2018 is halfway over already, so now is a good moment to cast our eyes back over the last six months, and more specifically, the cinematic offerings that emerged from Asia. Traditionally the first half of the year tends to be weaker, and certainly most of the Chinese New Year offerings left plenty to be desired.
Chen Kaige’s Legend of the Demon Cat, Raman Hui’s Monster Hunt 2, Soi Cheang’s The Monkey King 3 and Chen Sicheng’s Detective Chinatown 2 all managed to underwhelm, while the endless barrage of sub-par Japanese and Korean dramas and thrillers was as relentless as it was soul-crushing.
That said, Korean offerings like Little Forest, Be With You and I Can Speak weren’t bad at all, while Colour Me True and Birds Without Names from Japan also showed promise. I even enjoyed dramas like Shuttle Life from Malaysia and Turn Around from Taiwan, as well as Indonesian horror flick Satan’s Slaves, even though they failed to make the final cut.
So, what follows are my favourite new Asian films, seen between January and June 2018. Feel free to let me know what I missed? What were your favourites? Share your comments below.
1987: When the Day Comes (dir. Jang Joon-hwan, South Korea)
Every South Korean actor worth their salt found a way into Jang’s epic political thriller, which details the 6-months between two student deaths at the hands of the heavy-handed authorities, that galvanised a nation into demanding a democratic solution.
Angels Wear White (dir. Vivian Qu, China)
When a pair of young girls are sexually assaulted in a small seaside hotel, their case escalates into a tough, unflinching look at the systemic corruption poisoning all levels of Chinese society.
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (dir. Jeong Beom-siik, South Korea)
A live-streamed reworking of The Blair Witch Project follows six pretty young fools as they strap on Go-Pros and dive headlong into a supposedly haunted hospital. It’s a well-worn formula, but one packed with atmosphere and genuine scares.
The Insult (dir. Ziad Doueiri, Lebanon)
Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, The Insult examines how the pride of two obstinate old men can escalate a minor civil infraction into a national crisis that exposes decades of pent-up anger and bitter resentment.
No.1 Chung Ying Street (dir. Derek Chiu, Hong Kong)
Hong Kong is painted as the tragic child at the centre of a bitter custody battle in Derek Chiu’s ballsy and beautifully told story of student protestors, in both the anti-British Maoist camp of 1967, and those fighting for universal suffarage right now.
On Happiness Road (dir. Song Hsin-yin, Taiwan)
40 years of Taiwanese history is filtered through the memories of a woman returning home after decades overseas, who struggles to recognise her homeland. From the innocent, child-like animation, to the emphasis on family and tradition, this was a beautifully realised debut.
One Cut of the Dead (dir. Shinichiro Ueda, Japan)
Just when you thought the zombie movie had run its course yet again, Ueda reinvents the genre one more time in a layered, movie-within-a-movie narrative that is fresh, energised, hilarious and insanely meta all at once.
Operation Red Sea (dir. Dante Lam, China)
Dante Lam continues his ascendency to becoming China’s answer to Michael Bay with this hugely entertaining military action epic that manages to dwarf even Wu Jing’s monster hit Wolf Warrior 2 in its grand scale carnage and jingoistic audacity.
The Running Actress (dir. Moon So-ri, South Korea)
Actress Moon So-ri steps behind the camera to create a hilarious triptych of quasi-autobiographical vignettes that skewer the film industry with razor sharp observations on everything from sexism and soju, to her own family life and public persona.
Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (dir. Stephen Schible, Japan/USA)
The legendary Japanese composer emerges from a ferocious battle with cancer to record a new album, score the Oscar-winning The Revenant and reflect on an incredible career in music and the movies. Profound and poetic in equal measure.
Shoplifters (dir. Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan)
Koreeda deservedly snagged the Palme D’Or for this brilliantly told tale of an impoverished and dysfunctional family, that raises pointed questions regarding nature vs nurture as it ventures into dark, disquieting recesses of contemporary Japanese life.
Side Job (dir. Ryuichi Hiroki, Japan)
Greatful Dead actress Kumi Takiuchi is sensational as a young woman, who takes a second job in the city as a prostitute, in order to support herself and her father, as they struggle in the wake of the 3/11 tsunami disaster.
Somewhere Beyond the Mist (dir. Cheung King Wai, Hong Kong)
Stephy Tang continues her transformation from Hong Kong popette to serious dramatic actress as a heavily pregnant police detective investigating a brutal double murder while tending to her father, who is wrestling with dementia.