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90 Asian Films from 2021 (Part 1)

We present a list of ninety Asian films from 2021 that you shouldn’t miss. The list includes fiction and documentary films.

Note: The list was made considering films we watched in 2021, awarded movies from class A festivals, box office blockbusters, and film festivals catalogues. There are some films from 2020 that we decided to include in the list. Flms here are from East Asia, South Asia & Southeast Asia.

Other parts of this list:
Part 2
Part 3

– Selected Films –

24 by Royston Tan – Singapore, Thailand | 2021 – 76 minutes

In the afterlife, a sound recordist lingers in the mortal realm while staying wedded to the profession. Armed with a recorder, a boom mic and a pair of headphones, he silently inserts himself in public and private affairs at uncustomary proximity and records even the slightest drop of water. His ‘presence’ at times incongruous and seemingly obtrusive but other times incapacitated by his spectrality, the recordist’s stolid visits to peculiar sightings, friends and family ponder the reverberations of his passing.

24 is a delicate study of how loss is felt and coped with. Its minimalist camerawork and crisp images shine the spotlight on human expressions and narratives, reaffirming TAN’s knack for crafting mundane stories that resonate. (SGIFF 2021)

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#AfterMeToo by Lee Somyi, Soram, Park, Sohyun, Kangyu Garam – South Korea | 2021 – 84 minutes

How has our society changed since the #MeToo movement shook up the South Korean society? In the midst of the reality, where the power of backlash and solidarity among men is still the same and patriarchy and structural sexism still exist, can these questions be answered? The film explores the questions and possibilities that the #MeToo movement has left, through the daily lives and voices of today’s women. (SIWFF 2021)

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206: Unearthed by Heo Chul-nyung – Korea, Thailand | 2021 – 93 minutes

After the dissolution of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was launched as a South Korean government organization in 2005, civic groups and bereaved families wishing to complete the mission the government had failed to accomplish form a joint organization to investigate the remains of civilians who were massacred during the Korean War. A three-year-long documentary about the organization′s three-year-long excavation efforts, 206: Unearthed is a record of sunlight, dirt, and sweat. The film begins with the director′s letter to his grandmother, who waited for her husband to return after he was taken by the police during the Korean War. She has been waiting for 70 years, as neither he nor his remains returned home. And so the director′s long journey began, and there is no end in sight. “We don’t forget”—the film ends with a line from Barthes′ Mourning Diary, dedicated to a picture of the excavated remains and the grandmother′s obituary. This is a documentary that witnesses the wounds of history and a director′s mourning diary. (KANG Sowon – BIFF 2021)

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A letter to A’ma by Chen Hui-Ling – Taiwan | 2021 – 105 minutes

Through a student art project guided by teacher CHEN, the collective memory of an island begins to emerge. After experiencing 400 years of colonization and 50 years of dictatorship, Taiwan is now becoming the front of a potential war between world powers. How will Taiwan rebuild its identity in the postcolonial era? (WMW 2021)

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A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces by Zhu Shengze – China, USA | 2021 – 87 minutes

A portrait of urban spaces along the Yangtze River in the city of Wuhan. An engaging communal stage on which people perform in various ways: some dancing, singing, swimming; some shoveling, welding, and hammering. An evolving landscape that is continuously sculpted by nature and dramatically altered by roaring machines and rising infrastructure. Where desires are planted. Where memories are buried. The lost place. (DMZDocs 2021)

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Actionhero by Lee Jinho – Korea | 2021 – 90 minutes

Joo Sung wants to be a fabulous action movie star like Jakie Chan, even though he is just an ordinary college student. One day Joosung meets a nerd, Chanyeol in the filmmaking class and they decide to making a film as a project. They found a threatening letter to prof Cha by chance during their project. “I know you are involved in the admission fraud. To keep this fact out of the press, put a bag of 30 million won in cash in the trash bin at the university waste disposal until tomorrow…” After reading this letter, Joosung decide to use this letter story to making his film. And all things getting massed up because of his plan. (BIFAN 2021)

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Aloners by Hong Sung-eun – Korea | 2021 – 91 minutes | Fiction

