From maximalist action blockbusters to minimalist arthouse dramas, 2022 has been a particularly robust year for Asian cinema. Helmed by a phenomenally talented crop of established auteurs (S. S. Rajamouli, Park Chan-wook) and fast-rising debutants (Carlo Francisco Manatad, He Shuming), some of the year’s buzziest and most critically acclaimed movies have been produced on the continent.
Beyond traditional filmmaking powerhouses such as India, South Korea and Japan, some of the best Asian films of the year have come out of Southeast Asia, representing a diversity of genres and cultures across the region.
10. Plan 75 (Japan)
Set in near-future Japan, this film revolves around a government program called Plan 75, which encourages senior citizens to be voluntarily euthanised to remedy the country’s rapidly aging population. Rooted in realism, Plan 75 is a sensitive portrait of three subjects affected by this new program: a retrenched elderly woman with no prospects, a young Plan 75 salesman who sincerely believes he’s helping his country, and a Filipino caretaker working in a nursing home. Debuting director Chie Hayakawa constructs a tender and humanist piece of dystopian fiction that explores the horrific human cost of “pragmatic” policies that view people as disposable.
For fans of: Soylent Green, Black Mirror
9. Broker (South Korea)
This masterful drama by Hirokazu Kore-eda once again cements the Japanese director as one of the most empathetic filmmakers working today. Broker follows a pair of “baby brokers” and a mother hoping to sell her unwanted infant to desperate parents on the Korean black market. As the trio travel around the country in a rickety van searching for a caring couple willing to adopt the child, their odyssey becomes a nuanced and complex exploration of found families. Infused with warmth and kindness, this dark tale of child trafficking is treated with profound humanism and the gentlest of touches, proffering no judgements on its criminal protagonists.
For fans of: Shoplifters, The Florida Project
8. Leonor Will Never Die (The Philippines)
Leonor Will Never Die is a kookily meta love letter to the cheesy Filipino B-action flicks of the 1980s. This dramedy follows Leonor Reyes, a retired action filmmaker in Manila. Now facing financial turmoil and familial grief, the aged auteur attempts to recapture her glory days when she notices an ad for a screenplay contest.
In the midst of tinkering with an unfinished script from years past, an accident knocks Leonor into a coma, transporting her into a fantasy constructed from her incomplete flick. Trippy and weird, Leonor is a hilarious and heartfelt head trip brimming with corny melodrama, kickass fight scenes and self-reflexive humor.
For fans of: Adaptation, Birdman
7. Photocopier (Indonesia)
Wregas Bhanuteja’s feature debut is a smart and fiery crime mystery about a young Muslim student named Sur whose life is ruined after blacking out at a party. Not only does she suspect that she was roofied and date-raped, drunk selfies from the party are uploaded to social media without her knowledge.
- READ MORE: ‘Photocopier’ review: Indonesian crime-thriller avoids genre pitfalls for pointed social commentary
When her scholarship is revoked and her parents disown her, the humiliated girl takes matters into her own hands to investigate what really happened that night. Besides being a riveting whodunnit, Photocopier delivers sharp social commentary on how sexual assault survivors are shamed and dismissed.
For fans of: Veronica Mars, Unbelievable
6. Ajoomma (Singapore / South Korea)
Heralded as the first-ever co-production between Singapore and South Korea, Ajoomma tells the story of Auntie Lim, a middle-aged Singaporean widow obsessed with K-dramas. As her adult son prepares to move out, she struggles when her identity is no longer defined by the traditional roles of wife, mother and daughter.
- READ MORE: ‘Ajoomma’ review: a widow goes on the trip of a lifetime in this surprisingly sensitive dramedy
Inspired by her favorite soap operas, Auntie Lim decides to take a solo trip to South Korea for the first time, embarking upon an unexpected journey of self-discovery. Part fish-out-of water comedy and part mid-life crisis drama, He Shuming’s debut feature is as funny and farcical as it is poignant and heartwarming.
For fans of: About Schmidt, Sideways
5. Writing With Fire (India)
Directed by Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas, Writing With Fire spotlights the brave reporters of India’s only women-run newspaper, the Khabar Lahariya. This documentary chronicles the experiences of the paper’s editorial staff, largely comprised of India’s oppressed Dalit caste, as they use smartphones, determination and compassion to shed light on scandals, uncover corruption and speak truth to power.
From the challenges of transitioning to digital in villages with little to no electricity to the daily threats of violence they face as Dalit women, Writing With Fire is an inspiring look at the tenacity and resilience of these courageous journalists.
For fans of: A Thousand Cuts, Collective
4. The Falls (Taiwan)
Following universal acclaim for A Sun, Chung Mong-Hong continues to show his knack for quietly affecting domestic dramas with The Falls. Set in Taiwan during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, this film is an intimate chamber piece examining the fissures in the relationship between a single mother and her teenage daughter as they quarantine together.
When the mom suffers a nervous breakdown from personal and financial pressures, her daughter is forced to become the family’s breadwinner while caring for her mom’s deteriorating mental health. This naturalistic and nuanced character study of two struggling women in close quarters is an emotionally profound slow-burner.
For fans of: A Sun, The Father
3. Whether The Weather Is Fine (The Philippines)
The debut feature of Carlo Francisco Manatad is set in the director’s hometown of Tacloban in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. With their coastal city reduced to rubble, three characters navigate strewn debris and corpses in search of safety. With another storm incoming, the trio’s only escape is a ship bound for Manila – but the decision to abandon their home proves to be a difficult one.
This darkly comic and surreal film perfectly captures the dreamlike state that victims of disaster find themselves in, maintaining a sense of magical realism as our protagonists confront unexpected absurdities and look for meaning in the madness.
For fans of: After the Storm, Taklub
2. Decision to Leave (South Korea)
Park Chan-wook returns with a scintillating neo-noir romantic mystery. Decision to Leave follows an insomniac homicide detective investigating the death of a mountain climber. Was it an accident or was he pushed off a cliff by his Chinese wife? As the policeman spends his days questioning the suspect and his sleepless nights obsessively watching her, a palpable, unrequited romance begins to develop.
Although it lacks the overt sexuality of Park’s previous work, this game of simmering longing proves to be more electrifying and erotic than simple lust. This beautifully filmed love story is as twisted as they come.
For fans of: Chinatown, Vertigo
1. RRR (India)
Tollywood steps out of Bollywood’s shadow this year with S.S. Rajamouli’s magnificent period blockbuster. Featuring some of the most breathtaking action, dazzling musical numbers and supercharged emotion that you’ll ever see in cinema, RRR is a rip-roaring crowd-pleaser that makes its three-plus hour runtime feel like 30 minutes.
This fictionalised account of the bromance between legendary Indian freedom fighters, Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem who fought against the British Raj, is an exuberant spectacle unlike any other. RRR will wow you with its gargantuan scope, the escalating insanity of its bombastic sequences, and its adrenaline-fueled anti-imperial heart.
For fans of: Baahubali, Braveheart