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YumCha! Picks: 10 + 1 Asian School Movies

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Less than a month into September and summer already seems so very far away, especially for all the students out there. We've decided to head back to school as well with some of our favorite school movies about student life, the learning process and the precious lessons and rites of passage that come with the student experience, be it in university, high school, primary school, kindergarten or even ninja academy!

1. 3 Idiots (India)
If Bollywood films are accurate, most Indian parents want their children to be an engineer, a doctor or a lawyer. Those children are the subject of 3 Idiots, a comedy about the pressures that aspiring engineers in an elite university face when they're made to believe their grades are a matter of life and death. Rajkumar Hirani's smash hit is an unconventional comedy in which the villain is the traditional education system, and the ultimate goal of its unconventional hero (superstar Aamir Khan) is to convince everyone that education should be about cultivating creativity and passion for learning instead of simply pursuing a degree. Exploring universal themes that students everywhere can relate to, 3 Idiots was a surprise hit in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

2. April Story (Japan)
Going to university in the big city can be a difficult experience for a young person leaving home for the first time. Anyone facing a similar experience may find comfort in writer-director Iwai Shunji's April Story, a simple, low-key drama about a first-year student in Tokyo. At a scant 67 minutes, the 1998 film is less about story than capturing the little moments in our heroine's adventure. From a strange encounter in a dark cinema to making that first friend in school, Iwai's script is all about capturing the feeling of being a freshman and the aura of university life. Unlike typical youth films that depict the energy of youth, April Story embraces the awkwardness of a young woman trying to find her place in a new environment. That's the university freshman experience in a nutshell.

3. Attack on the Pin-Up Boys (Korea)
Otherwise known as that movie with all of Super Junior, this zippy idol vehicle begins with rumors of serial ambushes on famous high school heartthrobs. Based on the attack pattern, it's projected that the next victim will be from Neulparan High School, so the three most likely candidates start competing to be the chosen one. After all, only the best man gets the honor of being attacked with poop! Turning a high school urban legend on its head, Pin-Up Boys cheekily references other classic Korean school flicks and sends up school archetypes with over-the-top portrayals of the cocky class president, dumb jock and vain pretty boy. The boys barely step foot into a classroom, but they do find plenty of time for club practices and hallway struts.

4. Halfway (Japan)
The last year of high school is a major obstacle that any high school couple must cross. When life is pulling a couple in different directions, should they fight to stay together or move on with their lives? Those are some of the issues that one typical high school couple faces in Halfway, the directorial debut of veteran television drama writer Kitagawa Eriko (Long Vacation). Like April Story (Iwai also produces this film), Halfway aims to naturalistically capture the mood of young love in a small-town high school and youths at the threshold of adulthood. The dilemma in Halfway may appear to be as lightweight as cotton to adults, but it is virtually the decision of a lifetime to its characters.

5. I Not Stupid (Singapore)
Jack Neo has made many blockbuster films satirizing Singapore society, but perhaps his most enduringly popular and relevant is I Not Stupid. Released in 2002, I Not Stupid details the adventures in mediocrity of three primary school boys left behind by a pressure-cooker educational system. Generating low grades but high laughs, the underachieving boys' woes expose the flaws of academic streaming and rigid teaching and parenting methods that overlook individual needs. With the jabs and jokes hitting close to home, the I Not Stupid series has grown up with audiences over a decade's time, spawning two TV series and two more films tackling secondary and tertiary education.

6. Kimi ni Todoke (Japan)
Based on the popular award-winning manga by Shiina Karuho, 2010's Kimi ni Todoke stars Tabe Mikako as Kuronuma Sawako, a girl avoided and dubbed "Sadako" (of The Ring fame) by her classmates, and heartthrob Miura Haruma as her love interest. Nominally a romantic drama, Kimi ni Todoke is more of an intimate and quiet portrait of high school life. The capable young cast ably relays the highs and lows of being a teenager, and Sawako's journey from a timid and mousey outcast to a more self-assured girl surrounded by good friends is eminently compelling and relatable.

7. My Life as McDull (Hong Kong)
Springfield Kindergarten – including its ditzy teacher Miss Chan (The Pancakes) and business-oriented principal (Anthony Wong) – plays a huge part in the McDull series; it's the main hub of McDull's social life and also where the little pig gains the knowledge he needs for life. The creators even dedicate fourth film The Pork of Music to the principal's efforts to save the school. Situated in a small apartment unit in an old building, Springfield and its hilarious life lessons on corporate structures, how to speak to rude waiters and how to attend a "foundation of society" party reflect Hong Kong society's pragmatic attitude. The school scenes in McDull may be pure satire, but real-life schools can learn a thing or two from Springfield Kindergarten.

8. Ninja Kids (Japan)
Think you've got it tough at school? At least you didn't have to learn to scale cliffs, handle explosives or throw shuriken when you were ten! One of Japan's kings of eccentricity, Miike Takashi adapted Nintama Rantaro, the classic anime and manga by Sobe Amako, for the big screen in 2011. The well-received film features rapid-fire jokes, over-the-top visuals and more slapstick gags than you can count. At its core is a film about friendship, perseverance and the joys of going to school for the first time. Thanks to the irreverent humor and nostalgia factor, Ninja Kids has decisively taken a place in the exclusive club of movies that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

9. School Days with a Pig (Japan)
Yes, another movie with a pig – but this one is real. Based on a true story, this 2008 film stars Tsumabuki Satoshi as an enthusiastic new teacher who starts the school year with a unique class project for his sixth grade charges: the kids will raise a pig together and then eat it at the end of the year. Heartwarming montages of nice kids running after a cute pig in the first half segue into increasingly spirited classroom discussions as the students debate the fate of the pet they've grown attached to but can no longer care for after their graduation. Simple and charming, the film imparts an important and difficult lesson on the value of food, life and responsibility.

10. SuckSeed (Thailand)
From the humorous title to the fresh cast to the rowdy music, this 2011 Thai comedy about three underdog teens who form a garage band is simply young and fun. Played by budding stars Jirayu La-ongmanee, Pachara Chirathivat and Thawat Pornrattanaprasert, the impatient protagonists fill their high school days with spontaneous inanity, mouthy friendship, puppy love and immature rivalries. Despite their questionable lack of musical talent, the boys decide to enter a national high school band contest and embark on their wannabe zero-to-hero journey towards not sucking.

+1 Crows Zero (Japan)
The high school fighting movie! How could we end this list without mentioning the (literal) school of hard knocks? Among the many, many movies of this uniquely popular sub-genre, one of the standouts is Miike Takashi's Crows Zero. Based on Takahashi Hiroshi's manga Crows, the film is an ultra-violent, relentlessly stylish non-stop thrill ride. Fantastic direction, solid performances from the actors, including Oguri Shun and Yamada Takayuki as opposing gang leaders, and unexpected bursts of hilarity lift this high school action flick an uppercut above the rest.

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Published September 19, 2014

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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