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YumCha! Picks: Best Asian Movies of 2010

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Everyone's making year-end movie lists, and YumCha! Editorial Team is joining the fun. Out of the many Asian movies released this year on video (hopefully with English subtitles), here's what our editors have picked as the Best Movies of 2010!


About Her Brother (Japan)
Familiar, maudlin and also predictable, About Her Brother is nonetheless special due to director Yamada Yoji's sublime handling. Japan's modern master of the melodrama, Yamada wastes neither action nor words - nor does he pile on too much of either. Affecting and emotional simply because it rings so true. Acting is top-notch, as one might expect from this cast.

Au Revoir, Taipei (Taiwan)
Remember when movies were fun, breezy, and meaningful simply because they tried not to be? I sure don't, which is why Au Revoir, Taipei is such a retro revelation. Director Arvin Chen's debut is a winning caper comedy with dumb bad guys, lovable sidekicks, and a feisty heroine (Taiwan darling Amber Kuo) who's absolutely worth falling worth. After hours Taipei has never seemed more inviting.

Bodyguards and Assassins (Hong Kong)
Sterling Hong Kong Cinema because it crams drama, pathos, history, and over-the-top, exhilarating action into a stirring and undeniably entertaining spectacle. If there's a modern successor to the Once Upon a Time in China films, director Teddy Chen has delivered it with the star-packed and deservedly award-winning Bodyguards and Assassins. Nicholas Tse and Wang Xueqi bring the acting cred, but the possible MVP: Leon Lai's hair.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (Hong Kong)
It doesn't entirely make sense, but that's one reason it's so very enjoyable. Tsui Hark's return to form evokes his classic Hong Kong films from the eighties and nineties with its breathless narrative, creative action, rapid-fire exposition, terrific casting, and screwball imagination. Sammo Hung-choreographed action? Spontaneous combustion via poisonous beetles? Carina Lau as the Empress? Andy Lau modeling a closetful of weird hats? A talking deer? Detective Dee has it all.

Gallants (Hong Kong)
If not for Detective Dee, Gallants might have been 2010's biggest reward for the Hong Kong Cinema faithful. Bruce Liang and Chen Kuan Tai are fine as the old fellas brought back into action, but it's Teddy Robin as their urbane, pint-sized master who handily steals the film. An action comedy filled with hilarious and smart Hong Kong Cinema love, Gallants also has a terrific, earned and appropriate message. Easily one of the most enjoyable and unexpected Hong Kong films this year.

Hear Me (Taiwan)
Eddie Peng mugs up a cartoon character-like storm, but his overacting is fine in Hear Me - especially since the object of his affections is the dazzlingly cute Ivy Chen, whose anime-sized eyes communicate far more than words could. They'll have to, because Hear Me is largely wordless, with its protagonists carrying on their winning romance using both sign and body language. No translation is necessary.

Ocean Heaven (China/Hong Kong)
Warlords and Fearless proved that Jet Li can act, but Ocean Heaven confirms his range. Director Xue Xiaolu's drama sees Li as a terminally ill man who can't bear to leave his autistic 22 year-old son (Wen Zhang) behind after he dies. It sounds abominably like a Hallmark movie-of-the-week, but Ocean Heaven dispenses with messages or manipulation to tell its surprisingly restrained and emotional story. There's no kung fu here and that's just fine.

Poetry (South Korea)
Director Lee Chang Dong's mantel got a whole lot heavier thanks to Poetry. Lee's multiple award-winning drama delivers its could-be soap-opera tale in compelling fashion, capturing mood and emotions through character and action, and not showy directorial technique. Long-absent actress Yoon Jeong Hee does Lee's unflinching direction credit, ably creating her character through the poetry of performance.

Reign of Assassins (Hong Kong)
John Woo is listed as co-director, but the force behind Reign of Assassins is Silk director Su Chao Bin. What Su did with horror in Silk, he more than quadruples with the wuxia in Reign. The all-star cast and copious action sell this genre picture, but it's the memorable characters, sly subversions, and strong emotions that make this latter-day Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon the winner that it is.

Seven Days in Heaven (Taiwan)
Part black comedy and part family drama, Seven Days in Heaven chronicles the seven-day funeral held for a deceased patriarch (played by Tai Bo from those eighties Jackie Chan films) that's attended by his grown-up urbanite children. The film's humor arises from the smartly observed culture clash between the funeral's traditional Taoist rites and modern values of the children, but it's the universal things - filial piety, grief, change - that give the film its rare and uncommon heart.


