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90 Asian Films from 2021 (Part 3)

We continue with our list of Asian films from 2021 that you shouldn’t miss. The list includes fiction and documentary films.

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

Other parts of this list:
Part 1
Part 2

– Selected Films –

Soup and Ideology by Yang Yong-hi – Japan, Korea | 2021 – 118 minutes

When the father passed away in 2009, only the mother and their daughter were left in Japan. The daughter, who lives in Tokyo, is worried about her aged mother living alone, so she visits her home in Osaka every month. One day, the mother suddenly tells her daughter that she experienced the Jeju uprising. The memories of her that she had buried deep in her heart without telling anyone came back to life. She begins to talk specifically about how she got involved in the Jeju uprising, as she asks her daughter never to tell her anyone… (DMZDocs 2021)

Space Sweepers by Jo Sung-hee – Korea | 2021 – 136 minutes

Set in the year 2092 and follows the crew of a space junk collector ship called The Victory. When they discover a humanoid robot named Dorothy that’s known to be a weapon of mass destruction, they get involved in a risky business deal. (IMDb)

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Summer Blur by Han Shuai – Hong Kong | 2020 – 88 minutes

Thirteen-year-old Guo longs to reunite with her newly remarried mother in Shanghai. Instead, she is forced to live in Wuhan with her unwelcoming aunt, her spoiled cousin and a classmate with a disturbing infatuation. When she indirectly causes the drowning of a friend, Guo’s desperation to escape leads to her psychological undoing. Filmed with the propulsive energy of a thriller, Han Shuai’s psychological coming-of-age drama depicts the terror of puberty through the eyes of a strong-willed protagonist. FIPRESCI Prize, Busan. Generation Kplus for Best Film, Berlinale. (HKIFF 2021)

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Taste by Le Bao – France, Singapore, Vietnam | 2020 – 98 minutes

Bassley has traveled all the way to Vietnam from Nigeria as a professional football player. One day he is injured and as a result, is expelled from the team. He cannot tell his family the truth because must find a way to continue to support their living. He stays in a small hair salon and becomes one of the low-class laborers in the metropolis. One of his new friends makes hot air balloons all day long, although she never has ridden in one. All of them are tired of working long hours doing whatever jobs they can take. One day, they decide to live together in an old house. In the most natural way, they wash themselves, prepare food, eat together, and sleep together. At first, they seem to have had their own paradise. However, small cracks form as jealousy and pettiness threaten their idyllic relationship. Director Le Bao, who studied film on his own without formal education in Vietnam, has created a masterpiece in which he boldly portrays realistically drawn, modern human beings on the silver screen. (PARK Sungho – BIFF 2021)

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Taste of Wild Tomato by Lau Kek-Huat – Taiwan | 2021 – 124 minutes

Kaohsiung, Taiwan, is one of the areas that suffered the most from the February 28 incident in 1947. After the uprising against discrimination and the oppression of the Kuomintang ended with a disastrous massacre, people were banned from talking about the February 28 incident in Taiwan for 40 years. As soon as the martial law was lifted, director Hou Hsiao-Hsien was the first to inform the world of the incident through A City of Sadness(1989). More than 30 years later, director Lau Kek-Huat recalls the collective memories of the people of Kaohsiung about the February 28 incident. Taste of Wild Tomato begins with the history of Kaohsiung, which was an important military base for the Japanese army during the Japanese occupation, and tends to the deep scars of the survivors, their descendants, and their descendants’ descendants. The memories of the incident are everywhere like wild tomatoes in Kaohsiung, and the director traverses those spaces and memories with wide strides and a supple gait. (KANG Sowon – BIFF 2021)

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The Apartment with Two Women by Kim Se-in – Korea | 2021 – 140 minutes

Sookyung lives with her daughter Yijung. They don′t quite get along, though. Sookyung is too hot tempered, while Yijung is slow and passive. After having a fight one day, Sookyung runs over Yijung, who thinks she did it on purpose. Their clash ends up in court. The conflict between a mother and a daughter is common, but this film makes it rarely common by showing the fierce battle between them for an unusually long run time a length that seems emotionally understandable. The Apartment with Two Women strongly attracts audiences with its realistic characters, good performances, dynamic narrative, unexpected humor, harp details, pressing questions, and often uneasy answers. What is a family? The film asks this long and complex question with all its heart. (JUNG Hanseok – BIFF 2021)

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The Book of Fish by Lee Joonik – Korea | 2021 – 126 minutes

