10 Great Asian Films You Can Watch on Netflix: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” said South Korean film director Bong Joon-ho, whose 2020 feature film Parasite created history at the Academy Awards in becoming the first international film to win Best Picture. Ever since that historic win, the visibility and attention that Asian Cinema has captured from audiences over the world have broken new grounds. “Parasite” is just the tip of the block if one explores the rich tapestry of films that Asian Cinema has to offer.

Reports say that Netflix is doubling its investment in Asia in 2021, and is now partnering with international filmmakers covering 48 countries in bringing about more original content each year. Moreover, with subtitles and options for dubbing, the road ahead for exploring amazing Asian films is bound to increase more than ever. Currently, the online streaming platform has an array of great Asian films that you might have missed earlier. Here is a list of 10 great Asian films that you can stream on Netflix:

10. Mukhsin (2006) | Malaysia

Directed by Yasmin Ahmad, this bitter-sweet, semi-autobiographical story of friendship and trust between a twelve-year-old Chinese boy Mushkin (Mohd. Syafie), and 10-year-old Malay girl Orked (Sharifa Aryana) who find themselves connected through a series of social interactions. Orked is a defiant tomboy, who sees nothing wrong in playing with boys her age, even though her family falls prey to rampant scrutiny. Mukhsin lets her join the group and they become fast friends.

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Gorgeously shot and directed with a firm attention to the rich intersections in Malaysian culture, Mukhsin is a charming end to the “Orked” trilogy. It is not simply a film about childhood, but a potent ode to the levels of social surveillance that dictates what can be acceptable. Ahmad wraps the narrative with a non-fussy, synchronous whole, but its relatively subtle drama is tied together with threads of interracial tensions, nudging the audience towards asking- how much can memory hold?

9. Furie (2019) | Vietnam

In Le-Van Kiet’s Furie (Hai Phuong), when Mai (Cat Vi) is kidnapped her mother Hai Phuong (Veronica Ngo) will not stop at anything to get her daughter back. Thus begins the premise of this high-octane action thriller that scores on hyper-violent fight scenes, with Phuong adept at taking down anyone who stands in between her path to reach her daughter. Chance is that you might have seen a similar narrative feature a dozen times earlier, but what makes Furie so refreshingly original is its mesmerizing attention to the chase sequences and the relatively light approach to the central subject.

Propelled by a no-holds-barred performance by Veronica Ngo who holds your attention in every single frame she is in, whether she is a grieving mother one second and landing a kick in another. Furie works mostly because of the relentlessness with which the team of cinematographer Kefi Abrikh and action director Yannick Ben take on the action sequences- executed with a colorful eye and exhilarating set-pieces. Even the sequences devoid of the chase work competently, claiming a specific rootedness within rural Vietnam to create a thrilling experience.

8. C/o Kanchrapelam (2018) | India

Set in the small town of Kanchrapelam and comprising of four stories dealing with love and the boundaries that trace along with it, C/o Kanchrapelam is a deeply moving feature helmed by debutant director Venkatesh Maha. One of the stories revolves around Sundaram, a primary school lad who harbors feelings for his classmate Suneeta but is made to realize that he might be ‘dull’ for her. (The ‘dull’ here can certainly link to the lack of merit of Sundaram since he is a Dalit.) Another story has Joseph, who falls for Bhargavi, and this time around it is his religious identity, that of a Dalit Christian, that comes in between them. The next story involves Gaddam who works in a wine shop where he falls in love with a woman who comes to purchase wine every night. When her identity is revealed, he finds out that she is a Muslim sex worker. The last story revolves around Raju, a 49-year-old government employee who faces tremendous discrimination but his caste is not mentioned once throughout the story. Changes occur when a widow, Radha joins the office.

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Capturing the messiness of caste, class, and gender in these shorts, C/o Kanchrapelam creates a distinct and perceptive representation of a particular regional setting that feels universal in its treatment. Here the women exercise agency, control and take the individual stories forward with strength. Surprisingly nuanced given its runtime and the gamut of non-actors it chooses to combine within the individual shorts, C/o Kanchrapelam is an important film that must not be missed.

7. Seoul Searching (2015) | South Korea

Directed by Benson Lee, Seoul Searching begins with b/w visuals, old reels, and videos of Korea as an omnipresent narrator (the director himself) provides a rich historical context, stating how after the war there was a generation of Koreans who left for living a better life in America. This resulted in a loss of cultural as well as traditional values for their immigrant children, owing to which the South Korean government initiated a summer program in the ’80s to bring the Korean heritage alive. Seoul Searching takes off from here with an array of characters who explore, with episodic detail, what it truly means to be Korean.

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Although Lee tends to become a little unfocused when delving with cross-generational trauma mounted on a coming-of-age drama to glance on multiple characters with their diverse experiences, Seoul Searching is a tender and endearing look at the immigrant experience that has its heart at the right place. The bunch of fine performances from Justin Chon, Teo Yoo, Esteban Ahn, Jessica Van, and Rosalina Leigh rise above the plodding caricatures as well as the 80’s inspired soundtrack save the day.

6. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) | Japan

Asian Films on Netflix Howl's Moving Castle

Once you surrender yourself to the universe Miyazaki creates in Howl’s Moving Castle, there’s no coming back. A delight from start to finish, Howl’s Moving Castle is based on the 1986 fantasy book by British author Diana Wynne Jones of the same name, to which Miyazaki brings his own flavor and magic. It is also Miyazaki’s personal favorite of all his films! Trapped inside the body of a 90-year-old woman is the 18-year-old Sophie, and the reason behind this metamorphosis is the Witch of Waste, who then finds herself in the shadow of Howl- who is the only one to help her return back to her original self.

