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Top 10 Favorite Asian Films of 2000-2010

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We see a lot of movies during these winter hibernations, a lot of them Asian. At first, we thought it was because we missed being away from the Motherland. But when we found ourselves back in Hong Kong this past summer, we inevitably found ourselves in the theaters, inhaling one movie after another. And that’s when we realized we don’t necessarily miss the real Asia itself, but its cinematic version. Why live in reality, when we could pall around with martial artists, triad gangsters, anime babes and perverse crazies instead?

To honor the past decade of fine (East) Asian cinema, I present my favorite films released since Y2K:

10. NAKED WEAPON (2003, Hong Kong)
[Trailer]

Dir: Tony Ching. Starring: Maggie Q, Anya Wu, Daniel Wu.

I’m not even going to try to defend this choice: this one is straight up a guilty-pleasure-rollocking-good-time. It’s a gem of the same high caliber as Step Up 2 The Streets. No profundity to be found here, though feel free to prove me wrong.

But really, this film sells itself – just listen to this premise. Promising girl athletes are kidnapped and trained by professional mercenaries into ultimate badass murder machines. They deceive their bigwig targets by posing as foxy high-class escorts, only to butcher these old, useless fools and take down a country of bodyguards with expert gunmanship and leggy martial arts.

And one of those women is Maggie Q. That’s all you need to know.

9. YOU SHOOT, I SHOOT
(2001, Hong Kong) [Clip]

Dir: Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung. Starring: Eric Kot, Cheung Tat-Ming, Chan Wai-Man.

Dark comedy, with the exception of perhaps Bong Joon-ho (we’ll get to him later), cannot get any better than this. Yes, it’s a satirical jab at Hong Kong in so many ways (the economy, film industry, porn industry, socialites, triads), but it also manages to do an incredible thing, which is make us cheer on murder.

Moral implications aside, it’s one of the funniest and most fun films I’ve ever seen. The story, written by Pang himself, is balls-out wacky. Hitman Bart, during times of financial hardship, is tasked by a female socialite to film his hit on a gangster who released a sex tape of her. The shaky-cam result is useless and dissatisfying, but she gives Bart one more chance. He teams up with Cheun, an NYU film school grad and Martin Scorsese fan doomed to assisting on porno sets, to create a masterpiece of assassination snuff film. The result is gleeful chaos. Tarantino would approve.

8. TEKKONKINKREET (2006, Japan) [Trailer]

Dir: Michael Arias. Animated by Studio 4°C.

In Treasure Town, adults aren’t the ones to be feared. As the story goes in Tekkonkinkreet, two orphaned delinquents, aptly named Black and White, run the show. The former is older, harder, and almost nihilistic in his ways, but he nonetheless protects the latter, a child with an unblemished naivete. Together they must deal with the threat of Rat, a yakuza who looks to take over the turf.

This film is the Big Daddy orgasm of visually stunning anime films. Sorry, but 5 Centimeters Per Second and Paprika ain’t got shit on Tekkonkinkreet, based on the excellent manga by Taiyō Matsumoto, and that’s because of how incredible and tenable the setting of Treasure Town is. It lives and breathes like worlds actually do. It’s got a stylish soul like no other.

7. RED CLIFF I & II (2008, 2009, China) [Trailer]

Dir: John Woo. Starring: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi.

Really, it’s Lord of the Rings + Romance of the Three Kingdoms + Sun Tzu’s Art of War + Confucius’ Analects. Oh yeah, plus John Woo, who’s only the greatest director of balletic action sequences known to humankind.

The Battle of Red Cliff, the event which the story hinges upon, was so badass that Woo needed two films to do it even an iota of justice. The southern warlords Sun Quan and Liu Bei defend their land against the megalomaniac Prime Minister Cao Cao, bent on bringing all of China under his foot.

In addition to witnessing whirlwind fight scenes, we also see famous historical military tactics such as “borrowing the enemy’s arrows” and the “Eight Trigrams Formation” turn the tide of the battle. It’s no simple war. This is the epic film of the decade.

6. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000, Hong Kong) [Trailer]

Dir: Wong Kar-wai. Starring: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung.

If Red Cliff is a ballet of swords, In the Mood for Love is a ballet of unutterable desires. It’s Leung and Cheung’s dance with one another – electric in their mutual attraction yet never consummating it – that keeps us totally riveted.

