Monday, 16 January 2017

Best Asian Films of 2016

2016 has been a brilliant year for Asian Cinema with big hits coming from everywhere! Records have been shattered and some of films have went on to become international hits! South Korea had an extremely strong year and have actually dominated this top 10 list.
As always, there are many films from 2016 I haven't had a chance to check out, because of release schedules many wont be out till later this year in the UK... if at all!

10. The Mermaid (China/Hong Kong)(IMDb 6.3 - Rotten Tomatoes 93% - 7)

China kicked off a great year of Asian Cinema with the wildly original and at times completely bonkers fantasy romantic comedy The Mermaid.

Shan, a mermaid, is sent to assassinate Xuan, a developer who threatens the ecosystem of her race, but ends up falling in love with him instead.

Directed by Stephen Chow, The Mermaid was always going to guarantee laughs but I don't think anyone expected it to turn out as hilarious as it was.
Laughing it's way to bank, The Mermaid went on to become the highest grossing Chinese film of all time!
Read my full review here.

9. The Tunnel (Korea)(IMDb 6.9 - Rotten Tomatoes 100% - 7.7)

Surprise hit from Korea is disaster movie The Tunnel. Directed by Kim Seong-hun(A Hard Day - 2014) and starring Ha Jung-woo(Berlin File/Yellow Sea) and Bae Doo-na(The Host/Sympathy For Mr Vengeance)

Lee Jung-soo (Ha Jung-woo) drives home for his daughter's birthday. While driving through a tunnel that goes through a mountain, the unthinkable happens. The tunnel collapses. When Lee Jung-Soo regains consciousness, he finds himself trapped inside his car. The car itself is buried under tons of concrete and debris. All he has inside the car are his cellphone, two bottles of water and his daughter's birthday cake. He forms a kind of special bond with the head of the rescue team, Dae-kyung, who teaches him how to survive in the tunnel.

What makes The Tunnel so gripping is rather than using the tried and tested formula of character development and story until about midway when the disaster hits, directed Kim Seong-hun has the disaster happen very early on, then we get to know and understand the character as he tries to survive. The film falls heavily on Ha Jung-woo as the films 2 hour running time is mainly focused on him being trapped underground in a car, luckily his strong performance anchors it. Throw in some social commentary undertones about politicians trying to make themselves look good and large companies and media running the country and you have a very interesting disaster film.

8. Lowlife Love (Japan)(IMDb 6.5 - Rotten Tomatoes NA)

Lowlife Love in an independent Japanese film which also happens to be the debut production for UK Asian cinema distributor Third Window Films and directed by Eiji Uchida (Greatful Dead)

Tetsuo is a lowlife. As a film director, he had an indie hit many years back, but refuses to go against his artistic integrity. One day, two new students come to his school: Minami, a naive girl from the countryside who wants to be an actress, and Ken, a scriptwriter. Tetsuo thinks Minami could be a real star, and Ken has a brilliant script that could relaunch his career as a director. With the help of an unsavory film producer, they strive to turn this project into something tangible, but Minami's ability starts to impress others, and Tetsuo's world soon falls apart.

A brilliant tale exploring the dark seedy side of low budget film making in Japan and the 'lowlifes' involved. A great cast with many familair faces popping up that Third Window Films fans will recognise. Kiyohiko Shibukawa shines as Tetsuo, playing a mixture of admirable and a complete sleezeball. Although unfamiliar with her previous work Maya Okano is breathtaking as the innocent Minami and gives off a great sense of vulnerability. An incredibly fun yet also disturbing picture.

7. Trivisa (Hong Kong)(IMDb 6.9 - Rotten Tomatoes - NA)

Trivisa is an excellent example of the classic Hong Kong cinema of yesteryear and gives you hope that the future of Hong Kong cinema could return to what it once was.

In early 1997, mobsters Kwai Ching-hung, Yip Kwok-foon and Cheuk Tze-keung, whom have never met one another, known in the underworld as the "Three Kings of Thieves", are plotting together to score a final hit before the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong. However, none are initially aware of the rumour. Yip is living as a fugitive after a gunfight with the Royal Hong Kong Police. He now makes his fortunes by smuggling counterfeit electronics. Kwai is very cautious and uses several pseudonyms to hide his identity. Although the scale of his crimes is nowhere as large as Yip's and Cheuk's, but he has managed to commit repeated robberies that are totally unknown to the police. Cheuk has recently abducted the son of a rich tycoon and successfully extorted a ransom, all while under police surveillance. Wanting to raise the bar for himself, he hears about the rumour and becomes obsessed with the idea, going to extreme lengths to seek out Yip and Kwai.

