Asian Film Buzz – Top Ten Asian Films of 2010

Compiling a list of the top ten Asian films from any year is a tricky business. Thanks to the ludicrous distribution problems that so many films have to endure, Western audiences have to wait long periods of time to see films arrive in cinemas or on home entertainment platforms, if at all (my number 3 is still without any Western distribution). This list is therefore a little personal in its lack of adherence to release dates but it does represent the top ten Asian films that got a release somewhere in 2010 and that I saw in 2010.

So with that in mind, the top ten Asian films of 2010…

10. Golden Slumber

Yoshihiro Nakamura became a name to watch for many people after the festival success of Fish Story in 2009 (& 2010 in some countries) and he followed that film with the tonally abstract Golden Slumber. Taking its title from a Beatles song, which features heavily, Golden Slumber follows a protagonist framed for the assassination of the Japanese president. Don’t let the trailer fool you though, this is not an action thriller but actually an off kilter character piece that relies on a very smart script in which seemingly throwaway moments neatly hold significance later in the film.

9. Ip Man 2

The success of Ip Man in 2008 was tough to follow but Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen managed to pull it off in this enjoyable and well executed sequel. Introducing the character of Hong Zhen Nan, Sammo Hung, was a particularly smart move as it was a joy to see Yen and Hung face off and the relationship between their two characters helped add a real emotional kick to an otherwise slightly weak final act.

8. I Saw the Devil

Sparking a large amount of controversy in Korea over its violent content I Saw the Devil is a dark and twisted revenge tale from director Kim Ji-woon. Despite treading in already well covered territory director Kim Ji-woon managed to find something new and fascinating in the revenge thriller genre and battered audiences into submission in the process with the film’s almost unrelenting visceral violence.

7. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a Tsui Hark film and I didn’t realise quite how much I’d missed his unique approach to martial arts and fantasy. Detective Dee was a hell of a lot of fun, well acted, beautifully shot and a wonderful chance to re-engage with one of Hong Kong’s finest directors. Let down only slightly by some poor CGI Detective Dee is still a strong recommend from me as it was one of the most enjoyable films I saw in 2010.

6. Cold Fish

Described by Takashi Miike as “a masterpiece”, Sion Sono’s Cold Fish is a gory picture filled with hacked up bodies and gruesome deaths but like Sono’s previous work it is also infused with social commentary and a dark wit. Rival tropical fish shop owners meet and form a strange relationship that quickly turns extremely violent and as the bodies begin piling up the pace and intensity of the film builds to a thrilling climax. Third Window picked up the UK rights to the film and will be releasing it here theatrically in May and on DVD and Blu-ray in July.

5. 13 Assassins

The villain in 13 Assassins, Lord Naritsugu, probably puts it best when he says, “Who would have thought the age of war would be like this? It’s magnificent.” Miike’s loose remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 13 Assassins is a gripping and thrilling chanbara that introduces a large cast of interesting characters before basking in the magnificence of a lengthy final battle. Throughout the final scenes Miike controls the tension in the action sequences beautifully and despite the excess in this finale the film never slips into anything approaching camp. The best samurai film of 2010 and a film deserving of a viewing on the biggest screen available.

4. Poetry

My top four features three films that touch on the theme of old age but it is Poetry that so directly tackles it with the central character Mija. Played by the exceptional Yun Jeong-hie, Mija is growing old and suffering from Alzheimer’s. Like the protagonists in that other great story of old age, Make Way For Tomorrow, Mija may be old but there is still a lot of life left in her. Enrolling in a poetry class she embraces new experiences and engages to a greater degree with the world around her. A beautifully told story and an incredibly compelling central performance make Poetry a must see.

3. Gallants

With a different approach but a very similar theme to Poetry is Gallants. Whilst most martial arts filmmakers search for the next big star Clement Cheng and Chi-kin Kwok look to the past and to many of the Shaw Brothers veterans that helped make the Hong Kong martial arts genre so vibrant in the 1970s. Bringing these fantastic but now much older performers back to the big screen the directing pair succeed in creating the most entertaining martial arts film of the year. The film is filled with humour in the performances, Teddy Robin particularly stands out, and also in the visual style which is filled with throwbacks to 70s Hong Kong cinema. Simply joyous.

2. Dream Home

Dream Home was a film that I saw at London’s Frightfest in August and walking in I knew next to nothing about the film. The following 96 minutes impressed me greatly. Dream Home is a wicked little slasher film with a dark line in social commentary. The talented Josie Ho plays the lead Cheng Li-sheung who, distraught at her inability to secure her dream home, goes on a mission to knock down the price of her ideal apartment by killing the residences of the apartment block. With a very smart script, excellent direction and a strong lead, Dream Home is a really exceptional film and one that should not be allowed to slip under the radar.

1. Mother

Bong Joon-ho’s Mother has been a critical favourite ever since it began appearing at festivals in 2009 and there is a good reason for this. A thoroughly engaging and serious thriller, a black comedy, a touching character study, Mother has Bong Joon-ho’s now characteristic genre blending and tonal shifts but never before have they worked so well. With Kim Hye-ja as the titular mother Bong Joon-ho found the perfect lead for his intensely satisfying whodunnit. A compelling and often achingly beautiful film, Mother is my number one Asian film of 2010.

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