After Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 masterpiece Parasite won multiple Oscars in 2020 (including Best Picture, Best International Feature Film, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay), more people started turning to East Asian cinema. Indeed, there are (and always has been) some great movies coming out of the massive region.
Whether it is the undeniable beauty of Studio Ghibli’s creations or the complex relationships between Park Chan-wook’s characters, modern cinema from East Asia definitely has something to say. And some directors coming out of this part of the world are definitely loud enough to be heard.
10 Studio Ghibli
Though Studio Ghibli has its beginnings in the 1980s and is mostly famous for Hayao Miyazaki’s work, there are some notable directors working in the studio today.
For instance, Yoshifumi Kondo is known for collaborating with Miyazaki and has directed Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart in 1995. Another great director to watch is Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who directed Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There in the 2010s. Finally, Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki, is following in his father’s footsteps and has also directed two features for the Studio: 2006’s Tales from Earthsea and 2011’s From Up on Poppy Hill.
9 John Woo
Hong Kong cinema has always been important in Asia and one of its most representative directors is John Woo, who has been a major influence on the action genre, even beyond Asia.
Woo’s directorial career began in 1968, but his most well-known works internationally are 1992’s Hard Boiled and 1997’s Face/Off with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. After that, Woo directed Mission Impossible 2 and he continues to work to this day, with his movies being both critically and commercially successful.
8 Makoto Shinkai
When someone is praised as the “second Miyazaki,” every fan of anime should pay attention, and Makoto Shinkai is definitely a big name in modern anime.
Shinkai’s two most famous works are 2016’s Your Name (which became the highest-grossing anime film and the highest-grossing Japanese film worldwide of all time) and 2019’s Weathering With You (which received four Annie Award nominations becoming the third anime film ever to achieve this).
7 Takashi Shimizu
In the late 1990s – early 2000s, Asian horror films started getting more attention in the West. A number of American remakes followed, but most of them weren’t as successful as the originals, which is why the story of Takashi Shimizu is so peculiar.
Shimizu is known as the creator of the Ju-On franchise. He first directed several short films that became the foundation for his 2000 direct-to-video movies, Ju-On: The Curse and Ju-On: The Curse 2. Only then was he able to direct two theatrically-released features (2002’s Ju-On: The Grudge and 2003’s Ju-On: The Grudge 2) which then led to him directing an America remake (2004’s The Grudge). The franchise continued and Shimizu is currently successfully directing other movies as well.
6 James Wan
When it comes to Asian horror, movies don’t necessarily adhere to the tropes of the genre. James Wan, for example, has a completely different approach. Wan is an Australian director of Chinese ancestry born in Malaysia. He was first noticed for his low-budget directorial debut Saw, which became a massive hit in 2004 and later developed into a full-fledged horror franchise.
Another noticeable movie came in 2010, when Insidious was released (which also got a sequel and two prequels). Then, Wan directed 2013’s The Conjuring, which laid the ground for an entire horror cinematic universe. In addition to that, Wan directed Furious 7 and Aquaman and is set to direct Aquaman 2.
5 Satoshi Kon
At the other end of the spectrum of feature-length anime films are the works of Satoshi Kon. Two of his works (Perfect Blue and Paprika) have even influenced Hollywood directors like Darren Aronofsky and Christopher Nolan.
Kon’s career began in the 1990s culminating in 1997’s psychological thriller Perfect Blue. He then went on to direct 2001’s Millennium Actress and 2003’s Tokyo Godfathers. His final feature-length work to this day is 2006’s Paprika, which was just as acclaimed as Perfect Blue.
4 Wong Kar-Wai
Wong Kar-Wai is another Hong Kong filmmaker known for his distinctive style and approach. His works have consistently appeared in major festivals, while some of his creations are already considered classics.
Wong’s directorial career began in 1988 and still continues. His major breakthrough came in 1994 with the release of Chungking Express. In 1997, his movie Happy Together became one of the most acclaimed LGBTQ+ works in the New Queer Cinema movement. His 2000 romantic drama In the Mood for Love is considered one of the greatest films of all time and his latest movie, 2013’s The Grandmaster, received two Oscar nominations and was an international success.
3 Park Chan-Wook
Park Chan-wook is one of the most acclaimed Asian filmmakers, both internationally and in his native South Korea. His directorial debut came in 1992, but all of his later movies were made in the 21st century.
Perhaps his most recognizable work is 2003’s Oldboy, which is the second installment in Park’s The Vengeance Trilogy. In 2009, he released Thirst, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. His 2016 erotic psychological thriller The Handmaiden won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and he went on to direct the 2018 British drama series The Little Drummer Girl, which was also critically acclaimed.
2 Ang Lee
Like many others on this list, Ang Lee began directing in the 1990s. But unlike other Asian directors, Lee has received nine Academy Award nominations throughout his career, of which he has won three.
His “Father Knows Best” Trilogy brought him early success, but even more acclaim came once he debuted in Hollywood, directing 1995’s Sense and Sensibility. Among his most well-known works are 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, widely regarded as a modern classic, 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, considered to be one of the greatest LGBTQ+ films every made and one of the best dramas of the 21st century, and 2012’s critical and commercial hit, Life of Pi.
1 Bong Joon-Ho
Taking the Oscars by storm last year, Bong Joon-Ho can’t actually be considered a surprise breakout director considering his filmography has grown gradually over the years, directing one great movie after another. His directorial debut Barking Dogs Never Bite achieved a cult following after it was released back in 2000. He went on to achieve critical and commercial success with his following movies, including 2003’s Memories of Murder, 2006’s The Host, and 2009’s Mother.
He then directed two English-language South Korean-American co-productions Snowpiercer and Okja, both of which were massively successful. And finally, Bong directed 2019’s Parasite, which won multiple awards and became the highest-grossing South Korean film in history.
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