A journalist named Chow and his next-door neighbor So decide together to shun the infidelity they are sure their respective spouses are engaged in. Yet in doing so, they are inevitably drawn closer together. Everything you hate or love about WKW is in full flourish here. The slow motion, the wonderful soundtrack by Shigeru Umebayashi, the rose-tinted camera that lingers like our memories.

The nostalgia, the faraway fantasy of 1960′s Hong Kong becomes a romantic exploration of sorrow and unfulfillment. And if none of it moves you, well, you’re a robot.

Also, this is also how I learned the qi pao is the sexiest costume in the Asian wardrobe.

5. INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2002, Hong Kong) [Trailer]

Dir: Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. Starring: Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Eric Tsang, Anthony Wong.

Surprise, surprise. It was going to show up sooner or later. Other than the fact that this film alone reinvigorated an entire genre, nay, film industry, it’s also so damned good because this is exactly what Hong Kong crime thrillers should always be like: well-written and well-performed. And even though it’s slick, it’s not cliched. Well done.

Should I even bother to recount the plot? A triad gang and the popo go head-to-head when both discover that the other side has an undercover agent masquerading as one of them. Gun-pointing, psychiatrist-romancing and wire-tapping ensue.

Also, this is the film that Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed was based on, but you already knew that. If you didn’t, slap yourself. Again. Again. I hope it’s red, raw and stinging by now, so you’ll remember to watch this the first chance you get.

4. YI YI (2000, Taiwan) [Trailer]

Dir: Edward Yang. Starring: Nien-Jen Wu, Elaine Jin.

Every film from Taiwan I’ve seen really enjoys being slow as hell. That’s totally fine with me in the case of Yi Yi, Edward Yang’s three-hour magnum opus that follows the trials and tribulations of a Taipei family, because it builds and builds into such an encompassing experience of love, loss, and quiet desperation.

Framed by a wedding at the beginning of the film and a funeral at the end, the story centers on a father dissatisfied by his work at a tech company, his mischievous younger son, and his romantically-conflicted older daughter. Meanwhile, the mother has left the home temporarily to confront her own existential crisis, and the grandmother is in a coma. Its heartbreak is so well done on every level – story, acting, cinematography – so beautifully capturing the stifling limbo of living.

Despite it being my third favorite, this film is likely the best one on my list. Many agree with me. It won Yang Best Director at Cannes and was selected by Sight & Sound in 2002 as one of the best films in the past 25 years.

3. MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003, South Korea) [Trailer]

Dir: Bong Joon-ho. Starring: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roe-ha.

Though popular in its home country of South Korea (the 4th most viewed film after the end of its run), Memories of Murder is eclipsed on the world stage by that other Korean film, Grand Prix winner Oldboy, or even Bong’s more recent monster film, The Host.

This one is by far the best. It follows small town detective Park, who is joined by Seoul hotshot investigator Seo in solving a serial murder and rape case, based on real events from 1986-1991.

Complex, genre-bending, and thrilling, this is what Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac should have been. The last shot is one of the most haunting of all time. Now one of my favorite movies, period.

2. ELECTION / TRIAD ELECTION (2005, 2006, Hong Kong) [Trailer Part 1 / Part 2]

Dir: Johnnie To. Starring: Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Louis Koo, Nick Cheung.

It’s The Godfather series of Triad films. Infinitely nuanced, strikingly filmed, and brilliantly performed, Election‘s comparison to Coppola’s masterpiece is not hyperbole in the least. This is To’s own tour-de-force. Tarantino even called Election the best film of 2005.

The two films both revolve around triad members fighting over the coveted leadership position of Chairman, a role which changes every two years. They’re a fascinating look at the city’s history and compelling drama that in fact doesn’t rely on operatic gunfights but conniving backroom dealings and sudden gritty spurts of ugly violence. The movies so much embody the Hong Kong condition – conflict of tradition and modern, of displaced Chinese and immigrant identity – that I even wrote a paper on the two films.

It’s not at all pretty or shiny. Infernal Affairs this is not. But it leaves all the more an impression for it.

