It is that time of the year again, and to be honest this is the most difficult list I have ever had to put together (in fact it simply gets harder every year), not only because of the problems with selecting and ordering movies, but for a host of other reasons too. Partially, it really hasn’t been a stellar year in my opinion for Asian films, and most of the films I was looking forward to underwhelmed me (this was not only an Asian Phenomenon, but I felt the same about the large number of Western Films I also saw). I also haven’t been writing as many reviews this year. There is a bunch of reasons for this, mostly due to a difficult personal change in circumstances. I have found it hard to get the enthusiasm to write for long lengths of time. This may change this year, but no promises. Usual rules and disclaimers – on the whole this is limited to movies I have either blogged about (either here on at EasternKicks), or at the very least I intend to. The year of 2013 can be a little creative, with late breakers from 2012 or those that got some kind of UK release in 2013 getting a chance too.
[I would like very much to apologise for one element of stupidity that has been on this blog for about 11 months. Turns out my 2012 Top 10 was titled with 2013 (both of them!). This has been corrected now. But Doh!]
I’ll get on with the normal awards shortly, but first, being awards season there are a few people I would like to thank for their help this year. As they say, in no particular order…
Firstly, as ever, my go-to girl in terms of not only Asian Cinema, but pretty much anything pop-culture, Charlene. It has been a difficult year for the pair of us, and I value her friendship very much. She will probably never read this. But I hope for a much better year for us both. Sorry for the bad things. Thankyou for the good.
Secondly, I have to thank Andrew (and the rest of the the every growing team) over at Easternkicks.com. I haven’t been great at the deadlines, but he has given me a bunch of opportunities to see films I might not always have had the chance to, as well as dip my toes into the world of interviewing. I hope very much to continue the joint relationship between our sites during 2014.
Thirdly, My blogging buddy Miyuki over at her Litterbox. We have done a couple of shared posts as usual, and they have always been a joy to collaborate on. We fully intend to continue this, time and the correct film appearing (and if anyone reads the comments, you know what it is going to be). I would also like to thank her for being the only bloody person who actually adds comments. I know I had to lock it down because of spammers, and I also know a few of you leave the notes over at the Facebook. Just wish I knew how to link them together! Most importantly though, I am so happy Miyuki and her lovely partner are able to properly confirm their relationship with each other. Happy for you ladies!
Finally, there’s a bunch of worldwide friends who have helped me both through some very dark times this year, as well as having done some of the sweetest things. So to Yuriko, Jin Hee, and Lynne and TAQ, thank you for the emails and supportive words. And especially to Lorraine, who really did a couple of amazing things for me this year, and I know I will never be able to pay her back. All of you have helped me realise the world is full of some pretty nice people. Linked to this, I would like to thank Ashley, without whom my bag back from Hong Kong would have been a lot lighter! But hopefully she will point me to looking at a bunch of much older Hong Kong movies.
If you are still with me, then let us progress… We will start with the normal special awards, and then count down!
Worst Asian Movie of the Year
To be fair, this year has not been blessed with a whole bunch of films that have been in the “Million Dollar Crocodile” or “Sadako 3D” vein of awfulness. Even though my reviews are often somewhat harsh it is hard to think of too many films that I have had to simply turn off. There was one movie though that utterly got my hackles. Even if “The Grandmaster” was actually the disappointment of the year, my vote goes to “Tiny Times 1.0” . It was a well crafted, but utterly abhorrent piece of tosh that highlights the worst of modern Chinese culture without a lick of awareness of irony. The beautiful cast are on the whole utterly unlikeable, and the film is the most shallow thing I can remember seeing for a long long time. Eye Candy doth not a great film make. I didn’t review “Tiny Times 2.0” (there is an argument for me bringing back the capsule reviews) although I actually preferred it, if only for the focus on Amber Kuo’s character and actually daring to have a story of some consequence.