Fly, Penguin (South Korea)
No bells or whistles attached to this unassuming ensemble drama about the daily challenges and discriminations faced at home, work, and school. Presented by Korea's National Human Rights Commission, the minimalist movie with a message runs a bit long and dry, but hits home with its realistic portrayal of household and workplace predicaments, posing simple yet pressing questions about the way we live.

Gallants (Hong Kong)
For people who miss the good old days of kung-fu flicks, Gallants is here to save the day. The underdog story about two battered martial arts vets getting their groove back has humor, nostalgia, and the scrappy fighting spirit that made Hong Kong action movies of yesteryear so enjoyable. Teddy Robin is awesome. No, seriously, Teddy Robin is awesome.

Hahaha (South Korea)
Hong Sang Soo's films are often humorous in a misanthropic way. Hahaha, however, feels different. The director's usual themes about men whining, wining, and pining over women and their own arrested development are present, but this time the film seems amused rather than aggrieved by the struggles. Instead of being self-involved, the hypocritical heroes of Hahaha come across as self-effacing, even when they lie, cheat, and recite poetry. The result is a wry dramedy that is as sharp as Hong's previous films, while also being genuinely funny and empathetic.

KJ: Music and Life (Hong Kong)
It's hard to explain how a slice-of-life documentary about a music prodigy at age 11 and 17 can be so amusing, but its hero KJ is simply a total character. The self-aware teen terrorizes both himself and those around him with his staggering talent and existential musings, but beneath the genius we find an adolescent trying to come to terms with himself and his family. Director King Cheung Wai was more than just in the right place at the right time. Superbly constructed and edited, KJ offers a fascinating character study, a bittersweet coming-of-age story, and an honest look into the Hong Kong pressure cooker of elite schooling.

Love in a Puff (Hong Kong)
Pang Ho Cheung's rom-com was slapped with a Category III rating for daring to portray everyday people talking like everyday people. The casual profanity, sexual innuendo, and cigarette break gossip circles anchor this urban drama in reality in a way that few movies can, with the hilarious details and dialogue pointing a mirror right back at the audience. Despite all the witty cynicism and zippy one-liners thrown out by the movie's sharp-tongued yuppies, Love in a Puff also has an immensely soft heart for its chain-smoking couple (Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue), making this one of the best romantic comedies to come out of Hong Kong in years.

Nodame Cantabile: The Final Score (Japan)
Gyabo! The Nodame Cantabile live-action franchise comes to a glorious end with a two-part feature that transports the TV drama's cast and charm in whole to the silver screen. The movies go to darker places as heroes Nodame and Chiaki tackle their inner ghosts, but the emotional lows are balanced with all the loony, laugh-out-loud highs that have made so many people love the series so dearly. Production values are still suspiciously television-like, but bringing on Lang Lang and the London Philharmonic to record the music is just pure class(ical).

Monga (Taiwan)
Doze Niu's idol drama take on the gangster movie is sentimental, commercial, and entertaining to the highest degree. Chinese gangster movies abound, but Monga offers a fresh, local update with its hot young stars and vibrant, violent recreation of 1980s Taipei. Living fast and dying young looks pretty darn good when mixed with free-wheeling nostalgia and the fanfic-worthy brotherhood of Ethan Ruan, Mark Chao, and Rhydian Vaughan.

Secret Reunion (South Korea)
An exhilarating mix of thriller action and human drama, Secret Reunion features charismatic performances from Song Kang Ho and Kang Dong Won as agents from opposite sides of the parallel who learn they're not so different after all in buddy movie fashion. Offering hope and humanity amid the shootouts, director Jang Hoon confirms himself as a name to watch for many years to come.

The Seaside Motel (Japan)
Moriya Kentaro's clever ensemble comedy gets the last laugh with a winning screenplay about the overlapping adventures of the eccentric guests at a landlocked motel named Seaside. The all-star cast overact with comedic gusto, as each motel room develops an outrageous story that spills into the next.

Villon's Wife (Japan)
Negishi Kichitaro's handsome adaptation of Osamu Dazai's classic novel takes an effectively understated route in storytelling, letting the strong cast of Matsu Takako, Asano Tadanobu, Hirosue Ryoko, Tsumabuki Satoshi, and Tsutsumi Shinichi gradually build and break down the characters and relationships onscreen. Matsu Takako deservedly won many awards for her luminous portrayal of the strong, suffering wife who sticks by her cheating, self-destructive husband.