And finally, we come to the peak of this decade:

1. SPIRITED AWAY (2001, Japan) [Trailer]

This is the Truth. Spirited Away embodies every quality a film should be: artistry, humanity, and wonder. It’s magical in its entertainment, whisking us to some otherworld. Yet at the same time, Chihiro’s adventure to save her parents in this dreamscape of spirits and monsters itches you in a place you can’t scratch – it’s so familiar but also so unreal. The mastery required to evoke that feeling of overwhelming nostalgia in a setting so fantastical is staggering. But luckily, Miyazaki has it in spades.

Even Tekkonkinkreet can’t touch this film. The visuals are so haunting – I will never forget Chihiro sitting on the train, cabin empty but for a few ghostly figures lost in their own thoughts, as it travels across the deep blue sea.

The movie is on one hand an story of growing up, but on the other hand also a larger allegory about a modern world drifting away from what was once known, torn between its own materialistic greed and mythologized nostalgia. A poignant story, if there ever was one.


Honorable Mentions: 2046, AV, Battle Royale, Bodyguards & Assassins, Exiled, The Host, I Not Stupid, Ju-on, Kung Fu Hustle, Lagaan, Mad Detective, Men Suddenly In Black, Millennium Actress, My Sassy Girl, Nanking, PTU, Ping Pong, Shaolin Soccer, Sparrow, the Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), Zatōichi.

(Note: I realize all the selections are East Asian. I’ve only seen a few other films beyond this region, and that’s my fault and reason for not including any Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Singaporean, or other Asian films. I will be sure to educate myself in the coming months. Suggestions to get me started are most welcome.)

Disagree with some of my choices, or want to suggest some of your own? Comment below!


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  • Watch Oldboy


    How did you not include Oldboy on this list? Cause it needs to be at the top yo

    • http://21stcenturyboy.net msuen


      It’s on my Honorable Mentions yo. I think it’s a badass film, it’s still by far one of the best Asian movies of the decade. But that being said, I think the other two films in the Vengeance trilogy are better – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance.

  • http://wachanime8movies.blog.friendster.com/2010/02/watch-free-anime-online-in-seconds/ Francisco


    Mehr bitte!

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    Really nice post. Very Informative and helpful post.

  • Poultry-Geist


    Nice list, but sadly, the only one I’ve watched is Spirited Away (It is a very good film, and I agree with every single thing you’ve said about it). Have you watched Totoro? I watched it awhile ago, and when Ponyo came out, the directer has gotten more popular. I like it.

    Kudos,
    Poultry-Geist

    • tellos


      Miyazaki has been populare for a long long time imagine that Totoro came out in 1988. You should watch princess mononoke.

  • PzGerard


    What about Lust, Caution?

  • http://www.franchisesforsale.com Lowell Sposito


    Hey very nice blog!!….I’m an instant fan, I have bookmarked you and I’ll be checking back on a regular….See ya

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  • patternexon


    Awesome List !
    my netflix queue is this list inverted !!

    • http://www.21stcenturyboy.net/ Michael


      Good to hear it! Let me know what you think of the list afterward, I’m curious to hear.

  • Haow


    While I like most of the films on your list. Not to have Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on it is suspect. I’m not saying it’s anywhere near the best film. But there is no denying the effect it had around the world and the interest it brought to Asian cinema.

    But I do like your list.

    • http://www.21stcenturyboy.net/ Michael


      Haow, thanks for the comment. If I were compiling a list of influential Asian films, I certainly would have Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on the list. In terms of global impact and carving out a direction for future Asian cinema, it clearly would be near the top. But again, this is just a “favorite” list of my own, and personally, I didn’t enjoy the film on as great a level as I would’ve liked to.

  • tellos


    Nice list, I’m going to watch some of the movies of your recommended. I’m adding a few Korean movies if you don’t mind :D :

    - Time
    - 3 iron
    - Oasis
    - The Chaser
    - Bittersweet life
    - Sad movie
    - Thirst
    - My Sassy Girl (original version)

  • Michael


    The Shinjuku Incident(or San suk si gin)

    One of the best films I’ve seen all year. Jackie Chan stars as the main character but this is certainly like no other Jackie Chan film I’ve ever seen. I put this film in the same league as Goodfellas, Casino etc.
    Really is a brilliant watch

  • http://freemp3albumsdownload.com Daily File


    That is in all probability among the best articles I’ve learn in a very long time, I just wish there were extra goodies on the internet as of late, thanks and will God Bless you my child. LOL

  • ANony


    Good article, going to DL the ones I haven’t seen yet.

