RSS Feed
YumCha! » Feature Articles

Best Asian Movies of 2018

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

With the year drawing to a close soon, we've made our picks for the best movies released on video in 2018!


1987: When the Day Comes
The Attorney and The Taxi Driver depicted traumas and tragedies that lined Korea's rocky grassroots path to democracy. Jang Joon Hwan's 1987 brings the journey to its tipping point: the mass protests of 1987 that toppled the military dictatorship and led to the first direct presidential election. Key figures are referenced, including government officials, opposition leaders and the slain student activists remembered as martyrs of the June Struggle, but the ensemble drama does not focus on a singular name or event. Instead, the ambitiously detailed script connects different unrelated people whose individual actions successively propel the movement – the frustrated prosecutor who almost impulsively requests an autopsy for a student killed in police custody, the prison guard who smuggles messages to a jailed activist, the dogged reporter who persists in reporting, the indifferent college student who experiences her political awakening. Epic yet intimate, 1987 not only paints a sweeping portrait of everyday people rising up, but also affords humanity to each character in these tumultuous times, even Kim Yoon Seok's antagonist figure of the steely anti-communism bureau chief.

Before We Vanish
Kurosawa Kiyoshi's films aren't exactly known for likable life-affirming characters. More often than not, his protagonists are unraveling types with troubled minds and unsettling secrets. Yet somehow, the characters in Before We Vanish – a quirky and intermittently violent sci-fi about the dangerous vanguards of a forthcoming alien invasion – are strangely endearing. Apocalypse begins abruptly in the form of three aliens who each snatch the mind and body of a human. They awkwardly figure out how to use their limbs, adopt human guides, and then steal concepts like "family" and "work" out of the minds of people they encounter. In this recon process, they kill and steal in matter-of-fact manner, but also gradually learn about human nature and develop a mutual understanding with their guides as the end draws near. Besides Matsuda Ryuhei being a natural fit for awkward extraterrestrial, Hasegawa Hiroki gets to roll out his full fabulous range of crazed overacting as the sleazy reporter who becomes the aliens' greatest ally. Based on a Maekawa Tomohiro play, Before We Vanish may be a meandering oddity in Kurosawa's filmography, but I found it to be his most entertaining work.

The Bold, The Corrupt and the Beautiful
Kara Hui adds to her crowded award mantle with the role of a ruthless fixer who doesn't show her hand in The Bold, The Corrupt and the Beautiful, a rare female-centric mobster film that won the top prize at the 54th Golden Horse Film Awards. The veteran is commanding as the manipulative matriarch, while Midi Z regular Wu Ke Xi and teen phenom Vicky Chen play the troubled daughters groomed to carry on her empire. The family crime melodrama plays to director Yang Ya Che's strengths in creating unstructured stories, complex characters and an encompassing mood. Above all, The Bold, The Corrupt and the Beautiful is a brilliant showcase of the three actresses whose strong performances highlight the family's twisted relationships, inner demons and volatile power balance.

The Fortress
A war of attrition rages both inside and outside The Fortress in Hwang Dong Hyuk’s stately historical drama set in the winter of 1636 during the Manchu invasion of Korea. Forced to retreat to a mountain fortress, a politically constrained King Injo (Park Hae Il) and his advisors debate whether to fight and stay loyal to the fallen Ming, or to recognize and negotiate with the newly established Qing Dynasty. As rival ministers, Kim Yoon Seok and Lee Byung Hun publicly argue and privately maneuver for war and diplomacy as the King struggles to make the right decision for the future of Joseon. Meanwhile, soldiers fight to survive fruitless battles and the unforgiving cold of winter. Hwang's restrained script and pacing and Kim Jee Yong's stunning cinematography effectively establish the dichotomy between the differing status and considerations of those within the fortress versus the commoners and soldiers beyond the walls.

The Great Buddha+
Huang Hsin Yao's award-winning feature debut about small-town guys stumbling upon big-time trouble features a range of colorful characters in black and white. The satirical black comedy follows two aimless workers who secretly watch their dodgy factory boss's dashcam out of boredom and instead witness something they wish they hadn't. The dashcam footage becomes a window into the different lives of the rich and corrupt and a record of the criminal happenings surrounding the boss. Huang's screenplay is brilliantly punctuated with deadpan humor, Buddhist imagery and tongue-in-cheek observations of Taiwanese society. With Chung Mong Hong as DP (and producer), The Great Buddha+'s cinematography is excellent and atmospheric, especially the inspired presentation of the dashcam footage in color and the rest of the film in B&W.

