Asia being so vast and diverse in its cultural background presents an endless panorama of Asian movies. From hilarious comedies to poignant, even heartbreaking stories about culture and society, there’s really nothing that doesn’t fall in the list of Asian movies worth watching.
Early Asian films were difficult for Western audiences to understand. While North American films were rooted in the Enlightenment, The Reformation and democracy, Asian films built their characters and conflicts on Buddhism, the Tao, and the Analects of Confucius.
Things have changed now. The most notable exceptions came from Japanese Akira Kurasawa. His masterful Seven Samurai was remade in America as The Magnificent Seven, and George Lucas took premise and plot from The Hidden Fortress and made it into Star Wars where the Imperial Storm Troopers wear a version of samurai armor and fight kendo-style with their light sabers.
The films in this list—most released within the last decade or so—are an introduction to trends in modern Asian cinema. They have been chosen for their artistic merit, and for their accessibility to non-Asian audiences. All of these films were critical and commercial successes in their home countries.
Chinese supernatural films often draw on ancient beliefs that are not necessarily believed per se, but form part of a general worldview. Chinese ghost stories give great, accessible insights into the Tao and traditional Chinese superstitions.
Singapore, with a land mass just three times the size of Washington D.C. and 4.5 million people, is one of the world’s economic powers. Singapore’s I Not Stupid made waves recently with outstanding performances given by the film’s three grade-school pals driven relentlessly toward a diploma in a quest for the 3 Cs—career, car and credit card.
Indian movies and movie stars have gained international acclaim. The stunning beauty of Aishwarya Rai and the outstanding performances of movie stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan have made the world recognize Bollywood cinema.