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100 Asian Films from 2020 (Part 1)

These are my favorite 100 Asian films from 2020. Don’t miss them!

2020 has been a terrible year for all of us. The Covid-19 pandemic shocked the World and had a deep impact in the film industry. Many festivals to postpone their editions and others made their festivals online. Despite this, I was lucky to be invited to some festivals and was able to discover some excellent movies. This year the “100 Asian Films” list will be divided in 5 articles. Please bear in mind that these are the films I discovered in 2020 so there could be productions from 2019. You can find the whole list in the “100 Asian Films” section on the main menu (HERE). I hope you like my selection. Please feel free to share these articles with your cinephiles friends and leave a comment below. Thanks – Sebastián Nadilo

Other parts of this list:
PART 2
PART 3

PART 4
PART 5

Selected Films:

#HandballStrive by Matsui Daigo – Japan | 2020 – 109 minutes

Masao Kiyota is a high school student living in Japan’s southern Kumamoto Prefecture. Lacking passion for anything in life, he spends his days like so many youth on his smartphone along with his childhood friend, Okamoto. One day, they upload a photo taken three years previously when they were both part of their school’s handball team. To their surprise, the post goes a little viral. Encouraged, they add the hashtag: “#Handball Full Power” and are swarmed with “likes” from around the country. Amidst the sudden social media attention, Masao and Okamoto set to resuscitating a nearly defunct men’s handball team. (ColorBird Inc.)

Trailer:

100 Times Reproduction of Democracy by Chulayarnnon Siriphol – Thailand | 2020 – 115 minutes

In 2013, the filmmaker’s ownership of a work was revoked by his commissioners. In response, he distributed 100 copies of the award certificate and re-rendered the film 100 times on DVD, the quality of each successive version increasingly degraded until the original work became unrecognisable. Each DVD was sold as an edition of the film for 100 baht.

The performance is compared to the replacement of the Khana Ratsadon plaque—a symbol of democracy in Thailand — with a royalist plaque after it mysteriously vanishes. But it is resurrected in various guises and contexts, including the aforementioned DVD. By destabilising the notion of authenticity, this tongue-in- cheek docufiction embraces meaning-making from below as resistance in an authoritarian regime. (SGIFF 2020)

Trailer:

A Balance by Harumoto Yujiro – Japan | 2020 – 153 minutes

Documentary director Yuko portrays a school violence incident from three years ago that resulted in suicides, while she was teaching classes at her father’s cram school. As her documentary project progresses, Yuko discovers a hidden truth and becomes deeply involved in the lives of the families pained by that secret truth. She learns that her friend-like father Masashi, a beloved teacher has committed a fatal mistake and experiences a shock that upends her life. Harumoto Yujiro wrote, directed, produced, and edited his second feature A Balance, firmly building up Yuko’s dilemma with a calm and objective perspective. His directing particularly shines while interweaving a narrative with a delicate inside look at an individual’s mind and a keen sense of social awareness. (Park Sun Young)

Trailer:

A Beloved Wife by Shin Adachi – Japan | 2019 – 117 minutes

The screenplay writer of the award-winning 100 Yen Love directs this film, based on his autobiographical novel “A Beloved Wife”, about an unemployed screenplay writer and his troublesome wife.

Trailer:

A Leg by Chang Yaosheng – Taiwan | 2020 – 115 minutes

The story begins with an amputated leg. The leg’s owner is Zi-han, who passes away after the operation. His wife Yu-ying decides to find his vanished leg. During the course, she recalls how they first met, how they fell in love and how their relationship gradually shattered. Retrieving the leg is how she tries to say farewell to the man she once loved. Only after that can she begin her own journey. (TGHFF 2020)

Trailer:

A Life Turned Upside Down: My Dad’s an Alcoholic by Kenji Katagiri – Japan | 2019 – 95 minutes

It’s maddening: Saki’s father hasn’t come home sober for years. He prefers to fall asleep in the hallway and she, her mother, and her sister have to drag him into the bedroom. When his friends come to visit and play Mahjong, bottles of whiskey are emptied, while the mother just prays apathetically. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, Saki wonders what’s wrong with this man who seems to care less about his family than he does about the next sip. Kenji Katagiri portrays a stubborn drunkard from the perspective of the women in his family, never being satisfied with stagnation or bitterness. In his film, the tragic turns as light-footedly to the comic as the comic turns to the tragic.

