10 Asian films to watch at the 2019 NZ International Film Festival

Trying to pin down your viewing list for the 2019 New Zealand International Film Festival

If you're looking to add some Asian flavour into the mix, we can help. From wonderfully baffling Chinese arthouse films to gritty Malaysian crime thrillers to quirky Japanese black comedies, here are 10 of the Asia Media Centre's top picks. 

Fly By Night (Malaysia)

Fly By Night

Fly By Night is the debut feature from Zahir Omar. IMAGE: NZIFF

Set in the dark underbelly of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian director Zahir Omar’s debut feature revolves around a group of taxi drivers who try to settle their debts by extorting wealthy passengers they pick up from the airport. Malaysia's melting pot of cultures is reflected in the multilingual crime thriller, with characters speaking Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay and English. 

Manta Ray (Thailand)

Manta Ray

Manta Ray is dedicated to the Rohingya Muslims. IMAGE: NZIFF

Veteran Thai cinematographer Phuttiphong Aroonpheng’s debut feature is dedicated to the Rohingya Muslims, who have fled persecution in Myanmar. The film centres on the unique friendship that develops between a fisherman and a mute refugee who washes ashore near the Thai-Myanmar border. It was the first Thai movie to win the prestigious Orizzonti Award for Best Film at the 2018 Venice Film Festival.

Nina Wu (Taiwan)

Nina Wu

Lead actress Wu Ke-xi co-wrote the screenplay. IMAGE: NZIFF

Myanmar-born, Taiwan-based filmmaker Midi Z takes on the #MeToo movement in this psychological thriller about an aspiring actress who finally gets her big break — as long as she’s prepared to expose her body. Though fictional, the story draws heavily on the Harvey Weinstein scandal as well as the personal experiences of the film’s star, Taiwanese actress and Midi Z’s frequent collaborator Wu Ke-xi, who co-wrote the screenplay. 

One Child Nation (China)

One Child Nation

One Child Nation explores the effects of China's one-child policy. IMAGE: NZIFF

Our pick of the documentaries at this year’s NZIFF is Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang's investigation into the human cost of the Chinese Communist Party’s one-child policy, which was introduced in 1979 and abandoned in 2015. Co-creator Wang — also known for Hooligan Sparrow, exposing sexual abuse in China — was motivated to delve into the untold history of the policy following the birth of her first child. 

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (South Korea)

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil

The South Korean thriller has been picked up for a Hollywood remake. IMAGE: NZIFF

If you’re a fan of South Korean cinema, you’ll recognise the star of this film — Ma Dong-seok, who also appeared in the 2016 zombie apocalypse flick, Train to Busan. In Lee Won-tae's crime thriller, Ma plays a mob boss who teams up with a junior detective to help track down a serial killer. The film has already been picked up for a Hollywood remake, to be produced by Sylvester Stallone, with Ma set to reprise his role.

Children of the Sea (Japan)

Children of the Sea

Children of the Sea is based on a manga series. IMAGE: NZIFF

Here's one for the anime junkies among you. Based on the manga series by critically acclaimed artist Igarashi Daisuke, Children of the Sea from anime house Studio 4°C revolves around 14-year-old Ruka, whose father works in an aquarium. While visiting, she encounters a mysterious pair of brothers who were raised at sea by dugongs, and soon discovers she shares their same unique connection to the ocean. 

Photograph (India)


Photograph is set in director Ritesh Batra's native Mumbai. IMAGE: NZIFF

Indian filmmaker Ritesh Batra, who received international acclaim for his 2013 feature debut The Lunchbox, returns to the streets of his hometown Mumbai for his latest project. Photograph sees an unconventional romance blossom between a struggling street photographer and a shy college student who he convinces to pose as his fiancée during a family visit. 

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (China)

Long Day's Journey Into Night

Long Day's Journey Into Night: Not a rom-com. IMAGE: NZIFF

Fun story: This film by 30-year-old director Bi Gan was aggressively marketed in China as a rom-com, with special screenings on New Year’s Eve so the moment when the stars kissed at the end of the movie would take place at midnight. But many viewers were less than impressed to find themselves watching an arthouse film, and the hashtag “Can’t Understand Long Day’s Journey Into Night” ended up trending on Chinese social media. We recommend heading along to judge it for yourself.  

We Are Little Zombies (Japan)

We Are Little Zombies

Video game influences and a killer soundtrack. IMAGE: NZIFF

Japan can always be counted on to bring the zany factor, and this feature debut from Nagahisa Makoto shouldn’t disappoint. We Are Little Zombies focuses on four teenage orphans who meet at a funeral home after the death of their parents. They decide to run away together and form a rock band called Little Zombies. Expect heavy influences from video games (Nagahisa is a big fan). 

Up the Mountain (China)

Up The Mountain

Up The Mountain is set in China's Yunnan Province. IMAGE: NZIFF

Years ago, master painter Shen Jianhua moved with his family from cosmopolitan Shanghai to a sleepy mountain village in Yunnan Province, where he teaches art to the local community. Director Zhang Yang paints a portrait of China’s contrasts in this documentary, capturing what happens when two worlds — tradition and modernity — collide.

- Asia Media Centre