9 Contributions by: Renee Cuisia On Kong Hong

Staff & contributors

, 2019

In The Sun, a family of four is dealt with tragedy after tragedy, beginning with the younger sun A-ho's sudden incarceration. The mother is sympathetic but the father all but shuns him as he chooses to throw all his affection to A-hao, the older brother, and his med school pursuits instead. Themes of crime, punishment, family, and redemption are then explored in gorgeous frames and mesmerizing colors with director Chung Mong-hong doubling as the film's cinematographer. 

Despite itself, The Sun never falls into cliche melodrama territory. Its heavy themes are undercut by naturalistic acting and poetic shots, resulting in a deeply emotional but balanced film. Rich in meaning and beauty, The Sun will surely stay with you long after your first watch.

 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Family

Actor: Apple Wu, Chang Han, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen, Chen-Ling Wen, Chien-Ho Wu, Chih-ju Lin, Greg Hsu, Guan-Ting Liu, Han Chang, Huang Hsin-Yao, Ivy Yin, Kuan-Ting Liu, Li-Tung Chang, Liao Hui-Jen, Lin Chih-ju, Liu Kuan-ting, Lung Shao-Hua, Ming-Shuai Shih, Samantha Ko, Samantha Shu-Chin Ko, Shao-Huai Chang, Shu-Chin Ko, Shu-qin Ke, Siu Wa Lung, Wang Ko-Yuan, Wen Chen-ling, Wu Chien-ho, Wu Tai-ling, Yi-Wen Chen, Yin Shin

Director: Chung Mong-hong, Mong-Hong Chung

Rating: N/A

Stand By Me follows four young friends as they journey around their small town searching for a rumored dead body. On the surface, it moves like an adventure story. The boys narrowly avoid guard dogs and leeches, speeding trains and tough teen gangs. But along the way, they also learn much about each other, in particular about the stark reality of their home lives and the growing depths of their inner struggles, so that beneath all the small-time thrill is a beating coming-of-age story. 

Based on a novella by horror master Stephen King, Stand By Me is terrifying in its ability to evoke the unique thorniness of passing through the gates of adulthood, but also warm and comforting in its reminder of the universality of this feeling.

Genre: Adventure, Crime, Drama

Actor: Bradley Gregg, Bruce Kirby, Casey Siemaszko, Chance Quinn, Corey Feldman, Dick Durock, Frances Lee McCain, Gary Riley, Jason Oliver, Jerry O'Connell, Jerry O'Connell, John Cusack, Kent W. Luttrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Korey Scott Pollard, Madeleine Swift, Marshall Bell, O.B. Babbs, Richard Dreyfuss, River Phoenix, Scott Beach, Wil Wheaton, William Bronder

Director: Rob Reiner

Rating: R

Even when it necessarily tackles the difficulties that are part and parcel of same-sex love in the 20th century, there’s something pleasant about the way A Secret Love is told. The documentary puts Terry and Pat’s love above all else, so even though we hear about how they had to tear the bottom pages of their letters to avoid getting caught, or how they had to split from close family members after coming out, things never feel too heavy or dire because at the end of the day, they’re still together, their decades-old companionship a beautiful example of how love wins. And aside from giving us an intimate look at this rare win for elderly closeted couples, A Secret Love serves as an insightful portrait of elderly life. Terry and Pat, with their perseverance and unyielding support, make aging look beautiful rather than scary. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Chris Bolan, Diana Bolan, Kim Donahue, Pat Henschel, Tammy Donahue, Terry Donahue

Director: Chris Bolan

Rating: N/A

In the early 1990s, Singaporean teens Sandi, Jasmine, and Sophie set out to make the country’s first indie movie. Incredibly, in between college, day jobs, and very limited funding, they manage to do just that with the help of their wise but mysterious mentor, Georges. Shirkers, as the project came to be called, seemed primed to revolutionize the burgeoning Singaporean film industry. It was ambitious and bonkers, unlike anything the country has seen before, and it lovingly contained tributes to the makers' cinematic heroes (among them Wim Wenders and David Lynch). But before it could see the light of the day, before it could even be viewed and edited by the girls who conceptualized it, Shirkers’ raw footage was whisked away by Georges, who fled the country without a trace. 

The potentially pioneering film was never to be seen again—that is, until 20 years later when it resurfaces in near-mint condition (sadly, the audio could not be recovered). Fascinated by the journey of the lost film and mystified by Georges’ motives, Sandi decides to remake Shirkers as a documentary. The result is an artistic and personal interrogation into what made their small beloved film possible, how its loss affected the people behind it, and how this all led to Shirkers, the documentary, which is a testament to how art always prevails in the end. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Georges Cardona, Jasmine Ng, Sandi Tan, Sophia Siddique Harvey

Director: Sandi Tan

Rating: TV-14

It looks like something you’ve already seen before: a student genius turns a simple high school cheating scheme into a full-blown, high-stakes heist. But layered with great acting, taut writing, and sharp observations about the ways in which education (and society in general) fails its students, Bad Genius turns a familiar premise into something genuinely exciting and impressively affecting. It’s everything you want a caper movie to be: smart and thrilling, with almost no moment to breathe, and of course, peppered with characters you can’t help but root and be nervous and excited for. 

