It’s that time of the year: 2018’s Cannes Film Festival kicked off today in the eponymous French city. In this list of 10 Asian movies screening at Cannes 2018, we explore the selection of promising films from East and Southeast Asia showing at the festival.
2018’s Asian Cannes selections represent a variety of genres and tones. There are not only artistic pieces from renowned directors like China’s Jia Zhangke and Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul, but also action films with relevance to current events.
If you have an interest in Asian movies, read on. As Cannes selections often go on to further acclaim, now’s a good time to gain an early familiarity with what might be Asia’s most important films for 2018.
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10. Ten Years Thailand (Thailand)
Cannes Section: Out of Competition
Perhaps you’ve heard of Ten Years — a 2015 film anthology that depicted vignettes of a dystopian, near-future Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Ten Years made a huge splash in film circles, and upset the Chinese government with implicit critiques of Beijing’s control.
Looking to Hong Kong’s example, Thailand has produced its own take on the concept, Ten Years Thailand. This Thai anthology includes five shorts by five relatively renowned Thai directors. The shorts are Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Song of the City”, Aditya Assarat’s “Sunset”, Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s “Planetarium”, and Wisit Sasanatieng’s “Catopia”. These five films offer a wide range of critiques of Thailand’s political and social realities through intriguing forms like murderous cat people.
Ten Years renditions for Taiwan and Japan will reportedly come in the future.
9. Dead Souls (China)
Original title: 死灵魂 | Directed by: Wang Bing | Cannes Section: Out of Competition
Chinese director Wang Bing first came to Cannes in 2007 with his feature He Fengming, which told the story of a woman who survived forced labor camps in China between 1949 and the 1970s. Now, Wang returns with a documentary that features over 120 individuals banished to labor camps as a result of Mao Zedong’s Anti-Rightist Campaign. This ambitious film runs 8 hours and 15 minutes, representing a documentary style rarely seen in China.
8. The Spy Gone North (South Korea)
Original title: 공작 | Directed by: Yoon Jong-bin | Cannes Section: Un Certain Regard
Cannes doesn’t just screen artsy indie movies, as The Spy Gone North demonstrates. This exciting spy thriller stars Hwang Jung-min (Ode to My Father, A Bittersweet Life, Korean Peninsula, Battleship Island) as a South Korean spy who infiltrates North Korea during the 1990s in order to find out the latter’s nuclear plans. Renowned pop singer Lee Hyori also makes a cameo appearance as herself. As negotiations about North Korea’s nuclear arsenal lurk on the horizon, this might be the most relevant and timely Asian movie at Cannes 2018.
7. Long Day’s Journey into Night (China)
Original title: 最后夜晚 | Directed by: Bi Gan | Cannes Section: Un Certain Regard
Chinese indie director Bi Gan first garnered attention for his dreamy 2016 film Kaili Blues, set in an eponymous village in China’s mountainous Guizhou province. Now, Bi returns to the festival circuit with Long Day’s Journey into Night, also set in Kaili. The movie follows a man named Luo Hongwu who returns to Kaili after a 12 year absence. Upon his return, Luo remembers a beautiful woman from his past (played by Tang Wei) — and begins searching for her.
6. Mirai of the Future (Japan)
Original title: 未来のミライ | Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda | Cannes Section: Director’s Fortnight
Japanese director Mamoru Hosoda is no stranger to animated films about time travel; he’s known for directing 2006’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Mirai of the Future (fun fact: “Mirai” is Japanese for “future”) puts a more family-centric spin on the concept. In the film, a self-centered four year-old boy named Kun comes across a magic garden. There, he meets a young woman named Mirai… who’s his future sister, sent back in time. By interacting with Mirai (of the future), Kun learns how to cope with the presence of a baby sibling.
5. The Pluto Moment (China)
Original title: 冥王星时刻 | Directed by: Ming Zhang | Cannes Section: Director’s Fortnight
The Pluto Moment is an indie Chinese film produced in part by iQIYI Film, the feature production arm of one of China’s largest online video streaming platforms. In the film, four filmmakers from Shanghai travel to the mountains of southwest China to scout locations. As they journey deeper into the mountains and encounter the foreboding folk traditions of mountain villagers, the filmmakers begin to learn more about the darkness in each others’ hearts.
4. Shoplifters (Japan)
Original title: 万引き家族 | Directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda | Cannes Section: Palme d’Or
Known for emotionally meditative films like 2008’s Still Walking, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda returns with another family centric drama: Shoplifters. In the film, a family of shoplifters takes in a young orphaned girl who they find freezing on the streets. Though the family is destitute, the girl receives a warm reception — until an unanticipated incident tests their bonds. Shoplifters will be Kore-ada’s fourth screening at Cannes, following Like Father, Like Son; Our Little Sister; and After the Storm.
3. Burning (South Korea)
Original title: 버닝 | Directed by: Lee Chang-dong | Cannes Section: Palme d’Or
If you like the writer Haruki Murakami, you might be in for a treat with Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s mystery drama Burning. The movie draws inspiration from an early Murakami short story named “Barn Burning“, which appears in his collection The Elephant Vanishes. American television viewers may also find delight in the fact that Burning stars Steven Yeun, the Korean-American actor best known for his role as Glenn Rhee in The Walking Dead.
2. Asako I & II (Japan)
Original title: 寝ても覚めても | Directed by: Ryūsuke Hamaguchi | Cannes Section: Palme d’Or
Based on a romance novel by author Tomoka Shibasaki, Asako I & II centers around a 21 year-old woman named Asako who lives in Osaka. There, she falls in love with a carefree man named Baku — who suddenly disappears one day. Two years later, Asako resides in Tokyo, where meets a straight-shooting salaryman…who looks suspiciously like Baku.
1. Ash Is Purest White (China)
Original title: 江湖儿女 | Directed by: Jia Zhangke | Cannes Section: Palme d’Or
Perhaps contemporary China’s most renowned indie director, Jia Zhangke returns with Ash Is Purest White, which tells a dark and dramatic story set in China’s criminal underworld. Jia’s recurring muse, actress Zhao Tao, stars as a woman who’s in love with a gangster (played by Liao Fan, who’s also in Black Coal, Thin Ice).
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