Produced by legendary HK director Johnnie To and directed by 3 up and coming directors from Milkyway Image, Trivisa is full of energy and has a lot to say. Full of metaphors for current Hong Kong life from dealing with the effect of the Hong Kong and Mainland divide. Each one of the Three Kings of Thieve's stories gets their own director and although the stories intertwine they are all very different. Jordan Chan really shines as the flamboyant Cheuk Tze-keung and although all of the stories are great, his isn't as devolped, but that's balanced out by his outstanding performance.

6. Himeanole - Japan(IMDb 7.3 Rotten Tomatoes - NA)

The one film on the list that I urge everyone to go in blind with. No trailers. No reviews. Nothing. See this film without any of it being ruined, the experience will be worth it.

HimeanĂ´ru depicts the story of co-workers where one of them is gunning to make a cafe's waitress his. When the co-worker visits said cafe to see the waitress his friend is yearning for, he also meets an old class-mate he has not seen in some time. In a twist and transition the waitress tells the visiting co-worker that she is being stalked by a man. That man is none other than the old class-mate.

That's as much as one can say without ruining any of the surprises. Gaku Hamada(Fish Story/Sake Bomb) delivers another great performance in his typical awkward but lovable role, I have become a big fan of his work over the past few years even if he does tend to play similar characters. Again, I really don't want to kill the effect this film can have on you, it really caught me off guard and I'm glad I went in blind. You should too!

5. Inside Men (Korea)(IMDb 7.1 - Rotten Tomatoes - NA)

Inside Men has 2 different versions on release. The theatrical version is 130 minutes, while the directors cut is 180 minutes. It was the longer version I viewed, so I can't comment on the theatrical version, but I personally believe the 3 hour length is justified.

Lee Kang-hee, an editor at an influential conservative newspaper, raises congressman Jang Pil-woo to the position of leading Presidential candidate using the power of the press; behind this is his secret deal with the paper's biggest sponsor.Ahn Sang-goo, a political henchman who supported Lee and Jang, gets caught pocketing the record of the sponsor's slush fund, resulting in a dismembered hand. Woo Jang-hoon, an ambitious prosecutor, starts to investigate the relationship between Jang and the sponsor, believing that it's his only chance to make it to the top. While getting down to the brass tacks of the case, Woo meets Ahn, who has been methodically planning his revenge. Now the war between the one blinded with power, the one hell-bent on vengeance, and the one eager for success begins.

This is easily one of the best political thrillers to be made in years. Lee Byung-hun is back in Korea and doing what he does best, act. One of the greatest actors working today and he delivers another stellar performance as gangster Ahn Sang-goo. The film has an extremely tight woven intricate plot which keeps you on your toes as the story unravels and the 3 hours flies by.
Inside Men went on to sweep the Grand Bell Awards(South Korea's Oscars) by winning Best Screenplay, Best Planning, Best Actor for Lee Byung-hun, Best Director and Best film. Incredible!

4. The Handmaiden (Korea)(IMDb 8.1 - Rotten Tomatoes 94% - 8.2)

Park Chan-wook is back on top form with a very unique and peculiar film.

Helmed by acclaimed director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy), this period drama set in 1930s Korea explores the relationship between a Korean handmaiden and a Japanese heiress. The handmaiden (Kim Tae-ri) is secretly a pickpocket who is working as part of a scheme to swindle the heiress (Kim Min-hee) out of her fortune, but that plan takes a backseat when the two women begin to fall in love. The Handmaiden was adapted from the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, although the setting was changed from Victorian England to Japanese-occupied Korea.

Fantastic performance all round from the entire cast. The cinematography is stunning. The story is mesmerizing, although a little baggy and confusing in places. It's essentially told in 3 parts, from different points of view with many twists and turns. Just when you think the story is going one way, it goes the complete opposite.
If you don't like your movies to have sexual content then probably best avoiding this one as some of the sex scenes can be a little startling. But if you don't mind... then fire away!

3. Train To Busan (Korea)(IMDb 7.5 - Rotten Tomatoes 96% - 7.6)

One of the very best zombie films ever made. It's just that damn good!

Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo) is a fund manager in Seoul. He is separated from his wife and lives with his daughter Soo-An (Kim Soo-Ahn). Seok-Woo doesn't spend much time with his daughter or show affection to her. On the night before Soo-An's birthday, Soo-An insists on seeing her mother for her birthday. Seok-Woo has no other choice, but to take her to Busan. Early the next morning, they board the KTX train for Busan at Seoul Station.Before the KTX train leaves Seoul Station, a zombie like girl jumps onto the train. The girl is infected with a horrific virus that is spreading like wildfire. Seok-Woo, Soo-An and the other passengers on the KTX train must now fight for their lives.

