In the last year, viewers were blessed with some truly excellent films and TV series featuring Asian stories and filmmakers, from historical dramas to quirky sci-fi flicks and contemporary documentaries. Now with Everything Everywhere All At Once leading the pack with 11 Oscar nominations this year, it feels like there is a wave of new and old talent finally getting some long due recognition. The Asian Cut picks some of 2022’s best movies and shows below.
Meditatively paced with achingly beautiful visuals, After Yang is a small-scale sci-fi that blends the language of cinema with sublime, utopian technology to remind its core characters about human connection and empathy. Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith are a serenely married couple, Jake and Kyra, with a young, adopted daughter, Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). In an attempt to maintain Mika’s Asian heritage, Jake and Kyra purchase a life-like android named Yang (Justin H. Min) to act as her brother, but when Yang breaks down, Jake goes on an unexpected journey of rediscovering the preciousness of life and love as seen through someone else’s eyes. After Yang is the kind of full-fleshed out vibe that stays with you for a long time.
— Rose Ho
Hong Kong is known the world over for being one of the most vibrant and kinetic places to explore and live. But for all it has to offer from beautiful coasts and islands to a neon-soaked city centre, it has been in a perpetual state of flux. Chan Tze Woon’s Blue Island explores the territory’s ever-changing face through the stories of its people across generations. From the riots of 1967 to the anti-extradition protests in 2019, Chan finds commonality between issues distant in time and space. As change marches on, Blue Island serves as a history lesson and a reminder for future generations: what makes (and has made) Hong Kong such a special place is its people — those who have endured and will continue to persevere in the face of whatever challenges lay ahead.
— Rachel Ho
Stories of first or second-generation South Asian twenty- and thirty-something year olds tend to be sweeping and visceral, often powered by a drama hewed by the dire or apocalyptic urgency of hefty existential ideas and themes — community, identity, duty, family. While certainly worthwhile, it can get exhausting having to constantly bear witness to the solution or the dissolution of these grand ideas. It can get emotionally taxing, having to constantly grapple with the melodrama-soaked big questions that stories like The Namesake or My Name is Khan dramatize. Definition Please seems a balm compared to the heavy (but certainly valid and sound) trauma depicted in these other still-brilliant movies. Sujata Day’s feature directorial debut seems to allow for a young American Indian woman’s life to unfurl at its own pace, in the way that so many of our lives do, and in this way, it manages to leaven the plot’s tension with a relative and familiar ease. This is not to say that Definition Please ought not to be taken seriously or that it lacks in substance; rather, the film contains a kind of contemporary realism that is nuanced, understanding, and respectful of the thorny complexities of its protagonist, her various preoccupations, and her many avoidances. Dealing with the heavy ennui and directionlessness so many experience in adulthood, along with raising important questions of abuse in South Asian families, this film is simultaneously light and heavy, gesturing toward the big questions that The Namesake rushes into at breakneck speed with a deft, heartbreaking finesse, all as it maintains a wily and weed-infused sense of humour.
— Alisha Mughal
An endlessly creative, goofy, and ultimately heartfelt film with a small but dynamite cast, Everything Everywhere All At Once stars Michelle Yeoh as an overworked laundromat owner tasked with sorting out her business taxes, reconnecting with her disgruntled daughter (Stephanie Hsu), and saving the multiverse, all at the same time. By giving Yeoh the opportunity to flex all of her considerable acting muscles by spanning all genres (comedy, drama, action, musical, and so much more) AND enticing Ke Huy Quan out of acting retirement, the writing–directing duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka the Daniels) crafted a dynamic and unforgettable tale of overcoming brokenness, regret, and pain with love, kindness, and family. The dizzyingly inventive jokes and visual references to other movies — 2001: A Space Odyssey, In the Mood for Love, Ratatouille, to name a scant few — are absolutely mind-blowing.