Best Asian Drama of the Year
I didn’t find too many dramas this year that I really wanted to stick all the way through with. I started plenty, and for a while I did think “Who Are You” was going to be my pick, until it veered off somewhere other than the things that made it initially interesting. Then late on, I discovered “Reply 1997”. Populated mostly by K-Pop idols, this drama faithfully recreated the early days of the super popular Korean manufactured pop bands like H.O.T. and wrapped it up in a story based both back then and in the modern day. Even as someone who has no connection of the events on display, I was wrapped up in a comfy nostalgia. Quite a feat!
The Top Ten Asian Movies!
10. My Sassy Hubby. A bit of an unexpected treat this one. A follow up to a film that no-one thought actually needed one, although I think the original is a fun movie. Cheng and Choi still make an endearing if oddball couple, and the film is populated with a bunch of other fun characters. It isn’t deep, but it a silly lightweight movie that harks back to a golden era of Hong Kong Cinema.
9. The Lady Assassin. Not reviewed yet, but it will be eventually over at both EasternKicks and as a joint effort with the Litterbox. I won’t say too much, but a gorgeous love letter to the golden age of Wuxia films via Vietnam. Slight as a cigarette paper maybe, but made with true love for the genre, and as beautiful as any of the stars. The 3D does vary shockingly from excellent to awful, and there are elements of the surreal which might not appeal to all. But basically a grin inducing delight.
8. Snowpiercer. Those who read my review might be a little surprised by the inclusion of this one. What can I say? I’m fickle! Actually, I did enjoy the film an awful lot, it just wasn’t as perfect as the director’s previous efforts. I maybe was also taking everything rather too literally rather than the symbolism that was really being explored.
7. Very Ordinary Couple. I’ll admit, I was troubled whether to put this or “My PS Partner” in at this slot, but I really like Lee Min-ki, and Kim Min-hee puts in a career defining performance. Not only that, but the film managed to be both amusing, yet at the same time utterly mature about a relationship that we want to work but is utterly doomed to failure.
6. Killer Toon. Combating both a dearth of quality horror movies and a dreadful title, this film was the real unexpected hit of the year for me. It managed to be imaginative and use the central high concept so well, whilst also delivering drama, twists, shocks and everything you want out of an Asian horror film.
5. Lesson of the Evil. Takashi Miike could have repeated his trick from last year and popped a couple of movies in this top 10, but this tale of a psychopathic yet beloved teacher harks back to some of his best work. The film escalates bloodily as you might expect, and in Hideaki Itô we get a complex and knowing performance that should mark Seiji Hasumi down as one of cinema’s great nutters.
4. Ip Man: The Final Fight. The perfect antidote to “The Grandmaster”. Director Herman Yau once again shows just what you can do with a great cast and a small budget. Anthony Wong gices a great measured performance, and is ably supported by all manner of familiar faces. Most importantly, the film has a heart as big as the screen, and the loving recreations of the period are a marvel.
3. Perfect Number. A Korean remake of a Japanese Movie from a Japanese TV Show from a Japanese Novel. The provenance is complicated, but this film shows that sometimes remakes are justified. The original is very impressive, but here the story is changed (mostly by taking out the original hero!), and the focus is but absolutely on what would normally be considered the villain. Ryu Seung-beom puts in yet another compelling performance (and it is even better than his film-saving turn in the somewhat disappointing “The Berlin File”), and basically gets my performance of the year award.
2. Pee Mak Phrakanong. If you had told me that I would be utterly entranced by yet another film with a central performance by the Thai comedy quartet that usually bring the least satisfying elements of the “4Bia” series, I thin I would have given you short shrift. But somehow this anachronistic and hilarious retelling of a popular Thai folk tale wins on just about every level. And certainly gets the awards for ending and post-film credits for 2013.
1. How To Use Guys With Secret Tips. This was the easiest choice to make. The highlight of the LKFF for me, and a film I am anxiously waiting to get a UK DVD in the next few weeks. A rom-com that is utterly hilarious, and more imaginative than anything similar from Hollywood. Lee Si-young follows up her performance in “Killer Toon” (Actually she made this first, but it’s my list), with this completely winning and adorable display. The film also manages to keep up the more imaginative elements from the first minute to the last.