Jina is the top employee at a credit card company call center. She avoids building close relationships, choosing instead to live and work alone. One day, her irritating next-door neighbor who would attempt to talk with her is discovered dead, several days after having died alone in his apartment. Jina is shaken and turns on the home camera installed at her mother’s house a long time ago. (JIFF 2021)

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American Girl by Feng-I Fiona Roan – Taiwan | 2021 – 101 minutes

During the SARS outbreak of 2003, 13-year-old Fen returns to Taiwan. Depicts the director’s experiences: her mother’s illness, a feud with classmates. Karena Lam plays Fen’s mother (TIFF 2021).

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Anatomy of Time by Jakrawal Nilthamrong
Thailand, France, Netherland, Singapore | 2021 – 118 minutes

In the political fog of Cold War-era Thailand, a rickshaw driver and an army captain vie for the affections of a clockmaker’s daughter. In the present, she is resigned to spending her days looking after the captain, now a vilified, comatose general.

Following the woman across different periods of history, the elegantly structured film also reveals a higher force lurking in the background: one that leaves objects, landscapes and memories with a new lease of life, while also being painfully indifferent towards trauma. As the narrative coolly brings us through focal points and dead ends, Jakrawal NILTHAMRONG pays obeisance to the workings of time while casting a tender gaze upon those weathered by it. (SGIFF 2021)

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Arisaka by Mikhail Red – Philippines | 2021 – 96 minutes

A witness under police escort is attacked. A policewoman, the only one who survives, is sheltered by indigenous people, but assailants hunt her down… An action thriller set in Bataan (TIFF 2021).

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Aristocrats by Yukiko Sode – Japan | 2020 – 124 minutes

Two women fall in love with the son of a powerful family of politicians. Through its use of subtle drama, ARISTOCRATS shows that it isn’t yet another simplistic romance. Hanako, born to a rich family, and Miki, eking out a living on low-wage jobs, present stark social opposites rarely seen in Japanese cinema. Yukiko SODE is among the most exciting directorial newcomers in Japan. (Nippon Connection 2021)

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Awoke by Jung Jae-ik, Seo Tae-soo – Korea | 2020 – 97 minutes | Fiction

Jaegi, who has lived the life of a disabled person due to a traffic accident, is judged as Level 5 at the first grade screening. Jaegi strives to become a severely disabled person, but the situation is getting more difficult. (JIFF 2021)

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Barbarian Invasion by Tan Chui Mui – Malaysia | 2021 – 106 minutes

Divorced and exhausted, retired actress Moon Lee is offered the chance of a comeback as the lead of a do-your-own stunts martial arts film. (IMDb)

Trailer:

Belle by Mamoru Hosoda – Japan | 2021 – 121 minutes

In the small mountain village where she lives with her father, Suzu is a shy teenager; but in the virtual world of U she’s Belle, a music icon with millions of followers. The divide between these two universes will be compromised when Belle meets the Beast, a fascinating but terrifying creature. Once again, Mamoru Hosoda delves into the interstice between fantastic and virtual, in a new animated gem presented at the past Cannes Film Festival (SITGES 2021).

Trailer:

Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes by Junta Yamaguchi – Japan | 2020 – 70 minutes

Café owner Kato discovers that his PC monitor shows what will happen two minutes in the future. Another screen downstairs in his café shows the past of two minutes ago. His friends decide to place the two mysterious devices opposite each other, which creates a loop to see into the future. Naturally, chaos ensues. A unique and original film, shot in “one take”-aesthetic. (Nippon Connection 2021)

Trailer:

Blue by Yoshiuda Keisuke – Japan | 2021 – 107 minutes

Yoshida Keisuke is known for realistically depicting the light and shade of human nature. He wrote this screenplay based on his experience of boxing which he has done for over 30 years (TIFF 2021).