The Book of Fish depicts the process of Jeong Yakjeon (Sul Kyung-gu) and fisherman Changdae (Byun John) interacting beyond their social status. Jeong Yakjeon wrote a dictionary of sea life called ‘The Book of Fish’ on Heuksando Island, an exile site in 1814. Director Lee Joonik developed this project into a human story by unfolding the layers of history through this one book, which contains the essence of practical studies and love for people at that time. There are no spectacular events or provocative situations in The Book of Fish; there is, instead, only a deep and beautiful relationship that forms the story. With the help of Changdae, Jeong Yakjeon practices studies that will help people, but Changdae, who dreams of becoming a Neo-Confucian, becomes frustrated looking at Jeong Yakjeon. Nevertheless, the two men, who are of different ages, social statuses, and philosophies, are gradually reborn as the meanings of each other. The process of reaching the one-line phrase, ′When I know my friend deeply, I become deepened,′ is as beautiful as the picturesque landscape. (SONG Kyung-won – BIFF 2021)

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The Day is Over by Qi Rui – China | 2021 – 108 minutes

Living quietly in the mountains, a young girl humiliated by her classmates is eager to go find her father in the city. Her plan is wrecked when the travel money fetched by her good friend is accidentally lost. Unable to repay the loan, and without hope of seeing their parents, the girls take refuge in the pond, where they feel safe and warm, as if returned to their mother’s womb. Shot with naturalistic cinematography, Qi Rui’s directorial debut is imbued with a lyrical tone and sympathetic tenderness reminiscent of Kiarostami’s cinema. (HKIFF 2021)

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The Deer King by Ando Masashi, Miyaji Masayuki – Japan | 2021 – 113 minutes

In the land of the Empire of Zol, wild dogs once carried the deadly Black Wolf Fever. Enslaved ex-soldier Van and a young girl named Yuna, both bitten, were the sole survivors of a fierce attack and escaped. As the deadly disease runs rampant, they ally with Hohsalle, a gifted physician, searching for a cure for the disease that is spreading among the Zolian settlers. (TGHFF 2021)

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The Edge of Daybreak by Taiki Sakpisit – Thailand, Switzerland | 2021 – 115 minutes

Meditative and nightmarish, Taiki Sakpisit’s feature debut evokes four decades of traumatising history. On the eve of the 2006 military coup that upended daily life in Thailand, a woman shares a final meal with her husband before being smuggled out of the country. Four decades earlier, as student uprisings similarly threaten the nation’s tranquillity, a young girl lies in a coma after nearly drowning. How they are intertwined is what propels Sakpisit’s poetic, hypnotic tale of shadows, dreams, and memories. (HKIFF 2021)

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The Falls by Chung Mong-hong – Taiwan | 2021 – 129 minutes

When a classmate tests positive for COVID-19, Xiao Jing begins home quarantine. Her mother, Pin-wen, is asked to take a leave of absence. Confined together, the already thorny mother-daughter relationship becomes strained. Soon, Pin-wen is hospitalized with a psychotic disorder. Mental illness causes their lives to swerve in unexpected directions, and yet it also untangles the threads twisted around their hearts. (TGHFF 2021)

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The Flame by Arfan Sabran – Indonesia | 2021 – 76 minutes

As a native Dayak of Borneo, Iber Djamal (77) has witnessed two decades of ecological disasters that have destroyed Borneo’s forest. With the time he has left in his life, he is fighting to obtain a legal title for the remaining customary forest surrounding his home. With the expansion of palm oil plantations, indigenous Dayak people like him are asked to sign an agreement for the companies to further encroach their forest. Iber insists on pursuing the only legal way to protect the forest by obtaining a legal customary forest title for the remaining forest in his area. (DMZDocs 2021)

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The Girl on a Bulldozer by Park Ri-woong – Korea | 2021 – 113 minutes

Haeyoung (Kim Hyeyoon) is a hopeless girl. She has tattoos all over her arms. She uses vulgar language, and is even violent. She is a terrible troublemaker. She does not have a mother and lives with her father (Park Hyukkwon), who runs a Chinese restaurant, and a younger sibling. One day, her father has a mysterious accident, which places her in a position of responsibility. She is now not only the head of the house and must look after her younger sibling, but also an investigator tasked with finding the truth about the accident, and a fighter standing against the ugly world. A detective (YeSung) tries to help her, but her life is far from being easy or organized. The way she lives her life remains unchanged. As the story develops, however, her boldness brings honesty and innocence, which eventually fills the film with touching moments. How will she operate a bulldozer? (JUNG Hanseok – BIFF 2021)

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The Medium by Banjong Pisanthanakun – Korea, Thailand | 2021 – 130 minutes

