Monday, 6 January 2014

Best Asian Films of 2013

Happy New Year readers!

As it's the beginning of the new year, it's time to reflect on last year. And time for the all important best of list.
2013 gave us some brilliant films from Asia! From the Blockbusters to Martial Arts to Comedy to Anime to Gangster to Thriller. There was a wide variety of stunning films and something for all fans to enjoy.
It was hard to narrow this list down to 10. So sorry for some really great films I had to cut out. And keep in mind there is still a lot from 2013 I am waiting to see.

Some of these films on my list might not have been released in their native country in 2013, but it was 2013 before the Worldwide or UK release.

10. Blind Detective (Hong Kong) - IMDB = 6.3 - RT = 44%

At number 10 we have the first Johnnie To film to make the list. Staring Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng this is a Hong Kong romantic comedy/crime thriller.

Forced to leave the service after turning blind, former detective Johnston Chong See Tun (Andy Lau) ekes out his living by solving cold cases for police rewards. During a bank robbery case, he meets an attractive hit team inspector Goldie Ho Ka Tung. (Sammi Cheng). When Ho notices Chong's strong sense of hearing and smell, she enlists his help in a personal case and he decides to take a stab.

Johnnie To tackles some unfamilar ground with this film, part wacky comedy with slapstick humour, this is really not what we have come to expect from To. The other half of the film is a dark and gritty crime thriller.

That is where the problem lies. This film is still enjoyable but it had the potential to be so much better. It does have one of the finest Hong Kong directors, teaming up with arguably the best lead male and female working in Hong Kong. But some of the film is hard to swallow when it's dealing with dark tones of murder and cannibalism but including some slapstick comedy.

My favourite parts of Blind Detective were definitely with Johnston and Ho re-enacting the crime scenes and taking turns playing the murder and victims. This is where the film really shone for me and Lau and Cheng have brilliant on screen chemistry.

9. The Tower (South Korea) - IMDB = 6.4 - RT = None

Number 9 is a big disaster flick from South Korea. Set on Christmas Eve, and released on Christmas Day on South Korea, The Tower could be added to your list of films to watch next Christmas. That being said, it's probably as Christmassy as Diehard.

Lee Dae-ho (Kim Sang-kyung) is a single father and manager of the 120 story luxurious landmark building complex, Tower Sky in Yeouido, Seoul. He is secretly in love with Seo Yoon-hee (Son Ye-jin), a restaurant manager. The owner of the complex, Mr. Jo decides to hold a "White Christmas" party for tenants and VIPs on Christmas Eve, with helicopters circling above, sprinkling snow onto the party. While the party is in full swing one of the helicopters crashes into the building and the building catches fire. Dae-ho moves quickly to save his daughter Ha-na, Yoon-hee and his colleagues. At the same time, firefighter Kang Young-ki (Sol Kyung-gu) fights to bring the blaze under control, helping Dae-ho in the process. Together they fight to save the lives of everyone.

The first aspect to really surprise me about The Tower was the special effects. Bar a few scenes with the helicopters, the effects were fantastic! The fire, real and CGI, were both done very well! And used in a way that actually added to the terror of the film.

The first half hour introduces you to the characters and makes you care for them. The next hour and a half is an adrenaline rush and those characters you now care about trying to survive. If you are looking for a 2 hour no nonsense gripping thrill ride then this is for you.

8. The Grandmaster (Hong Kong) - IMDB = 6.6 - RT = 74%

Wong Kar-wai is back after 6 years with a martial arts drama based on the Wing Chun Grandmaster Ip Man.

Ip Man's peaceful life in Foshan changes after Gong Yutian seeks an heir for his family in Southern China. Ip Man then meets Gong Er who challenges him for the sake of regaining her family's honor. After the Second Sino-Japanese War, Ip Man moves to Hong Kong and struggles to provide for his family. In the mean time, Gong Er chooses the path of vengeance after her father was killed by Ma San.

Unfortunately there has been 5 films about Ip Man and a TV series. If there wasn't then this film might have made a much bigger impact. Especially with all the all star director and the outstanding cast of Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi.

Wong Kar-wai delivers some stunning kung fu fights in The Grandmaster, especially the scenes in the snow and rain which are reminiscent of The Matrix. The martial arts is more in the style of Crouching Tiger than the Donnie Yen Ip Man film, which is fine as long as you suspend your disbelief and take this film as fantasy.

7. The Berlin File (South Korea) - IMDB = 6.7 - RT = None

The Berlin File is a brilliant South Korean spy thriller with elements of The Bourne Identity.