    Off topic: what a shitty font you’ve used for your blog. I can hardly read the text.

    • http://www.21stcenturyboy.net/ Michael Suen


      Hi ANony, thanks for visiting. Are you on a Mac or Windows? I’ve had people tell me different things about the font.

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  • Kanada


    I love your choices. I’m gonna go watch Memories of Murder right now :)
    I think by your choices you’d definitely enjoy the movie:
    Princess Aurora . It’s korean i believe.
    Don’t let the name fool you, it has no cutesy element to it :L

  • saywhat?


    “Musa: The Warrior” should have made the list (South Korean). The acting, action, story, and visuals are all spot on. I know its in your honorable mentions but I would have definitely put Battle Royal on my top ten. I seem to be the only person on the planet who was BORED with spirited away. I don’t think they are worthy of top ten, but a couple good flicks are “Azumi” and “Fighter in the wind”.

  • Robertvlith


    Very nice post, thanks! I saw about half of these and agree with them being on the list, but I definitely need to watch the rest.
    I have to agree with you on ‘Crouching tiger”, which, although enjoyable very important for asian cinema, in my opinion was greatly overrated by western audiences/critiques and not nearly as good as some other in the genre. I am actually surprised that you didn’t include either ‘Hero’ or “house of flying daggers’…

    2 other suggestions you may enjoy:
    -The good, the bad, the weird (Korean, plain fun)
    -Nobody knows (Japan, gripping story)

    Btw, what did you think of ‘Haeundae’?

    Anyway, good article!

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  • http://pablobanila.com Pablo Banila


    I was an Asian cinema geek up until the last three years, and I felt that I had to catch up on anything I never should’ve missed.

    I like how you simplified the rationale of your list in terms of their Hollywood counterparts — I mean, of course not exactly but the point is made.

    I only want to say that I just finished watching Election as it seems to be the movie most personal to you, and I was gonna say that Stephen Chow starred in a film called Triad Story which told the same story but with more elegance and realism (you can’t go wrong with a Triad movie made by the Triad themselves) but then realized it was made back in 1990 and therefore doesn’t belong in this list.

    I pretty much have nothing to disagree with a fellow Naoki Urasawa fan, but I’m hoping that my suggestions don’t appear patronizing as much as I only want to share the love:

    Shunji Iwai – Love Letter (1995)

    Although Shunji Iwai never made a less beautiful film, Love Letter was extremely influential in inspiring the modern wave of well-crafted Korean dramas we enjoy now like My Sassy Girl and Windstruck. And back then, Japan was eager to show-off their best to the world and now that they’ve had virtual monopoly on the Asian entertainment industry they’re no longer trying — and now Korea has every incentive to spark their own Golden Age:

    Taegukgi (2004)

    In an age of desensitizing violence and maudlin tragedies it is a feat of cinematic genius to move any man into tears.

    As for Chan-Wook Park, I consider him to be the most intelligent filmmaker today. I agree with you that Oldboy is below the other two in the trilogy. But what sealed Park in my heart is a short film (50 minutes is almost full-length):

    Cut (2004)

    I call his style “intelligent aesthetic violence” that mocks the mindless gore and stereotypical absurdities of “the crazy Japanese” (especially of Takashi Miike).

    That’s all for now.

    I’ve seen the critically lauded works of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Wong Kar Wai, Ki-duk Kim — the characters were too normal for me to identify with haha. I know it’s a trope of “post-postmodernity” to find complexity in the ordinary or find order in complexity, but unless there’s any other way to create art I find the latter manner to be more intellectually gratifying. Chan-Wook Park, Shunji Iwai, Hideaki Anno, Mamoru Oshii, Shinichiro Watanabe and Kenji Kamiyama remain to be my most worshiped filmmakers.

    ~PB

  • Birdie


    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a co-worker who was doing a little research on that. And he really decided to buy me lunch simply because I discovered it for him .So let me rephrase that: Thx for lunch! My kindest regards, Birdie.