Trailer:

Born to be Human by Lily Ni – Taiwan | 2021 – 105 minutes

YANG Shi-Nan (Lily LEE) is a 14-year-old boy who undergoes a metamorphosis without realising what is going on. It begins on a normal school day when he gets stomach cramps. After rushing to the toilet he notices that his urine is turning bloody red. Taken to a doctor he is diagnosed with “Disorders of Sex Development,” or intersex. Without consulting him, Shi-Nan’s parents decide to accept “sex reassignment surgery”, turning Shi-Nan into a female and changing her name to YANG Shi-Lan. The family moves to a new city to start a new life and it all seems to be going well as Shi-Lan blends in and even makes friends. It seems like the butterfly is about to break out of its chrysalis but can YANG Shi-Lan truly embrace her transformation?

This is the question that the film dangles in front of audiences as it shows them Shi-Lan’s feminisation whilst also keeping them aware of society’s discrimination and ultimately playing on the idea where a person’s identity is taken out of their hands and the psychological effects it can have on them. [Jason Maher – OAFF 2021]

Trailer:

Boundary: Flaming Feminist Action by Yun Gahyun – Korea | 2021 – 102 minutes

After the Gangnam Station Toilet Murder Case in 2016, my friends and I started a new campaign by moving from the labor movement to the women’s movement. We make Flaming Feminist Action projects that promote feminist movements with women’s bodies and sexuality, such as “Liberation of armpit hairs” and “Liberation of nipples”. Four years after our feminist manifesto, we open the diary of those four years that were hot, bitter, and damp like a sweltering summer.  (DMZDocs 2021)

Chorokbam by Yoon Seo-jin – Korea | 2021 – 89 minutes

The film begins with the title Chorokbam filling the screen, which is amazing to see. This is the very moment at which the audience decides to trust this film without hesitation. In terms of how to fill and empty the square frame, the film is bold and skillful. Chorok, meaning green in English, is the color of fate in this movie. The problems of all the family members a hopeless father who works as a night guard, a mother who is completely exhausted with house works, a poor son who works for the disabled and their funeral ceremony are all dominated by the color, green. It is not bright or fancy but dark and scary in some sense. With attractive images and scenes, the film develops a series of worldly episodes of a family up to the level of poetic sentiment of blues and depression. (JUNG Hanseok | BIFF 2021)

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Cliff Walkers by Yimou Zhang – China | 2021 – 120 minutes

In the puppet state of Manchukuo in the 1930s, four Communist party special agents, afterreturning to China, embark on a secret mission. Sold out by a traitor, the team find themselves surrounded by threats on all sides (IMDb).

Trailer:

Coming to You by Byun Gyuri – Korea | 2021 – 93 minutes

Nabi, a veteran fire officer, accepts the coming out from her child Hankyeol, “I want to remove my breasts.” Meanwhile, Vivian, a flight crew, receives a letter from her son Yejoon, “Mom, I’m gay.” Hankyeol and Yejoon confide in their struggles even before the two mothers understand their reality. (JIFF 2021)

Trailer:

Crossing’s End by Shih Yu-lun – Taiwan | 2021 – 116 minutes

In 2002, Wang and his girlfriend met up to talk about the breakup, but she accidentally fell off the bridge. Wang asked his friend to call an ambulance and yet his girlfriend’s parents accused them of murder. They weren’t prosecuted until a witness changed his statement, claiming that they threw the victim off the bridge. In 2013, Taiwan Innocence Project decided to help them to overturn the verdict, but how? (TGHFF 2021)

Trailer:

Drifting by Jun LI – Hong Kong | 2021 – 113 minutes

Under the flyovers of Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong live a group of down-and-outs. One winter night, the authorities clear all their personal belongings while they are sleeping. Sick of being evicted, Fai and his companions decide to build wooden fences around their living space. Meanwhile, Ms. Ho, a young social worker, helps them take to court to demand compensation for their losses. (TGHFF 2021)

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Drive my Car by Hamaguchi Ryusuke – Japan | 2021 – 179 minutes

