Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Best Asian Films of 2012

2012 has been an excellent and surprising year for Asian cinema. Oddly this year Korea only has 1 film in my top 10, Korea usually dominates the best Asian films. There are also surprise entries from countries like Thailand and Vietnam. It was tough to narrow it down to 10, but here is my list. I have also included their IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes ratings when possible. Some of these films might have not been released in 2012 but they weren't released on UK DVD until 2012.

10. The Viral Factor - Hong Kong (IMDb = 5.9/RT = 56%)

Director - Dante Lam
Starring - Jay Chou, Nicholas Tse and Ling Peng

I love Jay Chou! He is one of my favorite performers(singer/actor) from Asia, I will watch anything he is in. The majority of Hong Kong films seem to get low ratings and bad reviews, especially the Action films. The Viral Factor is no different. However, this is still a very fun film. It's back to the good old Hong Kong action films with plenty of action, fight scenes and gun shoot outs.

If you are looking for an intelligent film with a great story that will make you think, then this isn't for you. If you want to sit back, relax and watch some crazy stunts, brilliant car chases, awesome shoot outs and brutal fight scenes... While 2 guys try and stop criminals releasing a virus from infecting the world... or something to that effect. Then get the popcorn and enjoy.

9. Mitsuko Delivers - Japan (IMDb = 6.2/RT = No Score Yet)

Director - Yuya Ishii
Starring - Riisa Naka, Aoi Nakamura and Ryo Ishibashi

Number 9 is a Japanese Comedy entry from director Yuyu Ishii(Sawako Decides).

Mitsuko Delivers tells the story of a young woman Mitsuko(Riisa Naka) who always believes that everything will be okay. Even after moving to America with her lover, getting pregnant by him then getting dumped by him she returns to Japan, nine months pregnant, broke and forced to move out of her apartment, she still feels like everything will be okay. Mitsuko decides to go with the wind, literally. After lying on a bench and watching the way the wind blows, she packs up and heads off that way.

Mitsuko Delivers is a very funny feel good film. The relationship with her parents, who still believe she is happy in California and the boy who has had a life-long crush on her makes the film interesting. And the films climax is brilliant. Definitely worth a watch and it's one to put a smile on your face.

8. Headshot - Thailand (IMDb = 6.1/RT = 60%)

Director - Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
Starring -  Nopachai Chaiyanam, Sirin Horwang and Chanokporn Sayoungkul

Headshot is a Thai crime noir which tells the story of Tul(Nopachai), a hitman who wakes up from a coma to realize that he's now seeing everything upside down. Tul wants to quit but is instead recruited to join a secret organization that gets rid of crooked politicians untouched by the law.

Seeing the world upside down and being a hitman is an in interesting idea and is explored very well. The film is told in a non-chronological order from his pre-hitman days to being a cop, and to the present where his attempts to lead a monk's life gets ruined by his earlier life of violence that come back to haunt him.

A great film with a very likeable lead character and a finale that is filled with enough gun battle to excite the casual action seeker.

7. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney - Japan (IMDb = 6.8/RT = No Score Yet)

- Takashi Miike
Starring - Takumi Saitô, Mirei Kiritani and Shunsuke Daitô

Number 7 on the list is a video game adaption and also the first on the list from acclaimed director Takashi Miike.

This film is based on the popular video game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and focuses on the second and fourth case of the game. The story set in the not so distant future, where the government has introduced a bench trial system that sees trials last three days before a verdict is reached. Ace Attorney follows a rookie and likeable lawyer Phoenix Wright, who has to defend Maya Fey, the sister of his deceased friend Mia Fey. He faces against Miles Edgeworth who has a perfect win record. In his second case, after Miles is charged with murder, it falls on Phoenix Wright to defend him. This time he is up against the best prosecutor of all time, Manfred Von Karma. To solve this case Phoenix looks beyond the court room drama and searches the clues from the DL-6, a 15 year old case with clues left behind by Mia Fey.

This is arguably one of the best video game films of all time. Takashi Miike has got it spot on. He even kept the gamers happy by taking the music directly from the game and incorporating it in the film. Miike has also managed to capture the excitement of the court room battles which will leave you on the edge of your seat. A very exciting and captivating film.

6. Blood Letter - Vietnam (IMDb = 6.5/RT = No Score Yet)

Director: Victor Vu
Starring - Huyuh Dong, Midu and Khuong Ngoc

Nearly every year there is a big budget epic Chinese film, with brilliant locations and sets, stunning costumes, martial arts and wire fu. This year, it just happens to be a Vietnamese film.

Now I will be the first to admit I am ignorant to Vietnamese cinema, I can't recall seeing a lot of films from there or any that stood out. That made this film all the more enjoyable and exciting for me as I got much much more than expected!

Blood Letter begins with a massacre of Le Chi Vien, the full Nguyen Trai family are brutally murdered leaving only one survivor, a young 5 year old boy who is found by a monk. The monk raises the child and trains him in martial arts, the boy grows into an adult with great fighting skills and a new name, Tran Nguyen Vu. When Nguyen Vu discovers his family history, he sets out on a journey seeking revenge and to clear his family's name. Along the way he encounters others with vengeance on their mind, Hoa Xuan, a female sword-wielding martial artists. Together them team up and seek revenge against the ones that framed them for crimes they didn't commit... The Royal Family.

This film is beautiful to look at showcasing the gorgeous scenery of Vietnam from the mountains to the crystal clear lakes. The sets and costumes are almost on par with the likes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Hero. And the martial arts and fight scenes are exciting and well choreographed. Blood Letter is a film you need to seek out!

