While Asian cinema has always been associated in the West with karate action movies from China and Hong Kong, samurai films from Japan, and musicals from Bollywood, there have been critically-acclaimed movie gems from Southeast Asia that are gaining recognition and adulation from film lovers and moviegoers in and outside the region.
Despite the massive popularity of Hollywood movies, Southeast Asian cinema has still managed to gain its foothold in the farthest corners of the planet, showing the uniqueness of the region’s culture and the skills and vision of Southeast Asia’s brightest filmmakers.
So from all of us at Movie News Guide, here is a list of 10 Southeast Asian films you should really watch. This list is by no means comprehensive; it is also not an objective or definitive list of the best film from each country. Consider this list an appetizer or sampling of the variety, depth, and richness of the film from Southeast Asia.
Brunei – “Yasmine” (2014)
Regarded by many as Brunei’s most anticipated film, “Yamine” has been awarded the Best Asian Film at the Swiss-based Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival 2014. The film, a coming-of-age story about a girl who wants to become a champion at an indigenous martial arts sport called silat, has gained international attention and screened in various international film festivals such as the Cannes Film Festival and Hong Kong International Film Festival.
The film boasts of a Southeast Asian cast.
Cambodia – “One Evening After the War” (1998)
Released in 1998, this social drama is set amid the country’s underworld and Southeast Asian poverty. The film tackles the return to civilian life of Cambodian soldiers and people ravaged by the Cambodian Civil War.
The film premiered at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.
East Timor – “Beatriz’s War” (2013)
Drama film Beatriz’s War (Portuguese: A Guerra da Beatriz) is the first full-length feature film to be produced by East Timor. The movie, which was screened at the 2013 Adelaide Film Festival, is about a couple that got torn apart during the Indonesian occupation.
Indonesia – “Tjoet Nja’ Dhien” (1998)
Set in 1896, the film commemorates one of the country’s heroes who battled for independence from the Netherlands. Based on the life story of female Acehnese guerrilla leader Cut Nyak Dhien, the film was released to critical acclaim, getting 9 Citra Awards and the Best International Film at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival.
It also became the country’s submission to the 62nd Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.
Laos – “Sabaidee Luang Prabang” (2008)
A romantic drama film, Sabaidee Luang Prabang (English title: Good Morning, Luang Prabang) is the first commercial film that was shot in Laos since the country adopted communism in 1975. The film is above a Thai photographer visiting Laos and falls in love with a Laotian tour guide.
Before this film, the Laotian films produced were propaganda materials produced by the government.
Malaysia – “Puteri Gunung Ledang” (2004)
A Malaysian epic fantasy period film, the film is based on the legend of Puteri Gunung Ledang, a princess living on top of Gunung Ledang mountain and a Malaccan Sultan’s effort to court her.
Considered the first big-budget Malaysian movie, Puteri Gunung Ledang garnered awards at the Malaysian Film Festival in 2004, 50th Asia Pacific Film Festival, and the Asian Festival of First Films in Singapore (2005).
It was selected as Malaysia’s official entry for the 2004 Academy Awards.
The Philippines – “Himala” (1982)
Directed by a Philippine national artist, “Himala” (“Miracle” in English) is considered among the best Filipino films of all time. The film, about a young woman who allegedly saw an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary atop a barren hill in a desolate and impoverished community, discusses religious fanaticism, and poverty
The film became the first Filipino film to be included in the “Competition Section” of the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival. “Himala” has been exhibited and gained honors in various international film festivals, including the Bronze Hugo prize at the 1983 Chicago International Film Festival and special religious citation in the 1983 Asia-Pacific Film Festival held in Taipei, Taiwan.
“Himala” won the Viewer’s Choice Award for the Best Film of all Time from the Asia-Pacific Region in the 2008 CNN Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
Singapore – “Ilo Ilo” (2013)
A 2013 Singaporean family film, “Ilo Ilo” won the Camera d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first Singaporean feature film to win an award at the Cannes Film Festival.
“Ilo Ilo”, which is set during the 1997 Asian financial crisis and looks at the relationship between a family and their new Filipino domestic helper, was selected as the Singaporean entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.
Thailand – “The Overture” (2004)
A 2004 Thai musical-drama film, it follows the life of a Thai classical musician from the late 19th century to the 1940s.
The film won several awards in Thailand and was the country’s official selection for the 77th Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was also screened at various international film festivals. It was also credited for helping revive the popularity of Thai classical music.
Vietnam – “The Traveling Circus” (1988)
One of the most acclaimed Vietnamese films of the 1980s, the film won numerous international awards, including Grand Prix at Fribourg Third world Film Festival, Audience Award at Uppsala (Sweden) International Film Festival and First Prize at Madrid Women’s Film Festival.
The story is about a small traveling circus from Hanoi stopping in an impoverished ethnic minority village in Vietnam’s central highlands.
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