This is a brilliant edge of your seat thrill ride. That may be an over used metaphor but it is extremely appropriate for Train To Busan. When all hell kicks off, the film is incredibly exciting and tense. I just about chewed all my nails off as I prayed for my favourite characters survival.
The setting of the train adds to the dramatics as they are stuck fighting for survival against the odds with no weapons. Trying to navigate between each carriage is nerve wracking viewing as their luck gets worse and worse.
The strong point of the film is the cast. Every character is important and fleshed out. The father is a bit of an asshole, but he goes on a great character journey throughout. One of the passengers on the train is almost the real villain of the story and is probably actually the most hated character I have seen since that old crazy Christian women in The Mist. You really do care about the well-being of all the characters on this wild train ride which is commemorable.
You have probably heard all of the hype surrounding this film. Believe it all.

2. Your Name (Japan)(IMDb 8.7 - Rotten Tomatoes 97% - 8.3)

The only animated film on the list, and it is simply a beautiful work of art.

Mitsuha Miyamizu, a high school girl, yearns to live the life of a boy in the bustling city of Tokyo—a dream that stands in stark contrast to her present life in the countryside. Meanwhile in the city, Taki Tachibana lives a busy life as a high school student while juggling his part-time job and hopes for a future in architecture.
One day, Mitsuha awakens in a room that is not her own and suddenly finds herself living the dream life in Tokyo—but in Taki's body! Elsewhere, Taki finds himself living Mitsuha's life in the humble countryside. In pursuit of an answer to this strange phenomenon, they begin to search for one another.
Kimi no Na wa. revolves around Mitsuha and Taki's actions, which begin to have a dramatic impact on each other's lives, weaving them into a fabric held together by fate and circumstance.

Your Name has owned 2016. It came around at the right time and everything just fell in place and felt perfect. It has went on to become the highest grossing anime film of all time. And it has got so popular the director has asked people to stop seeing it because he is worried it has became too big and he doesn't think it is healthy. Ha!
Your Name is more than just a body swap drama. It's a moving sci-fi fantasy melodrama with a compelling story that also examines current Japanese youth culture.
It is one of the most stunning animated movies ever made, the backgrounds and scenery are incredibly accurate and the animated time lapses might trick you in to thinking you are actually watching a 4K recording of a genuine time lapse.
The musical soundtrack is upbeat bouncy rock composed by J-Rockers 'Radwimps' which suits the theme and image of the film perfectly. Their songs accompany some great montages which are real highlights of the film and their hit song Zen Zen Zense is unbelievably catchy.
Your Name will tug at your heart strings and in the end will leave you feeling like you have just witnessed something truly special.

1. The Wailing (Korea)(IMDb 7.5 - Rotten Tomatoes 99% - 8)

The Chaser. The Yellow Sea. The Wailing.
Na Hong-jin is now 3 for 3 with films. Each one is a masterpiece!

Within a seemingly peaceful village, a plague of mysterious & violent deaths suddenly take place. The police conclude poisonous wild mushrooms are the cause of the deaths. Police Officer Jong-Goo (Kwak Do-Won) hears a rumor from a coworker about a mysterious Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) living nearby. The rumor points to the Japanese man as the man causing these mysterious & violent deaths. Jong-Goo, while on duty, meets Moo-Myeong (Chun Woo-Hee). She tells Jong-Goo that she saw the Japanese man where the last deaths took place. Jong-Goo's doubts about the man begin to waver.

What an incredible piece of cinema!
The Wailing has everything going for it. It's a genre blend starting off as a mystery thriller with some comedy elements mainly delivered by the incompetent bumbling police force. But when the film shifts, it turns in to an incredibly haunting and compelling horror.

There is an unbelievable 3 way inter-cut scene with the Shaman performing a ritual, the girl contorting in pain and the Japanese man performing his own rituals that will leave you feeling uneasy and stressed.
The small Korean town is a perfect backdrop for The Wailing with a slew of stunning locations to suit the story and mood. The cinematography is wonderful with every frame delivering it's purpose.

The Wailing has one of the most suspenseful endings of any horror film, it literally leaves you on edge as you try to put the pieces together and figure out what is about to happen. It is truly extraordinary.

The Wailing is easily film of the year for me. It stays with you. It haunts you. You will think about it nonstop afterwards. You might even go on the internet to read peoples interpretations and opinions of the film afterwards... That's what I done anyway.
The Wailing has the power to go on to become the new Oldboy, the next cult film that's so good it crosses over and introduces the mainstream audience to great Korean cinema. That is, if it doesn't get overshadowed by the popularity of Train To Busan.


So there we go. My top 10 films of 2016.
People may have complained about 2016 but I personally had a really good year. And as for Asian Cinema, it was pretty awesome!
Hope you enjoyed the list and check out some of these films if you haven't already.
And roll on all the great Asian cinema 2017 has in store for us.

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