5. Himizu - Japan (IMDb = 6.9/RT = 92%)

Director: Shion Sono
Starring: Shôta Sometani, Fumi Nikaidô and Tetsu Watanabe

Himizu is the latest worldwide release from Shion Sono one of the 'it' directors from Japan. With Suicide Club, Love Exposure and recently Cold Fish under his belt. And he delivers, again.

This film competed at the 68th Venice International Film Festival and Fumi Nikaido and Shota Dometani recieved the award for Best New Young Actor and Actress.

Sumida(Shometani) and Keiko(Nikaido) are 15 year olds living seemingly meaningless lifes. They have a lot in common including the fact their parents hate them and both sharing a dream of living an ordinary life. Set in Japan in the tsunami hit areas, when Sumida is abandoned by his mother and is left alone to manage a boat-rental business previously ran by his family, his classmate Keiko sees this as a chance to help out and also get close to him.

The description of this film might make it sound like a rom-com. But it is far from it. It's a gritty, violent drama with no laughs but characters who you want to fight for as you can genuinely feel their pain. Himizu is an adaption of Minoru Furuya's popular manga with the same name, the word himizu is a species of a Japanese mole.

Himizu is a grim film. Realistic and heart wrenching, it is the hardest film on this list to watch. With brilliant young actors playing provoking characters and an extremely intense ending, this film is definitely worth watching.

4. Nameless Gangster - South Korea (IMDb = 7.2/RT = No Score Yet)

Director: Jong-bin Yun
Starring: Peter Cavnoudias, Min-sik Choi and Jung-woo Ha

"The Korean mob film Scorsese would be proud of." Time Magazine

On the verge of being fired, a corrupt customs official finds a haul of drugs and teams up with a vicious gangster to become the most powerful crime partnership in Busan. Set in the 1980s and '90s when corruption and crime was so rampant that the government declared war on it on 13th October 1990.

This film is just plain cool! The look is very stylish with a nice score to match it. And the characters are all likeable and bad ass. Especially the leads Choi Min-sik(Oldboy, I Saw The Devil) and Jung-woo Ha(The Chaser, Breath).

Definitely one for fans of gangster films especially if you enjoyed films like Goodfellas, which this film draws a lot of comparisons.

3. Hara Kiri - Japan (IMDb = 7.2/RT = 80%)

Director: Takashi Miike
Stars: Kôji Yakusho, Eita, Munetaka Aoki

The second film by Japanese cult director Takashi Miike to make this list!

Miike had a worldwide hit in 2010/11 with 13 Assassins with critics and fans a like. So it seems safe for him to release another Samurai flick... However, Takashi Miike doesn't do playing it safe. Hara-Kiri goes in a completely different direction from 13 Assassins. Take the action and blood fest out and replace it with a compelling story, brilliant acting and a lot of drama.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is a remake of the 1962 film Harakiri by Masaki Kobayashi, widely regarded as one of the greatest Samurai films of all time. Miike also shot this film entirely in 3D, which is a touchy subject. So it's actually quite surprising to see it receive mostly positive reviews. The 3D wasn't used as a gimmick in this film, it was used more to add depth and layers to scenery and surroundings, such as with falling snow flakes. Another exciting point of Hara-Kiri is the original score which was composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, it fits perfectly with the story, setting and dramatic themes of this movie. This makes it not just visually stunning but also audibly beautiful.

For fans of Miike's films, there are a few violent/bloody scenes, however they serve a purpose and are a little tough to watch. There is also an extremely memorable, well choreographed fight scene that will satisfy martial arts and action fans.

Watch Hara-Kiri, I highly recommend it. But don't go in expecting an action film. Except a very well told story with likeable characters, drama galore and gorgeous cinematography and music.

2. We Were There (Bokura Ga Ita) - Japan (IMDb = 7.7/RT = No Score Yet)

Director: Takahiro Miki
Starring: Tôma Ikuta, Yuriko Yoshitaka, Sôsuke Takaoka

This was the surprise film of the year for me. I knew nothing and hadn't heard anything about this movie before I watched it. I was actually 35,000 feet high when I watched We Were There. Sitting on a plane on the way back from Japan, scrolling through the in fight films I noticed We Were There parts I and II. I stuck it on to kill 4+ hours of the flight... And I tried my hardest not to cry like a baby.

The film is based on the manga Bokura ga Ita and the anime of the same name. The manga was released in 2002 and has currenlty sold over 10,000,000 copies. Released as 2 separate films in the cinema with a one month wait between them.

We Were There is the story of a romance between Nanami Takahashi(Yuriko Yoshitaka) and Motoharu Yano(Toma Ikuta). Motoharu is the most popular boy in highschool, Nanami falls in love with him but doesn't know about his past relationship were his girlfriend died in a car crash and his ability to not let go of her.

Filmed across Japan in Hokkaido and Tokyo, which is where I had just left, there was another love story going on. The love story between me and my favourite country which made this film even more emotional for me, especially with the great locations Takahiro Miki used in his film.

We Were There is the only romantic drama in this list. It is not usually the type of film I would go out of my way to watch, it was either just luck or fate I got to see this film. But i'm glad I did. Gripping and emotionally moving, it sucked me in for over 4 hours and told me a brilliant story. Hankies at the ready.

1. The Raid - Indonesia (IMDb 7.6/RT = 84%)

Director: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy

Was there really any doubt what number 1 would be?

I don't even have to say anything about The Raid. It is one of the greatest action films of all time.

Needs to be seen by everyone! Now!

And there you have it. My list of the best Asian films of 2012. There is a bunch of films that I had to cut out to make this list. And a lot of thinking and chopping and changing went into making this list complete. I'm happy with the finished 10.... I just hope I haven't missed anything out!

Sorry if I have...

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