  • Qvothe


    Not a bad list at all. Only a few comments to make:

    1. In terms of animated features, I’d argue Tekkonkinkreet, though quite creative, fell short of other features such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and most everything done by Satoshi Kon. I certainly can’t argue with Spirited Away though. What a masterpiece.

    2. I found In the Mood for Love to be Wong Kar-Wai’s least impressive work to date. Though it might have been his best in the 20th century, compared to his older gems such as Chungking Express and Days of Being Wild, it was a bit too slow and unengaging.

    3. I would try to defend Naked Weapon either. To each his own, I suppose. Myself, I’d prefer So Close.

    The only other suggestion I’d have is the movie “Go!” by Isao Yukisada based on Kazuki Kaneshiro’s novel. It’s quite funny, a little over-the-top at times, but is at heart a very serious, sad, yet heartwarming story. Also, it featured a breakout performance by Kubozuka Yousuke, who in his prime was a joy to watch.

    Cheers!

  • Martin


    Good choice with In the Mood for Love. I agree with it

  • http://profiles.google.com/shaunlav56 Shaun Lavery


    What about ‘Oldboy’? How could you miss that one out :|

    • http://www.21CB.net/ Michael Suen


      Hi Shaun, thanks for visiting! For me, Oldboy’s style was undeniably awesome, but its story felt too messy for me to really appreciate it. I prefer Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Lady Vengeance — have you seen it?

  • J. Henry


    This list is far too inferior even though its only from 2000-10, no offense.
    Take a look at this: http://jadehive.com/asian-films/
    It might help you with your homework.

    • http://www.21CB.net/ Michael Suen


      Hey J. Henry!
      Thanks for stopping by. I saw the list you linked, and though there are admittedly some films that I haven’t seen and definitely mean to (particularly Uncle Boonmee, Noriko’s Dinner Table, All About Lily Chou Chou, and Breathless), I respectfully disagree with many of the choices. I’ve seen all the Chinese films on the list, for instance, and many of them just don’t do it for me, sorry. Torf each their own! This is just my own list, and some of them, as I’ve said, are guilty pleasures (Red Cliff and Naked Weapon, especially). I stand by my animated film choices, and I think they’re often horribly underappreciated in that the animated genre gets a short shrift in the wider film canon. If you could point to why you think some of the films on the jadehive.com list are superior, feel free to let me know. I’d love to discuss this more. And of, course, lists always change. My sentiments in 2011 don’t match those I held in January 2010, when I compiled this list.Best,Michael

      • J. Henry


        I thought from the beginning that this list is objective that’s why I’m really surprised by it, quite irked actually. Truth is, I’ve suggested more than five films on that site on their best of asian cinema list and each of them got listed except one: Battle Royale, one of my favorite but for some reason it went only to their honorable mentions page. They said that the movie just didnt fit the bill (to be on their “best of” asian cinema list that is). They really have some sort of an almost elitist standard out there only known to them. But it works for me that’s why i visit it every now and then. Come to think of it, they only “suggest” good films. Watch it or don’t but that what they suggest, I suppose.Yep, “to each his own” i guess. “I present my favorite films released since Y2K” i should have read that first before jabbing in. My bad. If we could come to an agreement, I think it’s because of In the Mood for Love, Memories of Murder and Spirited Away. Top notch filmmaking, especially the second one.Lastly, man you’ve got to admit: OLDBOY has got to be there as was said by Shaun below. It’s not that well put of a story but its sheer originality and the performance of the actor at the end is way too remarkable to ignore. Anyways… :)

  • Gumby


    I really don’t understand the appeal of My Sassy Girl. I thought the characters were unrealistic and the whole thing was just depressing.

    I only feel like the list is missing Sympathy For Lady Vengeance. I know Old Boy got all the kudos but I think Lady Vengeance far surpassed it. The movie was beautifully shot and it is one of the best examples of where the audience walks the line of utter disgust and gruesome satisfaction.

  • Gumby


    and Howl’s Moving Castle!

  • http://www.21stcenturyboy.net/ Michael Suen


    I absolutely agree, Gumby. I think Old Boy — though bold and visually compelling — is far inferior to Lady Vengeance. Lady Vengeance’s narrative is tight, brutal, and moving, whereas Old Boy is pleasurable more on a sheer visceral level.