's Cannes) that might fit your bill. Described here (scroll down): "post-Tarantino romantic comedy-cum-episodic thriller." (Caveat: I had nothing to do with the actual production, but I translated the English subtitles.)
posted by misozaki at 5:40 PM on March 19, 2006

How come nobody's mentioned Oldboy yet?

Just kidding.

We recently saw Born To Fight, which is "from the makers of Ong Bak".

It's the martial arts equivalent of a porno, i.e. it has a very perfunctory plot which is just there to justify the action, of which there's tons. It's not a masterpiece, but it's lots of fun. It features Thai Olympic athletes showing off their Olympic-fu.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:55 PM on March 19, 2006

a tale of two sisters was awesome.
battle royale is one of the best movies i have ever seen.
infernal affairsis an incredible action/thriller, with an amazing plot.
if you're looking for something a little more goofy but still pretty good, check out:
stacy, a zombie movie about teenage girls who suddenly become undead.
wild zero, a zombie movie starring the japanese punkrock band guitar wolf.
and biozombie, a sort of cross between clerks and dawn of the dead, from hong kong.
and i am going to add to the fervor for old boy. it was pretty amazing.
posted by kneelconqueso at 7:30 AM on March 20, 2006

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