TOP 15 ASIAN FILMS OF 2018
Best Short: Blue - dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
A hypnotic 10 minute piece by Joe that perfectly encapsulates the drifting in and out of sleep and various states of consciousness. Felt nightmarish to me in a sense and really envoked a sense of dread that I've not felt in a long time. I think this is one that everyone will experience and interpret differently.
15.) Swing Kids - dir. Kang Hyeong-chul
Kang Hyeong-chul is perhaps one of the world's most underappreciated directors outside of his home country. Both Scandal Makers and Sunny are two of the finest comedies of the last 10 years and this year's entry into his ouevre will dance its way right into your heart. Some of the most spectacular dance choreography ever displayed in a motion picture. The war setting makes for a very unique backdrop for this hard hitting musical dramedy. Also, Gared Grimes is a tapdancing beast!
14.) Caniba - dirs. Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor
To be honest, I have no idea at all where this should or shouldn't rank, but I do know that I have never been this uncomfortable watching anything, ever! Issei Sagawa and his brother disturb me to no end. I am not sure which words to use to accentuate what I took away from this documentary other than to say it is a completely spellbinding experience. I frankly wanted to stop once I got going, but Caniba sank its claws into me and I couldn't look away. Not sure whom I'd recommend this too, but it is a fantastically well crafted doc.
13.) Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts - dir. Mouly Surya
An utterly unique and refreshing film to come out of Indonesia in quite some time. A western revene flick with supernatural and comedic elements that all blend into a one-of-a-kind experience that puts the viewer on the edge from frame one and doesn't let up. Marsha Timothy gives one of the year's strongest performances as Marsha. The score is also electrifying and the landscape is lensed so beautifully that even Abbas Kiarostami would blush.
12.) Neomanila - dir. Mikhail Red
Three films into to an already booming career, Mikhail Red continues to craft high quality entertainment and still enjoy his youthful 20s. Saw this one during my coverage of Osaka Asian Film Festival this year and it has stuck with me throughout. To echo what I said in my review months ago, Red has directed one of the best South Korean thrillers not filmed in South Korea. I mean that in the best way possible and I am thrilled to see him help pave the way for Pinoy cinema as a whole. A lot of gems are popping up from the region.
11.) Tumbbad - dir. Rahi Anil Barve
One of the most unique films I've ever seen come out of India, Tummbad is a supernatural fantasy horror steeped deeply in Indian folklore and culture. I may not know exactly the background of the Goddess used in the film, but I do know the opening is insanely intense and has to be one of the greatest openings in any movie this year. I think it falters a bit in the middle, but the character design and cinematography coupled with the perfect dreary atmosphere makes this one of if not perhaps the best horror film of the year. I cannot wait to see what the director does next. I do hope this gets the recognition outside of India that it most certainly deserves. A must see for horror enthusiasts all over the world.
10.) One Cut of the Dead - dir. Shinichiro Ueda
The hottest ticket in Japanese cinema and noe embedded in local pop culture, One Cut of the Dead
is the little film that could, opening up on only two screens and going on to gross more than 1,000 times its budget and become a box office giant, making history for an indie film of that nature. Profit figures aside, it's easy to see why One Cut
has been such a huge smash and is making waves across the world. It's a completely fun and bonkers flick with the heart of a giant. I have not had a more fun cinematic experience all year and I don't see a movie making feel quite this way again for a very long time. Pom!!!
9.) Cambodian Textiles - dir. Tatsuhito Utagawa
[Cambodia / Japan]
Going into this documentary I had no interest in the subject matter but given the film's beautiful cinematography and serene nature, despite the fact that its central man in focus, Kikuo Morimoto, is dying of bladder cancer. Spending so much time learning of traditional Cambodian textile weaving was a special treat that I hadn't realized I wanted. One of the most visually lush works of the year. It is a shame that this niche little picture more than likely won't reach the audience it most definitely deserves. I have my eyes wide open in anticipation of whatever director Tatsuhito does next. I absolutely cannot recommend this one enough. This year's most underseen and underrated film.
8.) The Day After - dir. Hong Sang-soo
If you have seen any previous works of Hong Sang-soo, you more or less know what you are getting yourself into. If you have never seen a Hong Sang-soo film, this is just a good a place to start as many others. In all seriousness, I think The Day After
is one of his absolute best works, alongside some of his earlest titles such as The Power of Kangwon Province
or A Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors
. It almost seems as if Hong films it in black and white and it's bound to be one of his finer outings. As with all his works, it's very personal and completely open and real no matter how awkward or alcohol infused that may get.
