Some films from South East Asia

Many countries in this region have successful film industries. I have already written about films from China and Japan, and I confess that I know nothing of films from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, or Burma. I have no doubt that they have made some good stuff, but if that is so, I haven’t seen it. India will have to be skipped on this occasion, as it has such a tradition of film-making, it may warrant a post to itself. As for Pakistan, Laos, and Cambodia, I am also sadly ignorant of their best work. I will restrict my list to three countries; Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand. At least I have seen sufficient numbers of films from these countries, to make a balanced recommendation.

13: Game of Death. This is a 2006 film, from Thailand. As such, the leading actors and director are not really going to mean much to most readers, so I will save myself the tortuous spellings of the names. Before I continue, I must first advise that this film is only for viewers with strong stomachs, and a sense of the absurd. If you do not fit in this category, move on down to the next film now. This little known Thai film is an absolute must see. Forget all the same old Japanese horror sagas, this one delivers all round. From the interesting concept, to the no holds barred effects, excellent acting, and superb ending. I challenge you not to feel for the main character, as the tasks set for him get ever more repulsive and impossible to achieve. One of a kind really, though others have tried the theme, this one brings it off in spades. If you have seen ‘Series 7- the Contenders’, or the Michael Douglas film ‘The Game’, don’t be put off. This takes the idea of ‘what would I do for money’ and runs off the screen with it. This film was recommended to me, by a good friend, and I do the same for you. Here is a cinema trailer, with English subtitles.

Cyclo. This film is from Vietnam, and set in Saigon, around 1995. The city is rife with corruption, and under the control of organised crime. The lead character is struggling to make a living, as a driver of a pedal-cycle taxi, called a Cyclo. Although this film deals with the criminal underworld, and the issues of prostitution and murder, it has a slow pace, and little or no action. However, don’t let that put you off, as there is marvellous cinematography, and a glimpse into a little-known culture and society. To most of us, Vietnam means war films, like ‘Platoon’, or ‘Full Metal Jacket’. Americans wandering around shooting people, with the Vietnamese shown as fanatical, black pyjama-wearing guerrillas. This film gives us the opportunity to look at the country after that war, through the eyes of the Vietnamese themselves, and you will be surprised at what you see. Here is a torture scene, not in English.

Brotherhood. This is a big-budget, epic war film from Korea, one of the most successful ever made there, though still relatively unknown here. Made in 2004, it boasts a massive cast, spectacular battle scenes, and a story of great scope. Beginning in present day Korea, with an old man visiting a memorial site, it quickly flashes back to 1950, and the Korean War. This civil war, between the US supported South, and the Communist North, allied to China, almost became a World conflict, when United Nations troops intervened to help the South, and China sent an army to fight for the North. The fallout from this distant war, still resonates in the divided country to this day. The film deals with two brothers, caught up by circumstances, they end up fighting on opposite sides. Running for almost two and a half hours, the back story of the family just before the war, is soon overwhelmed by relentless, incredibly realistic battle scenes, leaving you exhausted, and full of admiration for the whole cast. Towards the end, it deals with regret and redemption, returning to the present once more. For fans of modern war films, this is one of the best, even better than some of the US films it is compared to. Watch the complete film here, with English subtitles.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring. In these short reviews, I often use the words, ‘there is no film quite like this’, or describe a film as ‘unique’. This might occasionally be considered an exaggeration, but in the case of this film, it is 100% accurate. This 2003 film from Korea, is five small films in one, that all fit together perfectly. It is hard to explain the story, without giving away the eventual outcome, or making it sound really dull. You will have to place a lot of trust in me, to even bother to watch it, and I really do feel that this trust will be rewarded. Set on a floating monastery, in the middle of a lake, the scenery and photography is simply a delight to behold. A young man arrives at this lonely place, to learn at the feet of an elderly Buddhist monk. We watch as he develops into manhood, through the seasons of the title, that mark the times of his life. He leaves, tries to live in the World, fails, and returns to begin again. Rich in metaphors, superbly acted, with an overwhelming sense of peace; it is out on its own. Here is the first part, with English subtitles; the whole film is available- in segments.

Memories of Murder. Korea again, this time from 2003. This film, based on actual events that started in 1986, deals with the hunt for a prolific serial killer, in provincial Korea. Local police detectives are frustrated in their efforts to find any clues, held back by lack of modern resources, and financial restraints. Even the arrival of an experienced detective from the Capital, Seoul, fails to help, and simply causes friction and resentment, between him and the local police. As the murders continue unabated, over many years, the Police get more desperate, and their methods become more brutal as a result. They are not averse to beating confessions out of a suspect, or trying to frame a mentally disabled man for the crimes. This may sound like a routine serial-killer film, of the type we have seen many times, usually made in the US. On this occasion, the unusual setting, the intensity of the acting, and the hopelessness of the investigation, add a sense of realism, and an authentic feel, which is so often abandoned, and replaced by sensationalism. Here is the first fifteen minutes of the film, with subtitles, and great sound. The full film is available also.

There you have some films from the prolific film-makers in this part of the World. I soon realised that Korea alone provided enough excellent films, to warrant a solo post. However, I will leave it there, and hope that you find something to like. These films are very different from similar offerings, made in Japan and China, and have a feel all of their own.

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