— Rose Ho
This is a film whose vibe is tough to describe, one of those gems that, depending on where you are in your life, delivers a different message after every watch. I’ve only seen it once so far, and when I did watch it, I was in a depressive episode. I left the theatre in tears, and was sweetly surprised by how others lauded and continue to laud the film for its unabashed joyousness. The film is indeed shot through with an indomitable sort of joie de vivre, but there’s also something scary at its core that keeps me too fearful, too on-guard to give in to its hopefulness and happiness. Saim Sadiq’s feature debut is certainty joyous as it looks at what it means to love and lust in face of daunting and thick societal confines, as it shows with vibrant energy that lives and communities can’t be snuffed out, as it gives a trans character her beautiful, healthy, and happy ending. But it also, as it shows what love and happiness are and aren’t, by a sort of grim negation, depicts an intense kind of suffering under the vise grip of patriarchy, and this is what left me in tears. It has been a very long time since we’ve been given as alive and multifarious a treasure as Joyland.
— Alisha Mughal
Leonor Will Never Die
Surreal as it is hilarious, challenging as it is visually stunning, Martika Ramirez Escobar’s debut is one of those deft masterpieces that rewards with every rewatch. Immortal as Leonor is, this film is simultaneously nostalgic and innovative as it toys with what it means to be an artist, specifically a female artist. Escobar and Leonor, who seems as real as Escobar is, work together and apart, perhaps simultaneously on a few different planes, to tease out vibrant and fulsome meaning from the hopelessness of a blank page, from the stiffness of genre, from the grimness of everyday life. This film is impossible to succinctly describe; it actually seems above synopsis, so take my word for it — Leonor Will Never Die is perhaps one of the most life-affirming and life-interrogating films that 2022 saw.
— Alisha Mughal
Based on the novel of the same name by Min Jin Lee, Pachinko covers a multi-generational story of a Korean family during and after Japanese occupation. With the assured direction of Kogonada and Justin Chon, the sumptuous-looking TV series jumps back and forth in time and place, following Kim Sunja’s (portrayed as a young woman by Kim Min-ha and as an older woman by Youn Yuh-jung, of Minari fame) journey from humble beginnings in rural Busan, South Korea to bustling Tokyo, Japan. The other half of the show follows her grandson Solomon (Jin Ha), a Western-educated banker who travels from Japan back to Korea for work and finds himself having to reckon with the past. The small-scale drama is engaging while the historical backdrop is eye-opening, displaying how Japan’s rule pre-WWII impacted the people of Korea in the early 1900s, and how those effects are still felt decades later. The feminist lens of Pachinko’s core point of view (Sunja’s) is also brilliantly and beautifully carried off by the lead performers.
— Rose Ho
After the last few years, we can all use some cinematic tonic to take the edge off and Peace By Chocolate is just that. Based on the true story of a family from Syria seeking refuge in Nova Scotia, Canada, Jonathan Keijser’s film shows the trials and tribulations facing newcomers into a country. For a “feel good” film, Peace By Chocolate delves into complex themes — namely the conflict refugees in particular feel about being torn from their homeland but still grateful to their new country — that introduces interesting layers for the characters and story. A touching Canadian story that warms the heart like a cup of hot chocolate on a snowy day.
— Rachel Ho
Anthony Shim is a name all us cinephiles should lock away for future use. Only his second film, the Vancouver-based Shim’s Riceboy Sleeps is one of the year’s most poignant and moving features. Set in the 1990s, the semi-autobiographical piece details the struggle of an immigrant family from Korea living in Canada with a powerhouse performance from Choi Seung-yoon at its heart. Elevating the film beyond its already affecting script and story is the deft hand of Shim as a director giving us sweeping landscape shots of Korea’s countryside juxtaposed with the intimate and restricted Vancouver home. A gorgeous film, visually and emotionally, Riceboy Sleeps is a film that leaves a lasting impression on its audience.
— Rachel Ho
From Schitt’s Creek to Kim’s Convenience, CBC has rolled out some quality television that reflects the rich diversity of Canada without it being the focus. Characters and cultures are allowed to simply exist in their worlds just as cis-gendered, straight, white characters have done for decades. Sort Of is the most recent of these shows and Bilal Baig, in their sophomore year running the show, smashes it. The show has been heavily awarded and Baig themself has been given their flowers for their tireless work in front of and behind the camera. Sort Of is a show that brings the deadpan humour and, at the end of the day, is a warm hug that encapsulates that Rachel McAdams kind of love.
— Rachel Ho