7.) Mukkabaaz - dir. Anurag Kashyap
A boxing dramedy fused with political overtones that never get in the way in the heart or fight of the movie. Anurag Kashyup delivers his most accessible work yet and within that lies its strength. It is 2.5 hours in runtime and never is there a dull moment. You spend great lengths of time with the main and even side characters and they all have fantastic arcs in some way or another. The two leads' romantic chemistry is spot on and the boxing is raw and quite a spectacle to behold. Some of the grittiness you'd expect from a film by the director is still present and won't shy away his die-hard fans. With Gangs of Wasseypur
Anurag Kashyap crafted one of the finest gangster films of all time and I believe he has done the same within the boxing genre with Mukkabaaz
6.) Burning - dir. Lee Chang-dong
Getting into this last chunk of films, it was admittedly extremely difficult to choose what goes where, but there is no doubt that Lee Chang-dong has crafted one of the most intense Korean thrillers in years. It's not action-packed and in fact is quite a slow burn, no pun intended whatsoever, but it will have you holding your breath almost the entire time. Breathtaking visuals coupled with three stunning and morally ambiguous performances by the leads will have you questioning everything for the entirety of its runtime, well passed once the credits have rolled. Bound to spark many a great discussion. Also, maybe the greatest ending shot of the year. An absolute stunner.
5.) Your Face - dir. Tsai Ming-liang
An observational and brilliant look at the normalcy of the human being, in all entertaining varations on it. We see different people of varying ages and sex, sitting on front of the camera, each framed subtly different, looking at them up close and personal. Some choose to talk, while others sleep or drift off. It can be humorous at times and quite mundane at others, revealing behavioral patterns we all share. The people seem to be chosen at random but Tsai's partner in life, Lee Kang-shang makes his way into the picture and his segment is very fascinating, perhaps bringing to mind that other folks here have some purpose in Tsai's life, but I digress. Your Face
really pushes the form in terms of this style of filmmaking and I really haven't seen anything like it. I can see this being a popular art installation piece. It's hard to say exactly what it is that makes it work, but whatever it is, it does so in spades.
4.) An Elephant Sitting Still - dir. Hu Bo
A very bleak yet not entirely hopeless epic that drifts through the lives of four different souls, all torn and on the fringes of society. They are battered and worn by things such as school, work, home life and other factors that every individual on this Earth must endure. It is a cold tale and given the context of the director's tragic end to his life, it's hard to seperate the art from the artist at times. It has completely turned off some but I was hit hard by it all. Extremly poetic and a marvel to watch unfold, I was completely washed away into these young peoples' sad lives. It reminded me too much of my own personal past and gave me much to latch on to. It is one of the greatest cinematic offerings from anywhere this year and an utter shame that we will never know what Hu Bo might have brought to us film lovers for years to come. That said, this is certainly one riveting work that is sure to be embraced for years to come.
3.) Shoplifters - dir. Hirokazu Koreeda
The fact that an artist can be more than a dozen films deep into his career and keep churning out masterpieces is a complete testament to the artistic genuius of Hirokazu Koreeda. Humanistic in ever story he crafts, Shoplifters may have his most endearing characters of all thus far. A reflection on Japanese society and humanity as a whole, from the opening scene, full absorption is had as you are quickly swept away into the world of this incredible family. Things take turns in ways that will keep you on your toes. Sakura Ando gives the performance of her entire career at this point, and Lily Franky really ups his already solid game as well. Once more, a loving rest in peace to the late and great Kiki Kirin. Shoplifters
deserves every accolade and award that can be hurled its way.
2.) Bad Poetry Tokyo - dir. Anshul Chauhan
And the best actress award goes to... Shuna Iijima. Seriously though, she completely knocks this leading performance into another world and never looks back. The last time an actress completely melted my brain like this was Jeon Do-yeon back in Secret Sunshine
in 2007. This stands neck in neck with that performance and easily takes the finest of 2018 in my book. She is completely fearless and packs an emotional wallop hard enough to put you in a tear induced coma. Anshul Chauhan's remarkably stunning directorial debut is the film of 2018 that everyone should be talking about. I don't think there has been a drama more powerful this year. An extremely raw character study on abuse and the effects it takes on the soul. Anshul, if you are reading this, I want your next film in front of my eye sockets as soon as possible. Bad Poetry Tokyo
is powerfully seered into my brain.
1.) Dead Souls - dir. Wang Bing
Without a doubt the most important piece of cinema in 2018 goes to this mammoth of a documentary. Clocking in at 495 minutes, yes... over eight hours, Dead Souls is a massive undertaking for any type of film lover. 12 years of recorded testimonies revealed by survivors of the 1957 Anti-Rightist campaign in China. My final bit from my review will be pasted here, as I'm not sure what more I can say to add towards my appreciation:
Sitting through 8+ hours of listening to these elderly men reflect back on the inhumane hardships they endured; the starvation, beatings, cannibalism and death they were surrounded with every waking moment, it's a wonder that any survived. Saddened and shocked in equal measure, the things humans put one another through never ceases to disturb me. These voices needed to be heard. Wang Bing was the perfect vessel to let these stories be told. May their souls rest in peace. A dark corner of history that had been told in an uncensored fashion. Easily one the most important pieces of cinema to surface in 2018.
Dead Souls truly is 2018's film that demands the attention of all who can see it. An utter masterpiece within a league of its own.