Asia in 5 Films

Asia in 5 Films

A Native P.O.V.

By Gian Cruz

There’s never been a more exciting time in Asian cinema. The dynamic multiplicities working alongside the crossroads of different cultures, plus the ambiguous confluence between the East and the West, are paving the way for a richer cinema.  Asian cinema as a whole has started to explore a more inward-looking perspective, specific to the cultural contexts across the continent.


The label “exotic” is quite a tricky one, that I myself being Asian, can not explain  in a precise manner - and  that’s the beauty of it. There’s a whole dreamy universe of Asian cinema that speaks of ambiguity amidst vast landscapes and cultural nuances. It’s just a matter of how much of it you let in, and then slowly you’ll find yourself drawn deeper and deeper into it.

A Personal Selection of Films

Cemetery of Splendor (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

In this latest film by the Thai auteur, he touches on the whimsical mix of shamanism and magic. As one catches a glimpse of the spirit world and the mysterious realm of the unseen, he gives us an enigmatic kind of cinema, that captivates audiences through the metaphysical in a way that is free and unpretentious.

The supernatural and its unexplained mysteries find itself in a romantic homage to an ancient civilization, that’s not of our time but still begs to have a certain semblance to our times.

Above the Clouds (dir. Pepe Diokno)

After the loss of his family, a young boy gets reunited with his estranged grandfather. As they try to mend their precarious relationship through a hike on a mountain, where the grandfather used to walk with his mother and father, when they were still alive. The landscape’s unstable terrain serves as a parallel to their current relationship.

The film is heightened by nostalgia about the mountains and how it was once inhabited by tribesmen, who are friends of the grandfather. The story gives us a glimpse of what can be seen as a constant struggle in the Philippines or perhaps in Asia, in general, where heritage becomes lost in favor of the cosmopolitan or the contemporary.

“The film is a personal story, but to me, I’ve always felt it is also about the country. Andres (the young boy) represents the grief that Filipinos have over the many calamities that have hit us, and his journey is about discovering his connection with our lost environment and culture.

When I was writing the script, I really hope that the message would resonate. I’m really happy that when people are brought to tears by the movie, they also talk about the messages.”  ~ Pepe Diokno

At The Height of Summer (dir. Tran Anh-Hung)

The sensual landscape of Halong Bay and scenes from present-day Hanoi, takes us through the lives of three sisters with a unique set of challenges. The overall feel of the film is an erotic visual symphony of their lives, brought together by a celebration of the passing of their mother and father. The carefully put together mise-en-scène transcends the individual lives of the sisters and creates a cohesive whole.

La Folie Almayer  (dir. Chantal Akerman)

Set in the canopies of a tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia, this adaptation of a Joseph Conrad novel sees Stanislas Merhar as Almayer, in a tale about love, passion, madness and loss.

The tropical rainforest and its eerie uncertainty alongside Almayer’s madness and strange love for his daughter, takes us to the fringes wherein passion overpowers one’s sanity. There’s also a peculiar take on how the terrain of the tropics become a site of bewilderment and affliction, for a European setting foot in an unchartered wilderness.

The Sea Wall ( dir. Rithy Panh)

In a tale set in Indochina, a mother struggles to keep up with her children and the inhospitable terrain of their rice field, which is close to the sea. Their only hope remains with the construction of a sea wall to prohibit the seawater from destroying the rice fields, as the mother tries to put herself together amidst their misfortune.

Gian Cruz is a filipino fine art photographer and writer, based in Manila.
Follow Gian Cruz @giancruzstudio

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