Exposed during an illegal arms trade gone wrong in Berlin, a North Korean "ghost" agent finds himself in the crosshairs of an international manhunt. Was he betrayed by his wife or his country? He must prepare to make the ultimate sacrifice.

First thing I should say about The Berlin File is that it is pretty complex so make sure you pay attention.

The director Ryoo Seung-wan also made the excellent Crying Fist and City of Violence. The Berlin File also has an all star cast. Starring one of Korea's leading actors Han Suk-kyu(Christmas In August/Shiri), Ha Jung-Woo(The Chaser/Nameless Gangster) and my favourite Korean actress Jun Ji-hyun(My Sassy Girl/Daisy).

The Berlin File is a great non stop thriller, with brilliant action scenes and stunning locations and sets. Definitely one for the action fans.


6. Shield of Straw (Japan) - IMDB = 6.3 - RT = 44%

Takashi Miike makes my top 10 list pretty much every year. And he does it again for 2013 with his latest thriller.

After killing a 7-year-old girl, psychopath Kunihide Kyomaru turns himself in to the police. Since his victim was the daughter of one of the country's richest men, terminally ill billionaire Ninagawa, who buys ads in all the major papers offering a hefty reward for anyone who kills Kunihide. There are a few caveats, including a clause that the execution must be authorized by the government, but the consequences are clear: It's open season on Kunihide, who has nothing but five dedicated cops to protect him, led by security police lieutenant Kazuki Mekari.

Shield of Straw was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival which was a bit of a shock for me. This is definitely one of Miike's more mainstream films, it could have argueably been a Hollywood thriller, which doesn't seem like the type of flick that Cannes would usually favour.

Out of all the films on my top 10 list, Shield of Straw is one of the most tense. The time really does fly by as the story sucks you in and you eagerly wait to see in the police can complete their seemingly impossible mission.

As a director, Miike keeps growing and growing. Some of his films might seem more commercial or mainstream than before, but he still pushes boundries and tells the story is his unique way. With Shield of Straw, the story will stick with you long after it finishes and it will be one you will be thinking about and questioning for hours.

5. Drug War (Hong Kong/China) - IMDB = 7.1 - RT = 93%

Johnnie To's second entry in to my list, is the brilliant edge of your seat Drug War.

After losing control of his car and crashing into a local restaurant, a man loses consciousness on the street. Later, while working on a case, the police's anti-drug division captain, Zhang Lei (Honglei Sun), realizes that the man in the crash is drug lord Tian Ming (Louis Koo). In order to avoid the death penalty, Tian Ming helps the police put a stop to the entire drug trafficking circuit, but just as soon as the police are ready to make a large bust, Tian Ming makes a decision that shocks everyone involved.

Johnnie To is one of the greatest directors going today and the best to come out of Hong Kong in recent years. He filled in the gap that people missed in the John Woo glory days.

Saying that, Drug War is lighter on action than previous Johnnie To films, but it is so well shot and the story is so compelling that the film is still very exciting and fast paced. And when the action does come, it is the insane brilliant Johnnie To action that you have come to expect. There is a fantastic shoot out in a drugs factory. And another near the end in an open space which is fantastically shot and down right crazy.

This film should be higher on my list, but the top 5 is so tight it was hard to choose. After another watch it could move up a place or 2...

4. Wolf Children (Japan) - IMDB = 8.1 - RT = 92%

An animated film has made my top 10 list, and it ISN'T a Studio Ghibli film!

Hana is a 19-year-old student who falls in a "fairy-tale like" love with a "wolf man". Over the course of the 13-year story Hana gives birth to two children - older sister Yuki, and younger brother Ame, or "Snow and Rain". At first the family quietly lives in the city trying to hide their wolf heritage, but when the "wolf man" suddenly dies Hana makes the decision to move to a rural town, far from their previous city life.

This film making my top 10 will be no suprise to people familair with Mamoru Hosoda's work. He has an impressive list of animated films under his belt with the brilliant 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Time' and his equally impressive follow up 'Summer Wars'. But, I think this time Mamoru Hododa has topped his previous works.

Wolf Children is another one of those anime films that proves that hand drawn animation and 2D is still relevant. A wonderful story, told brilliantly, with great likeable characters and some of the best animation is a formula for success. Mamoru Hododa is building a strong reputation which in future could see him as a rival to Studio Ghibli.

3. Silent Witness (China) - IMDB = 7.6 - RT = None

A Chinese courtroom thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

Tycoon Lin Tai's daughter Lin Mengmeng becomes the murder suspect of his father's fiance Yang Dan. Her defense lawyer Zhou Li and prosecutor Tong Tao gains in-depth understanding through cross examinations in court before Tai admits that he murdered Yang Dan in court. Did Lin Tai really murder Yang Dan? Who is actually the murderer of Yang Dan?