A documentary team follows Nim, a shaman based in Northern Thai, the Isan area, and encounters her niece Mink showing strange symptoms that seem to be of inheritance of shamanism. The team decides to follow Mink, hoping to capture the shaman lineage passing on to the next generation, but her bizarre behavior becomes more extreme. (BIFAN 2021)

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The Soul by Cheng Wei-hao – Taiwan | 2021 – 130 minutes

A well-known entrepreneur Wang Shi-cong was found slaughtered at home. Prosecutor Liang Wen-chao and CIB officer A-bao have discovered during the investigation that every suspect, such as the victim’s business partner Dr. Wan, the victim and his ex-wife’s son Wang Tian-you, the victim’s young wife Li Yan and even the victim’s ex-wife, is connected with one another in complex relationships… (TGHFF 2021)

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The Way We Keep Dancing by Adam Sauping Wong – Hong Kong, China | 2020 – 129 minutes

The Kowloon Industrial District is home to many of Hong Kong’s artists, including rapper Heyo, YouTuber Alan, rising star Hana, and dancer Dave. However, the government is preparing the area for gentrification. The group from “The Way We Dance” is invited to participate in a publicity stunt to transform the district into a “Dance Street.” Meanwhile, Heyo’s master Afuc is planning a revolution. (BIFAN 2021)

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The White Tiger by Ramin Bahrani – India, USA | 2021 – 125 minutes

An ambitious Indian driver uses his wit and cunning to escape from poverty and rise to the top. An epic journey based on the New York Times bestseller.

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Three Sisters by Lee Seungwon – Korea | 2020 – 115 minutes | Fiction

The three sisters are struggling with their own problems. Heesook, Mrs. Sorry, is neglected by her family. Miyeon, Mrs. Devout, witnesses her husband having an affair. And Mi-ok, Mrs. Hysteric, is just weird, always drunk and frustrated with life. The sisters are going to gather for their father’s birthday. What will happen? We will see when the day comes. (JIFF 2021)

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Treat or Trick by Hsu Fuhsiang – Taiwan | 2021 – 106 minutes

Feng, a corrupted police officer, ordered to retrieve the diamonds within 48hrs, arrives at a remote village, following the mobile signal of his partner Chiang who stole the diamonds from the gang. While Feng and his men try to find Chiang in the village, they encounter the locals who seem naive but suspicious, and a ghost full of stories. Remake of a renowned Korean film To Catch A Virgin Ghost(2004). (BIFAN 2021)

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Ushiku by Thomas Ash – Japan | 2021 – 87 minutes

The Ushiku immigration center near Tokyo mainly holds people seeking refuge in Japan. Using a hidden camera, award-winning filmmaker Thomas Ash interviewed inmates there from late 2019. His film publicly accuses Japan’s uncompromising refugee policy through one of the country’s biggest human rights scandals. Ushiku has been making international headlines for years.

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Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Edwin
Indonesia, Singapore, Germany | 2021 – 115 minutes

Ajo Kawir is a fighter who fears nothing, not even death. His raging urge to fight is driven by a secret — his impotence. Tokyo Gap-Financing Market 2020 Selected Project (TIFF 2021).

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We Made a Beautiful Bouquet by Doi Nobuhiro – Japan | 2021 – 124 minutes

Is it really better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all? Mugi and Kinu meet by chance one night, after missing the last train. They believe that they have found the ideal partner in each other through shared interests in music, movies and books, but the relationship eventually turns sour when reality gets in the way. Critically acclaimed for his cracking dialogue and complex characters, television screenwriter Sakamoto Yuji returns to film for the first time in 14 years with this brutally honest chronicle of a four-year relationship’s ups and downs. (HKIFF 2021)

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What she likes… by Kusano Shogo – Japan | 2021 – 122 minutes

A popular webnovel that was adapted into a TV drama and a film, What She Likes… was also published in Korea under the title What She Likes Are Homosexuals, Not Me. High school student Jun is a closeted gay who is secretly dating an older man. His classmate Sae, who doesn′t know his secret, shows interest in him. One day, Jun runs into Sae at the bookstore and realizes that she enjoys yaoi manga. Now that Jun knows her secret, Sae develops even stronger feelings and confesses her love for him. Flustered, Jun ends up agreeing to date Sae, and the situation unfolds in an unexpected way. Rather than sweet romance befitting a school life drama featuring pretty boys and girls, the film asks serious questions about homosexuality. Instead of romance, a new level of friendship that comes from a deep understanding of each other blossoms beautifully as the characters overcome adversity. (NAM Dong-chul – BIFF 2021)

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Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy by Hamaguchi Ryusuke – Japan | 2021 – 122 minutes