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Miyazaki’s fable about the burden of youth finds him at his grandiose best, leading to several surprises. At one point, Sophie (voice by Emily Mortimer) says: “The good thing about being old is that you have so little to lose.” Miyazaki grounds the spectacles (there are numerous) with such acute observations- about age, appearance, and war. Wondrous and exhilarating, Howl’s Moving Castle is one big rush of magic from the house of Studio Ghibli.

5. A Land Imagined (2018) | China

Asian Films on Netflix A Land Imagined

Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined is set in Singapore, where a weary police officer (Peter Yu) is on the hunt for a construction worker Wang (Liu Xiaoyi), whose involvement in an accident and succeeding disappearance is brought to light. Shot almost entirely in the night, Hua’s film makes pertinent questions about the dire state of immigrant workers in the country and dwells a little too much on the character revelations so as to lose the narrative thread and lose the momentum. Consider how Wang’s nocturnal visits to an internet café for cyber-chatting with a mysterious gamer is the film’s most underdeveloped link that does not add to the mounting action even though it takes up a considerable amount of screentime.

The same goes for the video game he plays, Although the second half of A Land Imagined becomes predictable after a point, with the covering of dark organizational secrets and further bureaucratic complications, Yu’s convincing turn as the alienated officer holds through the proceedings. The Lynchian influence is palpable since the questions gradually shift from the when to the why, even as Urata Hideho’s lens becomes more interested on the interiors. A Land Imagined, which won the top prize at the Locarno Film Festival, is a potent work that demands your attention.

4. Peepli Live (2010) | India

Asian Films on Netflix Peepli Live

Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli Live holds up a side of India that is rarely seen on screen. When Natha (Omkar Das Manipuri) is encouraged by his brother (Raghubir Yadav) to commit suicide after learning about a government scheme that gives monetary assistance to the family of a farmer who is unable to pay back his government loans, he turns into an unusual celebrity. The media hunts him like a hawk, and with the upcoming elections in the Peepli village, Natha’s story garners an unwelcome amount of attention.

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A former NDTV journalist herself, Rizvi takes a darkly comedic and unsparing look at media and journalists who would go to any extent to serve their version of the story. Here the journalists are not saviors (like Lakshya for example) but cold and corrupt in their mockery of the truth. At the center of this circus is Natha, in what is Omkar Das Manikpuri’s debut, whose dilemma and powerlessness in front of the system becomes frighteningly palpable. Gritty in its realism as it is sharp in its satire, Peepli Live is an unmissable feature that has lost none of its stings even a decade after its release.

3. A Sun (2019) | Taiwan

Asian Films on Netflix A Sun

The fifth feature from acclaimed Taiwanese director and cinematographer Chung Mong-hong, A Sun premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 and didn’t quite pick up the public momentum from there ahead of its Netflix release early last year. But this quietly devastating family drama about the lengths one can go in order to survive deserves every bit of your attention. A-wen (Chen Yi-wen) who is a driving instructor lives with his hairdresser wife Chin (the Samantha Shu-chin Ko), and their sons A-hao (Xu Guang-han) and A-ho (Wu Chien-ho). When A-ho lands himself in jail, the cycle of tragedy begins to unfold one after the other on the family. The less said the better.

Shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best International Film, A Sun features strong performances and particularly stunning camerawork by Nagao Nakashima, that provides a rhythmic sense to the proceedings. As intimate as it is enveloping the place it situates itself, A Sun is one of the very best films on Netflix that deserves your attention.

2. Shoplifters (2018) | Japan

Asian Films on Netflix Shoplifters

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or winning Shoplifters already feels like a classic even if you are watching it for the first time. Even if you have an idea of Kore-eda’s filmography, of the intimate family dramas that he specializes in, Shoplifters still feels as fresh as the season’s first rainfall. Revolving around a family built of lies and surviving off shoplifting -at the head of which is Osamu (an unforgettable Lily Franky)- they find a homeless little girl Juri and decide to provide her shelter. Problems arise as the news of her disappearance becomes national news.

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Directed with trademark Kore-eda strokes of gentle, revelatory attention to each character, Shoplifters is a deeply moving, and ultimately rewarding cinematic experience that is as audacious as it is kind. Kore-eda, a true heir to Ozu, manages to extract a real emotional sweep by the time you reach the end. Here is a film which asks you to stay along with the deceits and tells that the scars are mutual. All it asks of you is to stay.

1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) | Taiwan

Asian Films on Netflix Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

Even though director Ang Lee has taken numerous daring decisions as a filmmaker to great results over the course of his enviable filmography, he considers Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, his wuxia film that was released 20 years ago, as the most difficult movie of his career. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, it won 4, including Best Foreign Language Film, and has since gained a cult status. A sweeping epic headed by Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, Lee’s film is set during the final years of the Qing dynasty in the 19th century where the action unravels over the possession of an ancient weapon.

With jaw-dropping action sequences that have to be seen to be believed, Lee crafts a meticulously structured feature with a beating heart. Peter Pau’s stunning cinematography perfectly compliments Yuen Wo Ping’s unforgettable action choreography to unravel a world fearlessly alive in its passion and visual poetry. Intense and absorbing from start to finish, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is unlike any other film you will ever see.

List of Asian Films on Wikipedia

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