Air Doll (Japan)
Kore-eda Hirokazu's adult fairy tale is also a heartbreaking exploration into urban isolation. Bae Du Na gives a physically daring performance as the titular character, and cinematographer Lee Ping Bing captures a gorgeous-looking Tokyo that is at times as cold and distant as the film's urbanite characters.

Citizen King (Hong Kong)
Hong Kong independent films can be fun and entertaining, too! Actor Johnson Lee's co-directorial debut is a smart, biting look into the mind of a self-absorbed actor who will do anything to prove that he has what it takes to be a star. The scene of Lee impersonating Hollywood actors is already worth the price of the DVD.

Dear Doctor (Japan)
Nishikawa Miwa crafts one of the most complex con artists of recent memory in this deceptively low-key drama about the collapse of ideals and blind praise for false idols. Comedian Shofukutei Tsurube gives the performance of his career as a con man whose masquerade as a small town doctor turns him into a victim of his own game.

KJ: Music and Life (Hong Kong)
The musical genius in Cheung King Wai's documentary is an arrogant brat who talks too much, but that's exactly what makes him one of the more intriguing documentary subjects in years. Complemented by beautiful music and surprisingly in-depth interviews, KJ is a real-life look at genius that should be seen by any parents with unrealistically high expectations for their children.

Love in a Puff (Hong Kong)
Pang Ho Cheung's profanity-filled romantic comedy has one of the funniest scripts of the year and an unlikely romantic pair that works. Also features one of the best Hong Kong original film scores of the year.

Pinoy Sunday (Taiwan)
This offbeat road movie about Filipino migrant workers bringing a couch down the streets of Taipei for a better life in their factory avoids grim social realism for a charming trip into self-discovery and friendship. The endearing characters make this Pan-Asian production a winner.

Poetry (South Korea)
Writer-director Lee Chang Dong has a way of making movies that emotionally shatter his audiences without them realizing it. Poetry continues that streak with a quietly powerful story about finding redemption in words.

Secret Reunion (South Korea)
Part spy thriller, part buddy movie, Secret Reunion makes good use of an interesting idea without milking it for all its worth. It's simply an entertaining blockbuster that lives up to its promise.

Symbol (Japan)
Showing a day in the life of a Mexican wrestler and a confused, pajama-donning man's quest to leave a mysterious room at the same time, Matsumoto Hitoshi's eccentric second film is likely more meant to be experienced than understood. A crazy movie experience that may drive more traditional filmgoers up the wall, Symbol is nevertheless one of the most hilarious and bizarre films of 2010.

Summer Wars (Japan)
Girl Who Leapt Through Time director Mamoru Hosoda has taken a major step with Summer Wars to prove that he will become a major figure in Japanese animation. An animated film about the power of a united family, this is the epitome of crowd-pleasing filmmaking that will even please non-animation fans like myself.


Bodyguards and Assassins (Hong Kong)
The sheer caliber of the cast and crew, the epic production values that recreated the city of Hong Kong of a hundred years ago, and a gripping story that won’t let go until the long, action-filled climax are but some of the reasons why Teddy Chen's labor of love is a landmark achievement in Chinese commercial cinema. Fans are advised to get the Limited Edition Blu-ray or DVD, which comes with the bonus documentary film Dark October with more insights into the extremely difficult process that brought this dream project to life.

Break Up Club (Hong Kong)
It is a pleasure watching how the boundary between reality and fantasy is blurred in this fun little gem from Barbara Wong and Lawrence Cheng. The romance film said to be made for the post-80s generation clearly belongs to Fiona Sit and Jaycee Chan. The chemistry feels genuine between the rumored lovers as their relationship unfolds through gimmicky video camera and split-screen perspectives, film-within-film narrative, and an enigmatic website that miraculously breaks couples up. Jaycee's acting has shown much progress, but it is Fiona, who turned in another wonderful work this year in La Comedie humaine, that lights up the screen in perhaps her most delicious performance yet.

Dream Home (Hong Kong)
Pang Ho Cheung not only helps vent the frustration of those who feel hopeless in the face of Hong Kong's property prices, but also filled the sorely felt long absence of blood-and-gore B-movies in Hong Kong Cinema. Pang skillfully blends inventive death scenes with biting social satire for a crazy and entertaining cult film that will live long in our memories. The over-the-top mayhem depicted in the finale is easily up there with those sleazy slasher classics of the '80s. Josie Ho's victim-turned-killer is such an inspired twist of the genre norm that viewers would find it hard not to root for the heroine.