Hindi Medium
Academic competition begins young in Asia, and the admissions process for primary schools can be as much a test for the parents as it is for the children. In Saket Chaudhary's comedy-drama, two parents suddenly realize they're behind before they even started when it comes time to enroll their daughter. The upwardly mobile couple, charmingly portrayed by Irrfan Khan and Saba Qamar, move neighborhoods, hire consultants and overdress in luxury brands in hopes of meeting the admissions requirements for an elite English-medium school. In the end, the well-meaning but misguided parents resort to pretending to be poor to cheat the system for lottery placement. Hindi Medium uses comical situations to relay the not-so-funny stressful reality of dealing with parenting, class anxiety and nontransparent education systems. The warm and relevant story appeals to broad audiences, and the film thoughtfully explores local socioeconomic issues of class and language divides.

Legend of the Demon Cat
Chen Kaige weaves movie magic in his spectacular adaptation of Yumemakura Baku's novel about a Japanese monk (Sometani Sota) and Tang poet Bai Juyi (Huang Xuan) teaming up to investigate the mysterious supernatural events surrounding a murderous black cat(!), the death of the Emperor, and the tragic fate of consort Yang Guifei (Sandrine Pinna). Set in the cosmopolitan capital of Chang'an during the golden age of ancient China, the epic all-star period fantasy is a total feast for the eyes, magnificently visualizing the poetic and decadent beauty and culture of the Tang Dynasty in all its romanticized glory. When a film is this splendidly strange and visually enthralling, making sense is totally optional.

On Happiness Road
Sung Hsin Yin's award-winning debut feature about a woman's homecoming and search for happiness gently blazes a new path for Taiwan animation. Inspired by the writer-director's own life growing up in Taiwan, the film lays out universal experiences that relate with audiences anywhere: the bright days of childhood filled with big dreams and small moments, the ambitions and disillusions of adulthood that bring you to new places, and the longing and losses that guide you back home. At the same time, protagonist Lin Shu Chi's story is uniquely the story of Taiwan. Her memories are lovingly sprinkled with pop culture references, like Candy Candy and Zhuge Liang, and defined by moments that shook the national consciousness, from heartbreaking disasters to the coming and going of political leaders. Tellingly, Shu Chi was born on the day that Chiang Kai Shek died, grew up during the authoritarian regime of Chiang Ching Kuo, became politically galvanized for the dawn of democracy, and returned home during the Ma Ying Jeou administration.

One Cut of the Dead
Ueda Shinichiro's sleeper hit opens cold with a 37-minute take of a zombie attack on the set of an indie zombie film that goes gruesomely wrong. The tyrannical director, who wants realism above all, refuses to stop shooting and cheers on the bloodbath as his cast and crew get dismembered and go berserk. Even if the entire gist of One Cut of the Dead was just that, the bravura long take alone would already set it apart from other genre efforts – but that's only what comes before the title card. The film begins for real after the "end credits." Clever, funny, unexpected, mischievous and simply so much fun to watch, this delightful ode to filmmaking got a lot of hype from festival play and word-of-mouth, and it's well deserved. If you don't enjoy watching One Cut of the Dead, I don't want to know you.

The Third Murder
Kore-eda Hirokazu and Yakusho Koji. It’s surprising that it took so long for this collaboration to happen, but what’s not surprising is the extraordinary result. Yakusho Koji puts on an absolute master class in acting as a former murder convict who confesses to killing again, while Fukuyama Masaharu is defense attorney Shigemori whose main task is to avoid a death sentence for his client. However, the cynical attorney becomes increasingly doubtful of the crime and the confession as he learns more about the victim’s family problems and his enigmatic client, who talks in shifting ambiguities that allude to other stories. Yakusho’s wily, gripping performance ensures that it’s not just Shigemori who feels increasingly invested and puzzled with the case; the audience as well spends the entire film trying to decipher this unreadable man and the terrible truth that may be hidden behind the murder. Is it a crime of passion, revenge or compassion? The Third Murder is darker than Kore-eda’s usual, but like his family dramas, the Japan Academy Prize-winning courtroom suspense is an acute examination of the many layers and facets of human nature and relationships.


Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds
Webtoon-turned-movies seem to be a trend in Korea in recent years, and the Along With the Gods series is for sure the most popular and successful entry. Director Kim Yong Hwa explores an afterlife in which souls go through different trials before reincarnation in the fantasy epic blockbuster. The first installment focuses on Kim Ja Hong (Cha Tae Hyun), a firefighter who dies saving a little girl. Grim reapers Kang Rim (Ha Jung Woo), Deok Chun (Kim Hyang Gi) and Hae Won Maek (Ju Ji Hoon) become Ja Hong's defense counsel and guardians in his journey to reincarnation. In his court trials, Ja Hong has to face the sins he committed in the past. The protagonist's outpouring memories touch hearts with captivating stories about family, brotherhood, friendship and his work. Ja Hong's younger brother Soo Hong (Kim Dong Wook) shows up as a vengeful antagonist at first before continuing his afterlife journey in the second installment of the series. Ma Dong Seok also makes a special appearance at the end of the movie, teasing his participation in The Last 49 Days.