Wow, what a complex sounding synopsis!

Silent Witness really caught me off guard because I hadn't heard or read anything about it. All I knew was Aaron Kwok was in it and that was enough to get my attention.

Credit is due to the director Xing Fei for making such a compelling film. Silent Witness moves at 100mph and starts with a bang. After roughly 25 minutes of tense court room drama, it seems like the film could be ready to finish. But no, that would be too simple. Xing Fei tells his story in a nonlinear fashion which makes the story more fascinating as it's told from different characters perspectives and it really does keep you guessing.

Full of just enough twist and turns to keep you interested but not too many to leave you feeling frustrated. Very enjoyable film.

2. Rurouni Kenshin (Japan) - IMDB = 7.5 - RT = None

This film is a bit of a dream for not only Samurai fans but also fans of the original Anime and Manga!

Former legendary assassin Kenshin Himura ('Takeru Sato') has now become a wandering samurai. Offerring aid and protecting those in need as atonement for his past deeds. During this time Kenshin Himura comes across and aides Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei). Her father opened the Kamiya Kasshin-ryu, a kendo school located in Tokyo and Kaoru is now an instructor there. Kaoru then invites Kenshin to stay at her dojo. Their relationship develops further, but Kenshin is still haunted by his violent past.

More rare proof that anime adaptions can be done correctly! For fans of the original anime Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X, you need not worry! This film really does it justice.

The lead actor Takeru Sato looks and acts extremely like Kenshin which was a big positive for this film, there is even that moment when he dons the signature outfit he wore in the anime.

The running time is over 2 hours, but it feels nothing like that as you are thrown into a story full of wonderful sets, stunning costumes and some very well choreographed fight scenes. My main worry for this film was how the fight scenes would be tackled, live action version of anime sometimes tend to go over the top, but what works with anime, doesn't always work with film. Fortunately for Rurouni Kenshin this isn't the case, the fight scenes are very well done, exciting and realistic but with just enough fantasy chucked in.

This is a very fun film that most people will enjoy. It's not incredibly deep, and it won't move you to change your life. But it's just a great film that you can sit back and relax and be lost in the world that is created on your screen.

And a little bit of good news. This was such a success in Japan that 2 sequels have been announced.

How bad ass is the song in this trailer?!

1. New World (South Korea) - IMDB = 7.6 - RT = 71%

Infernal Affairs meets The Godfather in the best gangster film since Election.

As Korea's biggest crime organization 'Goldmoon' expands its powers, Kang, the head of police investigation planning department, orders the undercover cop Ja-Seoung to participate in project "New World", that will take down 'Goldmoon'. Ja-seong must choose either to follow Kang's orders as a cop or to keep his loyalty with Jeong Cheong, the under-boss of the 'Goldmoon' crime organization.

This film almost went over my head, which is quite a surprise when you look at the cast. Directed by Park Hoon-Jung and starring Choi Min-sik(Oldboy, I Saw The Devil), Lee Jung-jae(Il Mare, Typhoon) and Hwang Jung-min(A Man Who Was Superman, Bloody Tie). That's an all star cast to rival The Departed.

There is so much that makes New World brilliant. But I can't quite place it. The characters, the screenplay, the cinematography, the story, the action, the musical score. It's one of those films were eveything just clicks and you end up with a top notch film.

New World is super stylish, reministant of the glory days of the Hollywood Gangster films. And each actor is on their A game. Choi Min-sik is excellent as always, a character who without saying or doing much can have your attention. But it was Hwang Jung-min who stole the show for me, with his over the top arrogant fame hungry gangster asshole role, every scene he is in is gold and he will leave a lasting impression! One of my favourite scenes involves Hwang Jung-min's in an elevator which sprung to mind and rivals a very famous scene in Oldboy. And New World also has one of the most memorable film endings I have seen in years.

This is really a must watch! It this was a Hollywood production I would have no doubt it would run rampant during this years award season.

Get it watched now! ... And you have no excuse because as I type this it is currently on US Netflix.


So there we have it. 2013 has finished, and this is what I believe to be the best films of the year. My ordering might change with more viewings of each films. But what can you do?

Also, I am sure there are a lot of films I have missed out because I haven't had a chance to view them all. So if you think I have missed anything out, or you disagree with my list or order. Then leave a comment, or hit me up on Facebook or whatever.

Until next time, happy viewing!

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