Another season, another Netflix list.
Although we’ve had to say “goodbye” to several outstanding Asian films in the last several months, Netflix continues to replace those we’ve lost with some real gems. This Winter, Netflix’s Asian selection continues to impress with the addition of award-winning blockbusters such as Ode to My Father and Korea’s all-time box-office record holder, The Admiral, along with the influential, Infernal Affairs.
The Admiral: Roaring Currents — 명량 (Korean, 2014)
Based on the most revered General in Korean history, Yi Sun-sin’s very name instantly draws a great sense of national pride for Koreans. Throughout Korean history, Japan, among others, had consistently sought Korean occupation. Unfortunately for Korea, Japan was far more skilled, funded, and had greater numbers during the second Japanese invasion of the Imjin War (1592-1598). Korea stood ravaged and worn after the Battle of Chilcheollyang, which specifically devastated Yi Sun-sin’s Naval fleet, leaving the General down to his last 13 ships (12 in the film).
What would become the most heralded battle in Korean history, the Battle of Myeongnyang was supposed to be an easy win for the Japanese Navy’s 31 warships (hundreds in the film, however, the numbers fluctuate depending on which country you ask), but through Sun-sin’s remarkable intelligence, courage, and strategy, the battle would go on to be a complete disgrace to the Japanese military.
The Admiral clearly sets out to arouse a strong sense of national pride from its viewers and it thoroughly accomplishes that objective in a big blockbuster way (even I was nearly throwing my arms in the air and shouting “manse” by the end of the film). Despite not being entirely historically accurate and even billed as only being “inspired by” the Battle of Myeongnyang, it’s still an interesting crash course into Joseon era war and surely entertaining. The #1 ticket-selling Korean film may seem like just another nationalist war movie on the outside, but at its core, it’s a film so exciting, well-acted, and well-produced that it can easily shoulder up to other iconic international war films.
Ode to My Father — 국제시장 (Korean, 2014)
Moving, engaging, and funny at just the right moments, Ode to My Father tells the story of Deok-soo as he ages through the years, in newly established South Korea. After escaping North Korea at the height of the Korean war, Deok-soo rebuilds his life in South Korea’s second largest city, Busan, in the midst of the country’s rapidly changing climate, while meeting some of Korea’s most influential people and taking part in its most impacting moments.
Filled to the brim with Korean nostalgia, Ode to My Father may not carry the same nostalgic effects outside of South Korea, but it offers up a fantastic history 101 of some of Korea’s key moments in last 60 years. A fantastic first-hand glimpse at Korea’s post-war history that’s sure to leave an aftertaste of nationalism.
Miss Granny — 수상한 그녀 (Korean, 2014)
Upon finding out she’s being sent off to live at the retirement home, curmudgeon 74-year-old Mal-soon sulks her way into a photo studio to take her funeral portrait. Upon leaving the studio, Mal-soon discovers she’s magically been transformed back into her 20-year-old self. Like anyone who would be given an opportunity to relive their youth, Mal-soon decides to use her second chance at living out all the lifelong dreams her young mother self originally couldn’t.
While certainly not an original premise, what Miss Granny lacks in substance, it makes up for with a fun and endearing cast and script. Its success in Asia was so huge, they even released a Chinese version one-year after the Korean version’s release. Light and fluffy romantic comedy, perfect for that date night or solo night in.
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness — 夢と狂気の王国 (Japanese, 2013)
Following the production of The Wind Rises and The Tale of Princess Kaguya, as well as filmmaking legend Hayao Miyazaki, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness captures the inner workings of Japan’s most acclaimed film studio, Studio Ghibli, near the end of Miyazaki’s long-running career. Showcasing the ups and downs of the studio’s three anime icons, the film gives a personal look into the animation process and insights into Miyazaki’s mind beyond his films.
Infernal Affairs — 无间道 (Chinese, 2002)
Chan Wing-yan and Lau Kin-ming have spent most of their adult lives undercover, one as a mole for the triads, the other for the Hong Kong Police Force. After nearly 10 years working as moles for their respective affiliations, they’ve now learned the other exists and are each tasked to weed them out.
Upstaged by its remake, Infernal Affairs might not be as recognizable as The Departed, but it surely deserves to be. Starring some of China’s top talent, the film still holds up over a decade later and is an easy fit into any Asian film fan’s collection, let alone their watch list.
Still Available, Still Awesome:
- IP Man (Chinese)
- Rigor Mortis (Chinese)
- Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame (Chinese)
- Drug War (Chinese)
- Red Cliff (Chinese)
- Like Father, Like Son (Japanese)
- 13 Assassins (Japanese)
- I Wish (Japanese)
- Sonatine (Japanese)
- The Man From Nowhere (Korean)
- The Good, The Bad, The Weird (Korean)
- The Host (Korean)
- Kundo: Age of the Rampant (Korean)
- New World (Korean)
Cover image via