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Aokbab Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Chanon Santinatornkul, Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Ego Mikitas, Eisaya Hosuwan, Kanjana Vinaipanid, Nopawat Likitwong, Pasin Kuansataporn, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Sarinrat Thomas, Suquan Bulakul, Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Valerie Bentson, Vittawin Veeravidhayanant

Director: Nattawut Poonpiriya

Rating: PG-13, TV-MA

Based on the 13-episode series of the same name, Violet Evergarden tells the story of Violet, a scribe commissioned to write letters at a time when telephones and computers had yet to exist. Shell-shocked from her time in the war, Violet is exceptionally stoic, except when she remembers Gilbert, her military superior and sometime lover. His parting words were "I love you," and through her letters, Violet has been examining the meaning of the phrase since then. 

Fans of the series will have no trouble following the events of the film, but if you're going in cold without any prior exposure to the franchise, it might take a while for you to adjust to its world. More an amalgamation of multiple cultures than a reflection of just one, the imaginary Leidenschaftlich is filled with Japanese-speaking citizens, in modern-day-influenced clothes, with architecture and vistas that could fit right in 1800s Western Europe. Against this backdrop, Violet attempts to restart her life as a writer. Living often doesn't feel easy, especially when PTSD comes in the form of shocks and painful flashbacks, but loving, as she finds out, might be even harder. A tale of self-forgiveness and forging on, despite all odds, Violet Evergarden is a moving ode to life and love at a time of war. 

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Aya Endo, Aya Saito, Ayako Kawasumi, Daichi Endo, Daisuke Namikawa, Emi Shinohara, Haruka Tomatsu, Hidenobu Kiuchi, Hisako Kyoda, Jouji Nakata, Kaori Mizuhashi, Koki Uchiyama, Mayuno Yasokawa, Megumi Matsumoto, Minori Chihara, Mitsuru Miyamoto, Mugihito, Rie Hikisaka, Rina Sato, Rina Satou, Sumire Morohoshi, Takehito Koyasu, Yasuhiro Mamiya, Yui Ishikawa, Yuuki Sanpei

Director: Taichi Ishidate

The movie follows Martha (Vanessa Kirby), a young wife who loses her baby in a failed home birth. She tries her best to trudge through the aftermath of loss, but her coping attempts prove to be near impossible, not least because her husband Sean (Shia LaBeouf) and mother Liz (Ellen Burstyn) continually domineer every aspect of her life.

Pieces of a Woman is harrowing and heartbreaking, with the actors giving their all in this realistic and revealing drama. But it's Kirby's performance as the unraveled yet apathetic Martha that is the film's immediate standout, rightfully earning her a Best Actress nomination at the 2021 Academy Awards.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Benny Safdie, Ellen Burstyn, Frank Schorpion, Gayle Garfinkle, Harry Standjofski, Iliza Shlesinger, Jimmie Fails, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Sean Tucker, Shia LaBeouf, Steven McCarthy, Tyrone Benskin, Vanessa Kirby, Vanessa Smythe

Director: Kornél Mundruczó, Kornél Mundruczó

Rating: R

Prior to being defined by that fateful bombing in 1945, Hiroshima was like any other city outside of Tokyo; small but full, quiet but busy, and in the midst of a slow-but-sure journey to modernization. We experience the rich and intimate details of this life through the kind-hearted Suzu, who herself is stuck between the throes of old and new. She is an ambitious artist but also a dedicated wife; a war-wearied survivor and a hopeful cheerleader. 

Set before, during, and after the Second World War, the film starts off charmingly mundane at first, but it quickly gives way to inevitable grief in the second half. One stark tragedy follows another as it becomes increasingly clear how much we lose our humanity in war.

In This Corner of the World is the rare film outside of the Hayao Miyazaki canon that captures the latter's heart for detail while still being graciously its own.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, History, Romance, War

Actor: Asuka Ohgame, Barbara Goodson, Christine Marie Cabanos, Daishi Kajita, Daisuke Ono, Hisako Kyoda, Kenta Miyake, Kira Buckland, Kohei Kiyasu, Manami Tanaka, Mayumi Shintani, Megumi Han, Miki Hase, Minori Omi, Nanase Iwai, Natsuki Inaba, Non, Nozomu Sasaki, Rena Nōnen, Shigeru Ushiyama, Sunao Katabuchi, Tengai Shibuya III, Tomoko Shiota, Tsuyoshi Koyama, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Yuuki Hirose

Director: Sunao Katabuchi

Rating: PG-13

Joy is a dutiful, overseas Filipino worker supporting her entire family back home. Ethan is a well-off bartender who has, time and again, put himself first before others. They couldn’t be any more different, yet in Hong Kong, their alien status and ambitious goals make them kindred spirits. What starts as a low-stakes bond quickly turns into an essential relationship, one that puts their personal commitments to the test. 

Hello, Love, Goodbye may appear formulaic at first, but it is heightened by a keen understanding of life overseas. It avoids romanticizing the migrant experience and sees it for what it truly is: a harsh but necessary means to an end. If this seems too severe, it’s also softened by an enchanting romance and some welcome comic relief in the form of the pair’s friends. Because of this nice mix, it’s no surprise that Hello, Love, Goodbye instantly broke domestic records and remains the highest-grossing Filipino movie of all time. 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alden Richards, Jameson Blake, Jeffrey Tam, Jerome Ponce, Joross Gamboa, Kaka Bautista, Kakai Bautista, Kathryn Bernardo, Lito Pimentel, Lovely Abella, Maricel Laxa, Maxine Medina, Maymay Entrata, William Lorenzo

Director: Cathy Garcia-Molina, Cathy Garcia-Sampana

Rating: TV-PG