Echoes of the Rainbow (Hong Kong)
Writer-director Alex Law scored a surprise hit with this nostalgic crowd-pleaser based on his childhood in 1960s Hong Kong. The film follows the ups and downs that a grassroots family has gone through, tugging at the heartstrings with the depiction of some close-knit family bond, an innocent puppy love, and the kind of neighborhood spirit that may now be part of our collective memories. Perhaps more significantly, the film saw the birth of a new-generation star in Aarif Lee, who is the focal point of the story supported by the subdued performances of Simon Yam and Sandra Ng. Aarif went on to make a couple more period Hong Kong films with the promise of a bright future on his shoulders.

The Fantastic Water Babes (Hong Kong)
Jeff Lau picks himself up from the creative slump he's mired in with this disarmingly charming fantasy romance comedy set in a backwater town. It also represents a strong comeback for Gillian Chung after the potentially career-killing photo scandal. The material here feels like vintage Jeff Lau: a pastiche of some of his favorite themes and running gags, including the hilarious use of super powers, and the pursuit of eternal love. Also, CG effects and having a swimsuited Chrissie Chau in cameo - both readily capture eyeballs, sometimes to the point of distracting.

Gallants (Hong Kong)
Gallants is definitely not your average kung fu movie, but a spirited action comedy that pays respect to the elders. Skills and knowledge probably don't count as much as experience, a lesson we learned from the inspirational story of washed-up old masters fighting to revive their martial club and to live with dignity. Veteran martial arts actors Bruce Liang and Chen Kuan Tai own the film with their massive presence, Michael Chan, Lo Meng, and Siu Yam Yam deserve a big round of applause, while Teddy Robin looks to be a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor in the upcoming award season.

Legend of the Fist - The Return of Chen Zhen (Hong Kong)
With martial arts skills that are unmatched in the universe, Donnie Yen is best suited to play superhuman characters. And that's what his latest outing as Chen Zhen is - an out-of-this-world kung fu superhero looking over the mundane world from rooftops. The filmmakers made the intriguing choice to turn Bruce Lee's tragic folk hero into a masked crusader a la Bruce Wayne. Just the incredibly exhilarating and hyper-kinetic action scenes alone (all directed by Donnie himself) guarantees that his "Kato" will be a hard act to follow.

Love in a Puff (Hong Kong)
The two Category-III movies Pang Ho Cheung did this year can hardly be more different from each other, and that shows the filmmaker's immense range and talent in juggling genres. It's possibly justified to call this the most innocent adult-rated movie ever, as the budding romance between Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue, born out of gossip-filled cigarette breaks and tireless SMS exchanges, feels like a breath of fresh air. The success of this character-driven romantic comedy largely rests on the laid-back performances of the actors and their clever dialogues.

The Stool Pigeon (Hong Kong)
Dante Lam's worthy follow-up to the lauded 2008 crime thriller The Beast Stalker shows he is at the top of his game, confidently merging tight storytelling and top-notch action set pieces without repeating himself. The acting is excellent across the board, and casting Guey Lun Mei as the gangster chick is brilliant; so is the decision to switch sides for Nick Cheung and Nicholas Tse. This time Tse is given the meatier role, and what he does with it is simply awe-inspiring. Will he win heaps of accolades like Cheung did in the past year? I sure hope so.

72 Tenants of Prosperity (Hong Kong)
The inclusion of this is certain to raise a few eyebrows, but this seasonal comedy blockbuster makes a great example of the better Chinese New Year holiday movies. The Shaw Brothers release directed by Eric Tsang manages to accommodate a huge ensemble cast of actors and pop stars, with Jacky Cheung and Wong Cho Lam notably at their comedic best. The laugh-a-minute fun ride delivers tons of calculated but mostly hilarious gags, some song-and-dance sequences, and myriad pop culture references and parodies to make it the funny uncle everyone loves to meet at family gatherings.


1. Avatar (Korea Steelbook Collector's Edition)
2. Bodyguards and Assassins (2-Disc Limited Edition)
3. A Dirty Carnival (Korea Limited Edition)
4. Dust in the Wind (Taiwan Version)
5. Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance. (Hong Kong Limited Edition)
6. The Hurt Locker (Korea Steelbook Limited Edition)
7. Inception (Japan Premium Box)
8. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Japan Version)
9. My Neighbors the Yamadas (Japan Version)
10. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Japan Version)

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Published December 28, 2010

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