A film based on the short story of the same title by Murakami Haruki from his short story collection Men Without Women. Hamaguchi takes the crux of the story, portraying a protagonist who bottles up his darkness and loneliness in a corner of his heart, and adds an abundance of details in his own style. He takes a step closer to the secrets of the world through people speaking different languages putting together a play. The protagonist’s wife has a habit of making up stories while having sex. She turns one of them into a TV drama script and becomes a successful TV writer. One day, the protagonist learns about his wife’s affair, but before he has a chance to ask her why, she dies. Two years later, he is invited to a theater festival, where he brings together actors of different nationalities to perform Uncle Vanya. There, he finds an opportunity to dive deep into the abyss of his heart. (NAM Dong-chul – BIFF 2021)

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Escape from Mogadishu by Ryoo Seung-wan – Korea | 2021 – 121 minutes

Dramatically constructed based on a true story: as civil war rages in Mogadishu, rival North and South Korean diplomats are left trapped. With no aid from either government, their only shot at survival may require uniting with bitter adversaries to escape.

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Fanatic by Oh Seyeon – Korea | 2021 – 87 minutes

A teenage girl who appears on a TV show as an idol singer′s fan calls herself a ′seongdeok′ (successful fan), because her idol appeared on the same program. Years later, the same idol singer is arrested on charges of gang rape and illegally filming and distributing sex tapes. The seongdeok, who has suddenly become a criminal′s fan, decides to meet with other fans of the criminal singer in a confused state of anger and sadness. Fanatic begins with director Oh Seyeon′s own embarrassing past. The situation is funny but also unlaughable. After meeting with other fans in the same situation as herself, who are “suffering more because they′d loved,” she eventually reaches the far-right Taegeukgi rally participants in front of Seoul Station, holding protests for the release of former president Park Geun-hye. An embarrassingly direct, poignant, and frankly introspective documentary full of profanity, this film is, above all, clever. (KANG Sowon – BIFF 2021)

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Farewell, My Hometown by Wang Er Zhuo – China | 2021 – 83 minutes

Farewell, My Hometown consists of three episodes. In the first episode, an elderly woman living in the mountains reflects on her life and recounts experiences of excruciating poverty, hard labor, and her child’s death, as the beautiful mountain and forest landscape fills the screen. The second episode is narrated by a woman in her 20s. Living with her boyfriend in an apartment full of boxes, she recounts the solitude she’d felt after moving to Beijing to live in the dance school dormitory. As if hinting at her continuous loneliness, segmented shots of apartments of various sizes are shown in the background. The third episode is the story of a middleaged teacher who takes to the stage. She reflects on her college years in the 1980s, when she enjoyed a different kind of freedom than that of her parents′ generation and was in love with a poor working-class man. The difficult lives of the three generations of women are overlapped in lyrical and poetic images. (PARK Sun Young | BIFF 2021)

Trailer:

Festival by Kim Lok-kyoung – Korea | 2020 – 108 minutes

Struggling event MC Kyung-man has a younger sister and an ill father. One day, his father passes away, and a funeral service is held. But Kyung-man is unable to pay the funeral expenses, so he sneaks out and accepts a job emceeing the birthday party of an old woman living in a rural town. (Skip City 2021)

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Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko by Watanabe Ayumu – Japan | 2021 – 97 minutes

Produced by Akashiya Sanma in love with the original novel by Naoki Prize-winning novelist Nishi Kanako, Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is a heartwarming comedy drama of an unconventional mother and daughter (TIFF 2021).

Trailer:

Gensan Punch by Brillante Mendoza – Philippines, Japan | 2021 – 110 minutes

Disability is not a subject to overcome but to be embraced. Nao Tsuyama dreams of becoming a professional boxer. However, being an handicapped person with a prosthetic leg due to a childhood accident, he is denied official registration at the Japanese Boxing Association. To get the international license, he decides to go to the Philippines where he has to start from zero. It has a different language and culture. He meets Rudy who used to be a successful champion, but now runs a shabby boxing club on the outskirts of the Philippines. Nao starts to feel the paternal love he lacked as a child. He also builds friendship with colleagues who are training for their own circumstances. He realizes that there is a sense of desperation among all of them. The harsh reality can barely change, and there are moments of truth that must be faced. Beauty always lies in the process. Based on a true story, GENSAN PUNCH is a tribute to human challenges. (PARK Sungho | BIFF 2021)

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