Trailer:

A Thousand Cuts by Ramona S. Diaz – Philippines, Switzerland, France | 2020 – 74 minutes

Nowhere is the worldwide erosion of democracy, fueled by social media disinformation campaigns, more starkly evident than in the authoritarian regime of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Journalist Maria Ressa places the tools of the free press—and her freedom—on the line in defense of truth and democracy.

Trailer:

Along the sea by Akio Fujimoto – Japan, Vietnam | 2020 – 88 minutes

Akio Fujimoto, who won two awards in the Asian Future Section at TIFF 2017, is back with his second feature, which follows a Vietnamese woman who leaves her workplace as a technical trainee in Japan. (TIFF 2020)

Trailer:

An Ant Strikes Back by Tokachi Tsuchiya – Japan | 2019 – 98 minutes

More than 5,000 people died from the ramifications of overworking in Japan between 2006 and 2017 – and this is only the official number. Rarely do Japanese employees stand up against exploitative working conditions, since the social pressure is too high. In his documentary, Tokachi Tsuchiya follows the case of a moving company sales agent who decides to no longer accept illegal employment contract clauses and a humiliating work environment. Initially being just like an ant among others, he joins a labor union and fights not only for his own rights, but for the rights of all “ants” in Japan’s workforce. (Nippon Connection)

Trailer:

An Insignificant Affair by Ning Yuanyuan – China | 2020 – 102 minutes

Can an everyday situation become a Kafkaesque metaphor for the system? When a high school boy and girl are caught holding hands, their moment of intimacy is judged inappropriate. The whole school is drawn into the resulting furore. (FilmAffinity)

Trailer:

Aswang by Alyx Ayn Arumpac – Philippines, France, Germany, Norway, Qatar, Denmark | 2019 – 85 minutes

The aswang, shapeshifting monsters in Philippine folklore, emerge at night to hunt their prey, striking fear in the community. In today’s Philippines, the aswang are the police and vigilantes who kill with impunity under president Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ that targets the urban poor. As bodies mount in the streets, the nights in Manila become filled with terror and oppressive dread.

The film follows a child whose parents are in prison and an activist who fearlessly documents the deaths. Threading its way through narrow alleys in Manila’s shanty towns, the camera gives us an unstinting view of a city gripped by violence and corruption. (SGIFF 2020)

Trailer:

Baseball Girl by Choi Yun-tae – Korea | 2020 – 105 minutes

It is Soo-in’s dream to be the first woman to join a professional baseball team. But despite her efforts and her great talent, the male members of her high school team seem to surpass her. What’s more, her family, coach, and simple living conditions stand in her way. But she refuses to give up and is determined to prove that professional baseball is not reserved to men.

CHOI Yun-tae, the director of this independent film, was inspired by an interview with a female baseball player and managed to craft visually impressive scenes despite the small budget. The actress LEE Joo-young, known from popular dramas such as Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo and Itaewon Class, plays her second leading role after the independent hit Maggie and delivers a thrilling and nuanced performance on the big screen.

Trailer:

Beautiful Goodbye by Imamura Eiichi – Japan | 2019 – 113 minutes

Naïve-looking youngster Shinoda is on the run from the police when he meets a young woman who is trying to escape her toxic boyfriend. They decide to travel together, sharing their desires, memories, dreams, and maybe an impossible love. A delightful road movie that seems very typical at first, but there’s a twist: Shinoda’s travel companion isn’t a normal girl, she’s actually a zombie. Though the encounter between a fugitive and a zombie might sound like the most bizarre movie plot you have ever heard of, the two characters turn out to have much more in common than just their need for escape.