Hamaguchi Ryusuke once mentioned Eric Rohmer as his inspiration for Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. He said thematically he wanted to focus on coincidences that Eric Rohmer often featured in his films, and he finds short films appealing as they help prepare for feature films and simultaneously provide opportunities to shape experimental ideas. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is a triptych of shorts about coincidences. Each vignette stands on its own, but the three films are thematically linked. Coincidences lead to horribly tragic events at times or events that make you smile at other times. In his unique style, Hamaguchi depicts the world that is revealed through coincidences. This film is the first three of the seven stories on coincidences he conceived. Although it was made lightly, this powerful film has turned Hamaguchi into a household name in contemporary Japanese cinema. (NAM Dong-chul – BIFF 2021)

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Whether the Weather is Fine by Carlo Francisco Manatad
Philippines, France, Singapore, Indonesia, Germany, Qatar | 2021 – 105 minutes

Hearing about an impending storm in the wake of a deadly typhoon, Miguel looks for his missing mother and friend to escape on the next ship to Manila. Amidst the stony rubbish and strewn bodies in the wasteland they are fleeing, the trio begin to see their world grow increasingly absurd, magical and stupefying.

Set in the director’s hometown of Tacloban, a city practically decimated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, Carlo Francisco MANATAD’s debut feature subverts the disaster genre to reveal the nervous humour bubbling beneath a tragedy. Apocalyptic visuals reminiscent of Children of Men are awash with spirituality and satire. In this moving dilemma between staying and leaving, we are left laughing with our eyes wet. (SGIFF 2021)

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White Building by Neang Kavich – Cambodia, France, China, Qatar | 2021 – 91 minutes

The White Building was once an icon of the successful urbanization and modernization of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. As it decays, its residents are leaving one by one. The tension of the conflicts among them are rising, as the demolition and relocation become imminent. The unfolding stories focus on a young man, Samnang, and his father. Samnang wants to make a living as a hip-hop dancer but has to face the harsh reality that this is simply not possible. Meanwhile, his father hopelessly tries to negotiate with the authorities on behalf of the residents. As a former resident (he was born and raised in this vary building) director Kavich Neang reflected his own experiences in writing and directing this work. His previous documentary film, Last Night I Saw You Smiling (2019), captured his neighbours in a loving perspective, while White Building delves deeper into the inner atmosphere of the family and the community. White Building won the CJ Entertainment Award and Arte Award at the Asian Project Market at the 2016 Busan International Film Festival, and is the first Cambodian film officially invited to Venice Orizzonti. (BOO Kyunghwan – BIFF 2021)

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Wife of a Spy by Kurosawa Kiyoshi – Japan | 2020 – 115 minutes

In the latest KUROSAWA Kiyoshi film, the owner of a trading company witnesses a dreadful state secret in Manchuria just before the outbreak of World War II. His wife continues to believe in and love her husband as he makes every effort to make what he saw known to the world, which causes her a lot of trouble. Elegant, tense and tasteful spy thriller. Winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice International Film Festival. (Camera Japan Festival 2021)

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Writing with Fire by Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh – India | 2021 – 93 minutes

In a cluttered news landscape dominated by men, emerges India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. Armed with smartphones, Chief Reporter Meera and her journalists break traditions, be it on the frontlines of India’s biggest issues or within the confines of their homes, redefining what it means to be powerful. (DMZDocs 2021)

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You’re not normal, Either! by Maeda Koji – Japan | 2021 – 98 minutes

Ono Yasuomi, a math teacher at a private institute, is a single man engrossed in his job and totally incapable of person-to-person communication. Ono doesn’t complain about life, but he feels uneasy about being single for the rest of his life. His dates with women do not go smoothly and he doesn’t know how to fix that. When his student Akimoto Kasumi tells him that it is not normal, Ono asks her to help him out. (TGHFF 2021)

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Yuni by Kamila Andini – Indonesia, Singapore | 2021 – 96 minutes

Yuni, a high school girl, is obsessed with the color purple. Her family, who lives in the countryside, is not affluent, and thus realizes how important it is for her to get a scholarship to continue what she wants – to study in a university. She is not a perfect person, though. She does not hesitate to steal small things if they are purple, and she uses her friend to write poetry for her to improve her grades in literature, the only subject with which she struggles. Despite this, she is considered to be both pretty and smart by her classmates and even other men. Now she finds herself unable to decide what exactly she wants. As she begins to reject proposals, bad news starts to circulate in the small town. Directed by Kamila Andini, Yuni is an adorable film on the surface, but the critical point—the view underneath against the conservatism and sexism—makes it a masterpiece. (PARK Sungho – BIFF 2021)

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