From Crazy Rich Asians to the Asian-led chick flick To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Asians have finally been receiving some well-deserved attention in Hollywood lately. While we’re happy for the much overdue love they are receiving in Western media, it would be a shame to forget the many dozens of well produced films already on the Asian scene. That’s why we’ve scurried down the Netflix Hong Kong rabbit hole to find the 10 best Asian movies and TV shows that are on there right now. So get binge-watching these gems until Netflix has to ask if you’re still there.
1. A Taiwanese Tale of Two Cities (Taiwan)
A Taiwanese Tale of Two Cities is a heartfelt saga that all rom-com junkies will adore. The show tells the story of two women — a traditional Chinese medicine doctor, Nian-Nian, from Taipei, and Taiwanese-American programmer, Jo, from San Francisco – and their cultural odysseys after they decided to swap homes. Jo tries to learn about her family’s roots and heritage in conservative Taipei, while Nian-Nian learns how to be independent and let loose in San Francisco. As Nian-Nian and Jo rediscover themselves in a foreign land, they also find love interests who help show them the cultural ropes of their respective cities. New episodes come out every Saturday, and the first season already has five episodes, each a little over an hour – enough for you to go ahead and start binge-watching
2. Meteor Garden (China)
Seventeen years after Taiwanese drama Meteor Garden‘s smashing success, Netflix partnered with the show’s producer, Angie Chai, to give the adaptation of the Japanese manga, Hana Yori Dango, a 2018 makeover. In case you have been living under a rock, or outside of Asia in the early 2000s, Meteor Garden follows the story of freshman, Dong Shancai, as she butts heads, then eventually finds love, with her prestigious university’s popular clique of handsome elites – the F4. While the 2018 Meteor Garden kept all the classic Asian telenovela charms of the original show, this time round the series is set in Shanghai instead of Taiwan, and the F4 have had a major Korean-boyband-esque update. (R.I.P. to the OG F4 hairstyles all the guys used to try to copy.) Now please excuse us while we go rewatch our favourite scenes and swoon over the cheesy romance.
3. Mr. Sunshine (Korea)
As the masterminds behind K-dramas with cult-like fandoms around the world, renowned writer Kim Eun-sook and director Lee Eung-bok have joined creative forces once again to bring us this period epic, Mr. Sunshine. Starring Lee Byung-hun (who notably played Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe), Mr. Sunshine centres around an orphaned servant boy who escapes to the United States during the 1871 Shinmiyangyo (U.S. expedition to Korea). He returns to Korea later as a U.S. marine officer on a diplomatic assignment, but things get complicated when he falls in love with an aristocrat’s daughter, and discovers a plot to colonise Korea. Kim Eun-sook is a master at describing the delicate emotions of falling in love in turbulent times, bringing viewers on an emotional roller coaster every time, and Mr. Sunshine is no different.
4. Something In The Rain (Korea)
While the classic rom-com trope is “girl falls for best friend’s older brother”, it’s not often you see a show where a woman falls for her best friend’s younger brother. In Something In The Rain, Yoon Jin-ah (played by Son Ye-jin) is a driven career woman in her mid-30s who recently got dumped by her boyfriend. She reconnects with her best friend’s younger brother, Seo Joon-hee (played by Jung Hae-in), when he comes back home after working abroad for three years. The direct translation of the show’s Korean name is “Pretty Sister Who Buys Me Food” (that’s pretty much what the whole drama is about), so expect there to be lots of eating and soju-drinking involved. Jung Hae In and Son Ye Jin’s on-screen chemistry is enthralling as the romance between the characters gets delivered in a slow burn over the first few episodes. Romance aside, the social relevance presented in the show is another major reason for you to go ahead and add the series to your Netflix queue.
