The Best Taiwanese Movies on Netflix

The Best Taiwanese Movies on Netflix

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Notable for its continuing history of fighting state censorship and for its host of world-renowned directors making more thoughtful and realistic films, Taiwanese cinema has become a global inspiration and a key player in the progression of world cinema. With filmmakers that include the likes of Ang Lee, Edward Yang, Tsai Ming-liang, and Hou Hsiao-hsien, the East Asian country has crafted a remarkably distinct personality for itself, especially in contrast to their contemporaries in Hong Kong and China. And though the selection of Taiwanese films currently on Netflix might skew towards mainstream styles, their relatability and sensitive emotional core are still uniquely their own.

10. Man in Love (2021)

6.9

Country

Taiwan

Director

Chen-Hao Yin

Actors

Hsin-Ling Chung, Lan Wei-Hua, Lin Chih-ju, Peace Yang

Moods

Depressing, Emotional, Tear-jerker

There isn’t anything about Man in Love—a remake of the 2014 South Korean film of the same name—that you haven’t already seen before. But this iteration of the love story between a kindhearted woman and a scoundrel in business with gangsters and creditors benefits from high production values that help Taiwan stay romantic despite the grit of the film’s plot. There’s also an undeniable earnestness to even the most predictable beats here, helping the love story at its center feel more like a heat-of-the-moment bond forged in desperate economic times, and less like an abrupt bout of passion.

9. Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story (2018)

7.0

Country

Taiwan, United States of America

Director

Frank W Chen, Tommy Yu

Actors

Billy Connors, Brian Cashman, Chien-Ming Wang, Frank W Chen

Moods

Easy, Inspiring, Instructive

Though it doesn’t delve too deeply into any pressing issues in baseball or into its protagonist’s Taiwanese roots, Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story still makes for interesting viewing, mostly for its extremely specific discussions on baseball. Part sports documentary and part study on physical therapy, the film rejects any narratives about innate talent and greatness and aims to depict most great players as they really are: athletes who have had to train hard and maintain their progress through sheer force of will. And at the center is Chien-Ming Wang himself, a gentle and humble giant who makes for an unlikely but refreshing sports celebrity.

8. American Girl (2021)

7.0

Country

Taiwan

Director

Female director, Feng-I Fiona Roan

Actors

Blaire Chang, Bowie Tsang, Caitlin Fang, Hsia Yu-chiao

Moods

Character-driven, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

American Girl follows 13-year-old Fen as she returns to Taiwan from the US and tries to make sense of a culture that’s supposedly her own. In addition to her awkward but relatable attempts to understand identity and adolescence, Fen also struggles to connect with her mother Lily, whose own problems further push her away from her teenage daughter. If you’ve seen Lady Bird, you may recognize a bit of Christine and Marion in Fen and Lily as they throw themselves into an endless tug-of-war of emotions. Their fights are genuinely frustrating, but only because of how true-to-life they are.

As painful as it sometimes is to see them clash, it’s their love-hate dynamic that charges much of the film’s emotional energy and makes it ultimately irresistible to watch. 

7. Classmates Minus (2021)

7.1

Country

Taiwan

Director

Huang Hsin-Yao

Actors

Ada Pan, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen, Cheng Jen-shuo

Moods

Character-driven, Grown-up Comedy, Original

It’s slower and stranger than most comedies you may be used to, but there’s still lots of heart to be found in the way Classmates Minus follows the lapsed hopes and wishes of its core characters. Beneath all its stereotypically male yearnings for control and romantic wish fulfillment, there are potent ideas here about how a tired economy and jaded political culture can turn those in their middle age into completely different people. Writer/director Huang Hsin-yao provides narration for his own film, but rather than being distracting or conceited, his words add a level of needed sympathy to everything we see on screen.

