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Top 10 Favorite Asian Films of the 2000s

21 Jan 2010

We see a lot of movies during our winter hibernations, a lot of them Asian. At first, we thought it was because we missed being away from the Motherland.

But when I found myself back in Hong Kong this past summer, I inevitably found myself in the theaters, inhaling one movie after another. And that’s when we realized: sure, we miss the real Asia, but we love its cinematic world even more. 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)

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

This one is straight up 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)

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)

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, Parts 1 & 2 (2008, 2009, China)

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)

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)

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.

On the next page: A family’s quiet desperation, serial murder, warring gangs, and a little girl trying to find her way home.


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32 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 Dec 2010 6:01 PM

    Hey, I just wanted to leave a quick comment to say that I really enjoyed reading your post. There is a lot of good information here for anyone interested in this topic. Keep up the good work.

  2. Birdie permalink
    6 Dec 2010 11:23 AM

    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.

  3. 4 Dec 2010 9:04 PM

    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.


  4. 2 Dec 2010 5:15 AM

    Merely wanna remark that you have a very nice website , I the design and style it actually stands out.

  5. Robertvlith permalink
    19 Nov 2010 11:55 PM

    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!

  6. saywhat? permalink
    19 Nov 2010 12:34 AM

    “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”.

  7. Kanada permalink
    17 Nov 2010 9:54 PM

    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

  8. 31 Oct 2010 10:17 AM

    Always glad to follow a different website. Thanks for the input . In addition, apart from the content , the design of your blog looks really amazing . Cheers.

  9. 20 Oct 2010 7:31 PM

    Happen to be following your posts for several. Only want to drop a line to tell you I absolutely love your web blog. Cheers!

  10. ANony permalink
    13 Oct 2010 12:00 PM

    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.

    • 14 Oct 2010 9:08 AM

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

  11. 1 Oct 2010 11:46 PM

    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

  12. Michael permalink
    25 Aug 2010 7:22 AM

    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

  13. tellos permalink
    3 Jun 2010 4:22 PM

    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 😀 :

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

    • Gumby permalink
      17 Nov 2010 10:29 PM

      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.

      • 17 Nov 2010 11:02 PM

        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.

  14. Haow permalink
    3 Jun 2010 1:11 AM

    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.

    • 3 Jun 2010 11:21 AM

      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.

  15. patternexon permalink
    2 Jun 2010 10:38 PM

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

    • 3 Jun 2010 11:18 AM

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

  16. 4 Apr 2010 6:47 AM

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

    existing franchises for sale

  17. PzGerard permalink
    30 Mar 2010 7:42 PM

    What about Lust, Caution?

  18. Poultry-Geist permalink
    7 Mar 2010 10:59 AM

    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.


    • tellos permalink
      3 Jun 2010 4:16 PM

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

      • Gumby permalink
        17 Nov 2010 10:30 PM

        and Howl’s Moving Castle!

  19. 27 Feb 2010 3:20 PM

    Really nice post. Very Informative and helpful post.

  20. 26 Feb 2010 10:16 AM

    Wow.. Nice post.. very use full information. thank you.

  21. 19 Feb 2010 10:05 AM

    Mehr bitte!

  22. Watch Oldboy permalink
    21 Jan 2010 4:20 PM

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

    • 22 Jan 2010 3:05 AM

      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.


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