5. Bleach (Japan)
Bleach joins its fellow Japanese anime, Fullmetal Alchemist, and the whitewashed American, Death Note, as Netflix’s third attempt at a live-action adaptation of popular animes/mangas. The movie charts how high schooler, Ichigo Kurosak, becomes a grim reaper after acquiring superpowers from wounded soul reaper, Rukia Kuchiki. The two of them join forces to fight monstrous soul-eating spirits called Hollow as they round up lost souls. Brimming with maximalist fight scenes, heinous spirits, big ass swords, and set in a realm between the spiritual and earthy, there were a myriad of ways this movie could have gone wrong. Yet, by striving to remain faithful to its original anime version, Netflix somehow managed to pull it all off with emotional maturity, mixed with quirky slice-of-life humour.
6. Infernal Affairs (Hong Kong)
Infernal Affairs is the epitome of Hong Kong cult classic cinema. This gripping thriller follows a policeman working undercover as a mole in the local triad, and a triad member who has successfully infiltrated himself into the police force. After ten years of living double lives, the two race against time as they scramble to uncover the mole in their midsts. The plot, propelled by the legendary performances of award-winning actors Andy Lau, Tony Leung, and Anthony Wong, takes you on a roller coaster of muscle-clenching suspense, and hair-raising twists and turns. What sets this film apart from your usual cat-chase-mouse crime film, however, is the emotional complexity demonstrated by the two main characters. How do you live with the inner turmoil caused by ten years of living a lie?
7. Secret (Taiwan)
Secret is a Taiwanese oldie but a goodie. Starring and directed by popular singer Jay Chou – who is basically the Chinese Ed Sheeran – the movie is about Ye Xianglun, a musical prodigy student who falls in love with beautiful pianist Lu Xiaoyu, enchanted by the haunting and mysterious melody that she plays. But their seemingly innocent love story is laced with a secret that soon threatens to derail Xianglun and Xioayu’s romance. The stunning cinematography of Secret conveys the magic and wonders of music. The theme song of the film, also named Secret, went on to become a karaoke session staple, while Jay Chou’s piano ballad will make you want to learn the piano just for that one song – even if you’re tone deaf and have two left hands.
8. Qarib Qarib Singlle (India)
Qarib Qarib Singlle (English name, Almost Single) is a Bollywood romantic comedy that takes a detour from the norm. The story revolves around Jaya Shashidharan, a young widow who after reluctantly joining a dating site, meets Yogi, a man who calls himself a poet. From the moment Yogi enters Jaya’s life, everything around her changes. When Yogi invites her to accompany him on a tour to visit three of his old girlfriends, what ensues is a series of fun-filled encounters between these two people who seemingly couldn’t be more different. Qarib Qarib Singlle takes time to set up its characters, with the story unfolding at an unhurried pace, but never appearing to be slow or boring. The chemistry between the two leads is one of the movie’s strongest points, winning our hearts over with their non-stop witty banter.
9. AMO (Philippines)
If you’re a fan of Narcos, then AMO is the show you need to be watching. Directed by Brillante Mendoza, who won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, AMO is Netflix’s first Filipino original series. The title is Tagalog for “master” or “boss”, and tells the story of the controversial war on drugs in the Philippines. Striking a true-to-life chord over thirteen episodes, we watch the devastating way the drug war plagues the poorest neighbourhoods of Manila. Given Mendoza’s vocal support of President Duterte, and the show’s unapologetic way of presenting such a polarising topic, AMO has courted controversy at home and worldwide. Taking a look at a country that is barely portrayed in international cinema, other than its sweeping landscapes, this show is definitely binge-worthy.
10. Shutter (Thailand)
One of the most memorable modern Thai horror films, Shutter chronicles the horror that follows a Bangkok photographer and his girlfriend, who are haunted by more than a guilty conscience after a hit-and-run incident. The film offers a chilling story of guilt, deception, and ghostly revenge. Compared to the better known American version of Shutter, the Thai rendition unfolds slowly and quietly, almost like it’s sneaking up on you. The scares serve as a part of the story’s narrative, while the special effects are eerie and disturbing. The director’s brilliant story keeps you on the edge of your seat, and by the end of the film, you won’t know who to root for anymore.