In anticipation of the two Asian festivals coming up in October and in gratitude to the Asian films that have nurtured my cinematic taste, I have concocted a personal short list of the most memorable Asian films.
A Chinese Odyssey Parts I & II (1994)
Directed by Jeffrey Lau
Starring Stephen Chow, Karen Mok, Ng Man Tat, and Athena Chu
This is the only movie that I will ever mention on record as my favorite film.
A loose, comedic interpretation of the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West, A Chinese Odyssey is a composite of cartoonish gags, needlessly convoluted plot, and crude, low-tech visual effects.
Yet to me, it is too obviously a masterpiece. Amidst the absurdities, ambiguities, and amusement, one finds all the subtly nuanced emotions relevant to the larger concept of life.
This is movie magic. Not unbelievably life-like visual effects. A man in a monkey suit that looks unmistakably fake, who somehow induces the utmost hilarity, poignancy and humility.
Deep Blue Night (1985)
Directed by Bae Chang Ho
Starring Ahn Sung Ki, Chang Mi Hee
Deep Blue Night, based on the Korean novel of the same name, tells the story of a Korean man who marries a seductive but emotionally haunted lady hustler for an American green card.
The film bears the strong, nauseating stench of melodrama and tragedy symptomatic of Korean cinema in the 1980s. Yet this and the overly dramatic acting do not prevent one from recognizing the detailed portrait of gross human emotions.
Directed by Bae Chang Ho, who started his career as an auteur filmmaker but quite unintentionally became the foremost commercial director of Korea in the 80s due to this film and others.
Directed by Kitano Takeshi
Starring Kitano Takeshi
The story of a relentlessly violent detective who tends to his ailing wife after quitting the police force.
How not to love a film that is at once tastelessly violent, existential, and devastatingly beautiful.
In the film, the wife of the detective paints beautiful, abstract pictures during her illness, and the film intermittently shows these paintings as inserts. For some reason, this moved me more than any dramatic turn-of-event or soul-absorbing acting, especially after I found out director Kitano "Beat" Takeshi painted them himself during recovery from a famous motorcycle accident.
That accident left half of his face paralyzed. He can only move half of his face. But we feel twice the more emotion.
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (1994)
Directed by Ang Lee
During the 10th grade, I found Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, Easy Rider, Dog Day Afternoon, and Midnight Cowboy. Before then, as a film illiterate, I never knew they actually made movies about actual people, actual emotions, actual lives. I had assumed movies were about grossly generic romances, fantasies, and dinosaur parks (which movies I genuinely enjoyed, and I do especially love Jurassic Park).
If I may briefly indulge in cloyingly romantic language, I would like to compare the experience to meeting a soulmate, whom I had always hoped existed somewhere in the living world but whom I did not know the name or shape of.
I miss that feeling.