The 15 best films by Asian filmmakers that cinephiles will love

There’s a multitude of streaming services that drown us in mainstream television shows and movies. This cacophony is so enthralling that we don’t often get to discover some of the greatest filmmakers from the other side of the planet. While Asian filmmakers like Bong Joon-ho have made it into the limelight, there are scores of talented directors from the Far East, Southern Asia, and the Middle East whose films have yet to get their fair due in the West.

Whether you’re a fan of foreign cinema or want to expand your horizons after watching romantic comedy flicks like Crazy Rich Asians, you only need a TV and a streamer to spend the night at home and catch up on some of our favorite films by Asian filmmakers. If you have deep roots in China or Taiwan or are an Asian American, you’ll find a few watch-worthly options from the list below.

Parasite (2019)

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a gorgeous dark comedy and his best picture. The first Korean filmmaker to take home the Canne’s Palme d’Or award in 2019, Bong’s Parasite tells the story of Ki-Taek (Song Kang-Ho), an unemployed man who lives with his wife and two children in a basement apartment in Seoul.

After Taek’s son, Ki-Woo (Choli Woo-Sik), learns of a job opportunity from a friend, he becomes a private tutor to the wealthy Park family. As Woo and his family find themselves more entangled in the Park family’s life, both families find their worlds in tragic disarray. It’s undoubtedly one of the best Asian films out there.


Pushing Hands (1991)

Ang Lee is perhaps among the most well-known faces when it comes to Taiwanese film directors. He’s best known for films like Life of Pie (2012) and Brokeback Mountain (2005), which were global box-office successes. But Ang’s directorial debut film, Pushing Hands, is where his upward journey began. The film is about an elderly Tai Chi master who emigrated from Beijing and is trying to find his place in New York City, living with his son.

The martial art teacher Chu (Sihung Lung) doesn’t know a word of English but has to manage his life with his daughter-in-law (Deb Snyder), who can’t speak Mandarin. This clash of cultures leads to a series of comical moments between the two, but not without Chu feeling alienated by the day. His son Alex (Bo Z. Wang) is culturally expected to care for his father, but he is in two minds.

Pushing Hands also marks the first installment of what would later turn into a trilogy, with The Wedding Banquet (1993) and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), dealing with the conflict between two generations.

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About Elly (2009)

About Elly is an acclaimed psychological thriller written and directed by Iranian auteur Asgard Farhadi. It follows Sepideh as its protagonist, played by the brilliant Golshifteh Farahani, who is on a fun vacation to a deserted beach house with her family. She brings her daughter’s kindergarten teacher Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti) to set her up with Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini).

To do that, Sepideh tells a bunch of lies that make things difficult from the start. But the situation gets much more complicated when Elly goes missing from that desolate place. Tangled up in her own web of lies, Sepideh must tell more lies to keep the situation under control when the police are involved. But things don’t necessarily turn out as she hoped.

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The Namesake (2006)

The Namesake is based on the Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel. The film is about Nikhil “Gogol” Ganguli (Kal Penn), a second-generation immigrant born and raised in the States. His parents left their hometown, the beautiful east-Indian city of Calcutta, for a better life in New York. That contrast meant a childhood of chaos for Gogol, leading him to distance himself from his culture. While he has adjusted to American life as an adult, some events about his father push him back to his roots and learn who he was named after.

Written by Sooni Taraporevala and directed by Mira Nair, the duo is also known for another widely acclaimed film Salaam Bombay! (1988), The Namesake has a fine lead cast, including Kal Penn, who makes the film all the more worthwhile. Gogol’s parents are played by two of the most supremely talented Indian actors, Tabu and the late Irrfan Khan.

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Happy Together (1997)

Regarded as one of the brightest filmmakers of modern times, Hongkonger director Wong Kar-wai is credited for a ton of movies that have consistently received universal acclaim. He may have a peculiar way of developing the final script, which he writes on the day of the shoot, but that has only made his films more engaging. One such movie is Happy Together, which is among the most prominent LGBTQ films to come out of the region, and it even won Kar-wai the best director’s title at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.

The film follows a gay couple’s turbulent relationship, which results in them breaking up during a trip to Argentina. With no money to return home, they part ways and start doing low-paying jobs to fund their tickets. But when fate has them cross paths again, they find they cannot get back together. The leads in Happy Together are played by Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, who has appeared in many of Kar-wai’s films and was famously seen more recently in Marvel’s Shang Chi.

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Capernaum (2018)

This gem revolves around a 12-year-old Zain El Hajj (Zain Al Rafeea), who is serving a five-year jail sentence. But that’s not something he wished for. He really wants to sue his parents for bringing him into the world. Zain’s life in the slums of Lebanon is far from easy. He has seven siblings to care for and tries to make some cash, usually not through the most moral means. His resilience towards everything and affection for his sister allows the film to be much more than just a gloomy ride, and everybody’s gripping acting further elevates the film.

Capernaum won numerous awards and is widely admired for its honest depiction of the Lebanese people’s plight, and rightly so. Director Nadine Labaki has a penchant for portraying the everyday lives of Lebanese people, which shows in this film, in which she also plays a minor role.

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The Scent of Green Papaya (1993)

A 10-year-old Mui starts working as a housemaid for a once-wealthy family that is now sinking into poverty. After spending her entire childhood working in that house, the matriarch, unable to further support her, sends an adult Mui (Tran Nu Yên-Khê) to another house for a similar job. There, she develops a bond with her employer, an engaged pianist.

The Scent of Green Papaya won the Caméra d’Or prize at Cannes in 1993, and it was Vietnam’s official selection for the Academy Awards. Following this film’s critical appreciation, Tran Anh Hung made Cyclo (1995), which also received similar praises. His wife, Tran Nu Yên-Khê, has appeared in most of his movies, including this one, where she plays the older Mui.