Be With You
Romantic flames can be temporary but love lasts a lifetime. Fantasy melodrama Be With You brings together Hallyu stars Son Ye Jin and So Ji Sub for the Korean remake of Ichikawa Takuji's same-titled Japanese novel and Doi Nobuhiro's classic 2004 blockbuster. Soo Ah (Son Ye Jin) promises her loving husband Woo Jin (So Ji Sub) and son Ji Ho (Kim Jin Hwan) that she will return on a rainy day a year after she passes away. Surprisingly, Soo Ah does appear before them on the first rainy day of the following year with no memories of the past. Woo Jin and Ji Ho help bring back her memories without telling her about her death, and the couple reignites the spark in their relationship. But when the monsoon season comes to an end, they must again bid farewell and face the touching truth behind her return. Gong Hyo Jin, who plays the couple's friend, and Park Seo Joon's cameo appearance add some little moments of joy to the melancholic and compelling love story.

The Poet and The Boy
Writer-director Kim Yang Hee's feature debut follows the ambiguous flame of love between a middle-aged married poet and a young man. Untalented poet Hyun Taek Ki (Yang Ik Joon) writes vague and lame poems for a living but his wife (Jeon Hye Jin) still supports him. The depressed Taek Ki unexpectedly finds inspiration in his new muse Se Yoon (Jung Ga Ram), who works at a local donut shop. As the days go by, their affection for each other grows but neither of them can fully understand their feelings or handle the dilemmas created by their serendipitous love. Besides being a beautiful romance story, The Poet and the Boy reflects the thoughts and reactions of different people towards same-sex love in a society filled with stereotypical beliefs about gender.

The Swindlers
The fascinating and thrilling Korean crime action caper The Swindlers unveils a never-ending series of tricks and traps laid by an impressive cast. Rumor has it that fraudster Jang Doo Chil (Heo Sung Tae), who reportedly died after scamming money from investors, is in fact still alive. Hwang Ji Sung (Hyun Bin), the son of one of Jang's victim, joins a con crew along with corrupt prosecutor Park Hee Soo (Yoo Ji Tae), Go Seok Dong (Bae Sung Woo), Choon Ja (Lim Jin Ah) and Chief Kim (Ahn Se Ha) to track down Jang. They align targets to first get close to Jang's subordinate Kwak Seung Gun (Park Sung Woong), but in the midst of the plan, the five scammers face betrayal, mistrust and suspicions that break their alliance. Never trust any of the swindlers in this hilarious and plot-twisting crime movie!

A Taxi Driver
Among Korea's recent movies about political movements against corruption and dictatorship, Jang Hoon's box office hit A Taxi Driver is definitely one of the most representative. The political drama centers around the Gwangju Uprising of 1980. Seoul taxi driver Kim Man Seob (Song Kang Ho) agrees to drive German reporter Peter (Thomas Kretschmann) to and from Gwangju for an exorbitant taxi fee. As press coverage about Gwangju is blocked, Man Seob does not realize the perilous situation until he reaches there. Abruptly immersed into a political crisis, he initially blames Peter, but then he meets nice locals like sincere student activist Jae Shik (Ryu Jun Yeol) and taxi driver Tae Sool (Yu Hae Jin) who open his eyes to what's happening. After struggling with the decision to leave on his own, he finally resolves to carry out his responsibility as a taxi driver to the end: to bring his passenger back safely – and reveal the truth about Gwangju to the world. Though the scenes of government crackdown are cruel and brutal, the film is deeply moving in its depiction of the strong and heartwarming bond between people.

Related Articles:

Published December 13, 2018

Mentioned Products

  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
  • *Reference Currency: No Reference Currency
 Change Preferences 
Please enable cookies in your browser to experience all the features of our site, including the ability to make a purchase.
Cookie Preferences Close

We use data cookies to store your online preferences and collect information. You can use this interface to enable or disable sets of cookies with varying functions.

These cookies are required to use core website features and are automatically enabled when you use the site. They also enable use of the Shopping Cart and Checkout processes, assist in regulatory and security issues, measure traffic and visits, and retrieve order information for affiliate commissions. We use the information collected to evaluate and improve the performance of your shopping experience.
These cookies are used to deliver advertisements that are more relevant to you and your interests. Marketing Cookies are placed by third-party providers with our permission, and any information collected may be shared with other organizations such as publishers or advertisers.
These cookies enable us to provide better services based on how users use our website, and allow us to improve our features to deliver better user experience. Information collected is aggregated and anonymous.