Trailer:

Better Days by Derek Tsang – China | 2019 – 135 minutes

Shifting seamlessly back and forth in time, Derek Tsang’s powerful adaptation of Jiu Yuexi’s novel In His Youth, In Her Beauty opens with a tragedy. One young student, unable to cope with the pressure of upcoming exams and the daily bullying she has constantly faced, has thrown herself off the roof of a school building. When Chen Nian (Dongyu Zhou) covers the dead girl’s face she marks herself out as the bullies’ next target. Unlike her privileged foes, Chen comes from a poor home where her mother barely makes ends meet. And the grind of school pressures and physical attacks and constant taunting from the gang sees Chen pushed closer to the edge. However, a chance encounter with Xiao Bei (Jackson Yee), a local bad boy she helps when he is attacked, might offer Chen a way of finally evening the score. Mutual respect turns to affection, even love, and together they decide to right the wrongs they face. The winner of eight Hong Kong Film Awards and a huge domestic hit, Derek Tsang’s follow-up to his 2016 hit Soulmate – which also starred Dongyu Zhou – is a powerful and affecting drama that not only focuses on a difficult subject with intelligence, it asks probing questions about the role of society, from the family to school and the law, in ensuring everyone’s right to grow up free from abuse. (LEAFF 2020)

Trailer:

Beyond the Dream by Kiwi Chow – Hong Kong | 2019 – 119 minutes

Lok is a recovering schizophrenic who yearns for love. One day, he encounters the young and beautiful Yan-yan and quickly falls in love with her. Just when he hesitates over whether he should tell her about his illness, he has a relapse and becomes delusional. Little does he know that she is a counselling psychologist who has a hidden agenda. The pair develop a relationship beyond their wildest dreams. (TGHFF 2020)

Trailer:

Black Light by Bae Jong-dae – Korea | 2020 – 106 minutes

The driver who is suspected of being the perpetrator of a traffic accident on the central line dies, and the driver who is believed to be the victim falls into a coma. After some time, the harmer’s wife Hee-ju returns. Hee-ju is embarrassed to learn that the victim’s wife, Young-nam, works with her at the factory where she works. (SIFF 2020)

Trailer:

Book-Paper-Scissors by Nanako Hirose – Japan | 2019 – 93 minutes

Nobuyoshi Kikuchi has devoted his life to books. Over the course of his career, he has designed more than 15,000 book covers. Even in the digital age, he still works with a ruler, scissors, and pencils, creating unique fonts, and being meticulous about the properties of the chosen paper. He enjoys the personal exchange with authors, a good cup of coffee, and a stroll through the flea market. Nanako Horose presents a fascinating portrait of a seemingly old-fashioned personality – but maybe it is exactly this kind of personality which can give an inspiration to reflect on the really valuable things in life? (Nippon Connection)

Trailer:

Butterfly on the windowpane by Sujit Bidari – Nepal | 2020 – 96 minutes

Clever and ambitious Bidya is a thirteen-year-old girl from a rural village in Nepal. She has a gambler for a father, a troublemaker brother named Basanta, and a mother who is determined to provide her a better life. She desperately longs to get away from the stuffy, conservative village and go to a city, where she could write poems and further her studies. Unfortunately, unexpected situations continue to derail her dream. A debut feature written and directed by Nepalese independent filmmaker Sujit Bidari, Butterfly on the Windowpane follows the changes that Bidya undergoes through the eyes of Basanta with a stable narrative and warm colors. It is also the story of Basanta, who grows with his sister’s failure and frustration. (Park Sun Young)

Trailer:

Candlelight Revolution by Kim Eui-sung, Choo Chin-woo – South Korea | 2020 – 87 minutes

“What kind of person do you think former President Park Geunhye is?” Sohn Seokhee, a journalist, gives a clear and sharp answer that he “shares the common ideas that people in our country have.” That common idea has led millions to bring candles to the streets, correcting a thread of history that has gone awry, and gather a sense of hope among people. Candlelight Revolution portrays the voices of citizens from various generations, political figures of different parties, and the witnesses of an administration under improper influence. It is a documentary that identifies the genuine structure of politics and society by following how Park entered politics along with government records up until March 10. (Hong Eunmi)

Trailer:

colorless by Koyama Takashi – Japan | 2019 – 122 minutes

Takashi Koyama’s directorial debut stars Daichi Kaneko and Ruka Ishikawa in a story focusing on the young love between a fledgling photographer and a readers’-choice model. (IMDb)

Trailer:

To see the 2nd part of this list please go here: PART 2

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