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My Son the Fanatic (1997)

Indian filmmaker Udayan Prasad’s My Son the Fanatic is based on a namesake short film by celebrated British playwright Hanif Kureishi, who also wrote this feature film. It stars the talented Om Puri playing the protagonist, along with Rachel Griffiths and Akbar Kurtha in lead roles. The story deals with some hard-hitting subjects, yet there’s a lot of warmth in the film that the actors have brought in with their performances.

Parvez (Om Puri) is a Pakistani taxi driver who isn’t an orthodox Muslim and has become accustomed to the western ways of life. A shocker comes when his son (Akbar Kurtha) gets drawn toward religious fundamentalists, threatening to destroy Parvez’s little life in Britain. He finds solace in his fondness for a prostitute, complicating his life further. The film maturely shows you how the young and the elders can take paths that may not necessarily be acceptable to the other or society.

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Seven Samurai (1954)

In 16th century Japan, a small farming village becomes aware of the bandits’ plan to raid the village for their harvest. To shield themselves from the attack, the villagers assemble a group of samurai to fend off the ambush. A total of seven skilled samurai come together to keep the village safe, but it becomes an uphill task when several internal conflicts arise.

Seven Samurai is directed by Akira Kurosawa, who is regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, with many critically acclaimed films under his belt. Despite being decades old, Seven Samurai remains a timeless piece often recounted as among the most remarkable productions in film history worldwide.


Agantuk (1991)

Agantuk (AKA The Stranger), the Bengali word for guest, is an apt title for this film. Manomohan Mitra, played by veteran actor Utpal Dutt, arrives in India after 35 years to see his only relative alive, Anila Bose (Mamata Shankar). Anila and her husband start to doubt the long-lost uncle’s identity as they suspect an imposter is after a share of her grandfather’s will. While their son is convinced that Mitra isn’t deceiving anyone, the couple does all they can to uncover the truth.

This film was written and directed by Bengali auteur Satyajit Ray. Agantuk is particularly notable because it is Ray’s last film before he passed away the following year. Ray is known for his rich filmmaking career, including titles like the Apu Trilogy (1955-59) and Charulata (1964). His admiration for the world of cinema and his fearless attitude seeps through his incredible body of work that spans decades.


Memories of Murder (2003)

This list is incomplete without Memories of Murder. It’s a South Korean crime thriller directed by Bong Joon-ho and a must-watch for every cinephile. The movie is based on the 1996 play Come to See Me by Kim Kwang-rim.

The plot revolves around October 1986, when two women were found raped and murdered outside of a small town. Two detectives, Park Doo-man and Cho Yong-koo, start the investigation and are later joined by See Tae-yoon to solve the case. Whether you prefer such films or not, you should see this one about the real hunt for South Korea’s first known serial killer simply because it’s an excellent movie. It will be an unexpected ride, and it will keep you on the edge of your seat.


The Lunchbox (2013)

Written and directed by Ritesh Batra, The Lunchbox is one of the finest and most honest love stories from Bollywood in ages. It’s a story about a lonely old widower and a young, neglected housewife. Due to a mistake from dabbawala (lunchbox delivery system in Mumbai), Saajan Fernandes (Irfan Khan) starts receiving delicious lunches from IIa (Nimarat Kaur).

Although they haven’t met before, both start talking over letters in the lunchbox and ultimately fall in love. It’s a heartwarming tale and shows that sometimes the wrong train can take you to the right destination.

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In the Mood for Love (2000)

You can’t go wrong with this one if you are in the mood for some romantic drama. Written, produced, and directed by Wong Kar-wai, In the Mood for Love is set in 1962 British Hong Kong. Chow Mo-Wan moves to a new building with his wife, and Su Li-zhen (who is a secretary) moves into the same building with her husband. Since their spouses are away and busy with work, Chow and Li-zhen start spending most of their time together as friends.

Can their bond turn into something special? What about their spouses? It’s easy to see why many critics consider this Wong Kar-Wai’s best work.


RRR (2022)

Known for movies like Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, S.S. Rajamouli delivers one of his finest works with RRR — Rise, Roar, Revolt. Since its release in 2022, RRR has been smashing records and winning hearts around the world.

RRR takes you to the British era in India. A British governor Scott Buxton and his wife Catherine take away a small tribal girl (Malli) from her mother. Komaram Bheem (played by N.T. Rama Rao Jr.), who is from the same tribe, vows to bring Malli back to the village.

On the flip side, we have Rama Raju, who is an Indian cop, working for the British army. Rajamouli beautifully narrates Rama and Bheem’s friendship, clashes, and action sequences to bring down the British regime.


Tokyo Story (1953)

Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story is a simple story about an old couple who visit their children and grandchildren in the city and receive little to no attention. The movie explores the relationships between parents and children and evokes equal parts boundless joy and endless grief.

When elderly couple Shukishi and Hirayama decide to meet their adult children in Tokyo and Osaka, they are treated with harsh realities. It’s an ageless take on family, love, and the true values of life. HBO Max

Find your favorite films from around the globe

Do you want to take a break from Hollywood and expand your knowledge about Chinese, Indian, or Taiwanese culture? Most streaming services that we have access to include masterpieces from acclaimed directors from around the world. But in a sea of conventional content, the algorithms make it hard to spot them unless you look them up.

We merely scratched the surface of all the extraordinary movies from talented Asian directors. Our selections are a perfect introduction to critically-acclaimed Asian cinema, but there are thousands of incredible options on various streaming platforms if you’re willing to do a little research.

Conclusion on The 15 best films by Asian filmmakers that cinephiles will love

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