6. Eternal Summer (2006)

7.2

Country

Sweden, Taiwan

Director

Leste Chen

Actors

Joseph Chang, Kate Yeung, Ray Chang

Moods

Character-driven, Depressing, Dramatic

Though Eternal Summer isn’t able to fully engage with its queer characters—maybe due to its being released in the mid-2000s—it still makes for a more interesting character study than you’d expect. This romance between three school friends has more on its mind than simply pitting two romantic pairings against each other. Unrequited feelings, unspoken secrets, and identities that are constantly in flux make Eternal Summer compelling just for the way these people try to dance around one another’s emotions. And since it’s shot in the muted colors of early digital filmmaking, this is a love story that becomes all the more melancholic just in the way it looks.

5. Dear Ex (2018)

7.4

Country

Taiwan

Director

Chih-Yen Hsu, Female director

Actors

Ai-Lun Kao, Clover Kao, Danny Liang, Fang Wan

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Emotional

Dear Ex is a family drama that explores LGBT+ issues in contemporary Taiwan. As much as it is a movie about how people cope with loss, it’s a powerful, heartwarming, and intimate portrait of the relationship between Jay and Song Zhengyuan and all the obstacles they face.

While the themes of Dear Ex are heavy, the director makes the viewing experience easier for the audience thanks to humorous and witty dialogue. Meanwhile, the history between Jay and Song Zhengyuan’s relationship unfolds in a very beautiful, almost poetic way, and by the end of the movie, we understand that everyone gets their own kind of forgiveness. The way the characters effortlessly show that love is something beyond genders is admirable, and it is great to see how everyone gets their own kind of forgiveness whether it’s from themselves or from others by the end of the movie.

4. Little Big Women (2020)

7.6

Country

Taiwan

Director

Joseph Chen-Chieh Hsu, Joseph Hsu

Actors

Buffy Chen, Chang Han, Chen Shu-fang, Chen Yan-Fei

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Lovely

This sensitive and elegantly crafted melodrama recognizes that a death in the family doesn’t have to lead to the same expressions of mourning we expect from movies; there might not be any real sadness at all. But when different family members come together again and bring their own personal conflicts with them, suddenly everyone else’s little griefs fill the space, and the road to recovery becomes even messier. Little Big Women understands all this with an understated touch and brilliant, naturalistic performances from its cast. It makes for a loving tribute to the generations of tough and complicated women who often hold a family together.

3. Your Name Engraved Herein (2020)

7.7

Country

Taiwan

Director

Kuang-Hui Liu, Liu Kuang-hui

Actors

Barry Qu, Cheng-Yang Wu, David Chiu, Edward Chen

Moods

Depressing, Emotional, Raw

Your Name Engraved Herein is a melancholy and emotional film set in 1987 just as martial law ends in Taiwan. The film explores the relationship between Jia-han and Birdy, two boys in a Catholic school who are in a romantic relationship. The movie tackles homophobia and social stigma in society which evokes a bleak and rather depressing atmosphere, emphasised by the movie’s earthy aesthetic. There is a rawness in the film’s narrative and dialogue, topped off by the lead actors’ successfully raw performances. Your Name Engraved Herein is tender as well as heartbreaking, occasionally depicting the joy of youth.

2. The Falls (2021)

best

8.0

Country

Taiwan

Director

Chung Mong-hong

Actors

Alyssa Chia, Chen Yiwen, Gingle Wang, Guan-Ting Liu

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Slow

All the synopses going around the internet won’t fail to let you know that The Falls takes place at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. The film is certainly marketed that way, with commercial posters featuring the leads in ubiquitous face masks, socially distanced from the blurred crowd. 

But interestingly, The Falls is not just a situational, pandemic-era story. More than anything else, it tells the story of Pin-wen and Xiao Jing, mother and daughter who, despite previously living a life of comfort, are now dealt with unfavorable circumstances (exacerbated but not entirely caused by the pandemic). Now, they are forced to navigate life with only each other, and it’s in the isolation they instate from the rest of the world do they forge a genuine and heartwrenching bond any and all family members will immediately recognize and perhaps even sympathize with. 

1. A Sun (2019)

best

8.6

Country

Taiwan

Director

Chung Mong-hong, Mong-Hong Chung

Actors

Apple Wu, Chang Han, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen

Moods

Character-driven, Dark, Depressing

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.

 

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