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Clocking in at just under four hours, Hu Bo's first and last feature film—before his tragic death at the age of 29—is a sprawling indictment of a country that the filmmaker must have viewed as positively hostile and suffocating. Following several characters whose paths intersect as they try to escape their current circumstances, An Elephant Sitting Still creates a truly oppressive atmosphere that may not lead you to the answers you expect, but it should leave you feeling haunted for a long, long time. Beautifully scored, shot, and acted, Hu's film offers practically no hope but it keeps on moving with a sense of freedom and determination all its own. This is as honest a film can get; Hu has left behind a moving legacy.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Li Congxi, Peng Yuchang, Wang Yuwen, Zhang Yu, Zhao Tao, Zhu Yan Man Zi, Zhu Yanmanzi, Zhu-Yan Manzi

Director: Hu Bo

While more people are familiar with its US adaptation, Il Mare is far more striking and emotionally resonant. The Korean romance, separated by timelines, depicts two lonely people who lived in the same seaside residence. They form a bond through the titular house’s mailbox, by sharing letters, voice recorders, and suggestions to deal with loneliness. As they receive each other’s messages, the film slowly reveals the reason for their loneliness– that they’ve been left behind. Matched with shots of creeping urbanization, migration, and the Y2K scare, Il Mare understands modern isolation, but it also underscores how solitude helps us connect with other people.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Cho Seung-yeon, Ji-hyun Jun, Jun Ji-hyun, Jung-jae Lee, Kim Moo-saeng, Lee Jung-jae, Mu-saeng Kim, Seung-yeon Jo

Director: Hyun-seung Lee, Lee Hyeon-seung, Lee Hyun-seung

Rating: N/A

It’s 1994, and Seoul is facing massive, rapid changes. The unrest is reflected by a lot of its residents, including Eun-hee, a disaffected teen with a less-than-stellar home and school life. She manages to get by with the help of friends and lovers, that is until they change too, and Eun-hee is forced to grapple with the volatility of it all. 

Sensitively told and genuinely captivating, House of Hummingbird is a stellar debut by writer-director Kim Bo-ra. Her command shines in how young actress Park Ji-hoo dynamically portrays Eun-hee, in how the story meanders but never loses footing, and in how each frame displays a quiet gorgeousness as the primary colors of her youth pop against the faded backdrop of urbanized Seoul. The delicate balance of all these elements is sure to evoke a sincere, profound feeling in every viewer. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: In-gi Jeong, Jeong In-gi, Jung In-gi, Kil Hae-yeon, Kim Jong-goo, Kim Mi-hyang, Kim Sae-byuk, Lee Jong-yoon, Lee Seung-yeon, Park Ji-hu, Park Seo-yoon, Park Soo-yeon, Park Yoon-hee, Seol Hye-in, Son Sang-yeon

Director: Kim Bora

Asako is in love with Baku—deeply and almost delusionally, in a way that can only manifest in young love. But when the freewheeling Baku ghosts Asako for good, she moves from Osaka all the way to Tokyo to start a new life. Years later, she's startled to meet Baku's doppelganger in Ryohei, an office man whose solid dependability and lack of artfulness, while endearing, could not place him any further from Baku. Confused and lonely, Asako tiptoes around her feelings for Ryohei and, in the process, raises thought-provoking questions about the meaning, ethics, and true purpose of love.

 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Ariei Umefune, Atsushi Kaneshige, Daichi Watanabe, Erika Karata, Fusako Urabe, Koji Seto, Maki Nishiyama, Masahiro Higashide, Misako Tanaka, Nao Okabe, Rio Yamashita, Ryotaro Yonemura, Sairi Ito

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rating: Not Rated

Millennium Actress, from famed animation director Satoshi Kon, is about lives lived and unlived. It follows Chiyoko Fujiwara, an actress from Japan’s golden age of cinema, as she recounts her life to two documentarians making a film about the history of the now-defunct Ginei Studios. Kon employs a metafilm narrative approach, framing Chiyoko’s lifelong search for her great love through the movie roles she has played, all interweaved through Kon’s stunning genre switches and signature match cuts. Millennium Actress poignantly explores the bittersweet irony of “larger-than-life” cinema, how it can contain a multitude of lifetimes and still be lacking, and how films serve as extensions of memories and yearning.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Fumiko Orikasa, Hisako Kyoda, Koichi Yamadera, Mami Koyama, Masane Tsukayama, Masaya Onosaka, Minagawa Junko, Miyoko Shoji, Showko Tsuda, Shozo Iizuka, Tomie Kataoka

Director: Satoshi Kon

Rating: PG

Audition is not for the faint of heart. It's shockingly violent and deeply unsettling, filled with sights and sounds that will haunt you for days on end. But there is grace to its terror; it's profound and artistic in ways that elevate it from generic horror fare.

On a deeper level, Audition is about the destructive power of abuse, trauma, and loneliness, about how a society that neglects to recognize this eventually suffers from it. The revenge plot isn't merely individual, as well, but a representation of the female subconscious: tired of objectification, eager for redress. And everything about the way the film is made, from the shaky camera and titled frames to the dramatic shadows and eerie lighting, reflects that imbalance. 

Audition may be chilling and gruesome, but it's also smart and important, a psychosexual thriller that captures female anger well before it became the rage. 

Genre: Drama, Horror

Actor: Eihi Shiina, Fumiyo Kohinata, Jun Kunimura, Kanji Tsuda, Ken Mitsuishi, Kimiko Tachibana, Miyuki Matsuda, Ren Osugi, Renji Ishibashi, Ryo Ishibashi, Shigeru Saiki, Tatsuo Endō, Tetsu Sawaki, Toshie Negishi, Yuriko Hirooka

Director: Takashi Miike

Rating: R

Vague statement alert: Burning is not a movie that you “get”; it’s a movie you experience. Based on a short story by Murakami, it’s dark and bleak in a way that comes out more in the atmosphere of the movie rather than what happens in the story. Working in the capital Seoul, a young guy from a poor town near the North Korean border runs into a girl from his village. As he starts falling for her, she makes an unlikely acquaintance with one of Seoul’s wealthy youth (played by Korean-American actor Steven Yeun, pictured above.) This new character is mysterious in a way that’s all-too-common in South Korea: young people who have access to money no one knows where it came from, and who are difficult to predict or go against. Two worlds clash, poor and rich, in a movie that’s really three movies combined into one - a character-study, a romance, and a revenge thriller.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ah-in Yoo, Ban Hye-ra, Cha Mi-Kyung, ChoI Seung-ho, Jang Won-hyung, Jeon Jong-seo, Jeon Seok-chan, Jeong Da-yi, Jong-seo Jun, Jun Jong-seo, Kim Shin-rock, Kim Shin-rok, Kim Sin-rock, Kim Soo-kyung, Lee Bong-ryeon, Lee Joong-ok, Lee Soo-jeong, Min Bok-gi, Moon Sung-keun, Ok Ja-yeon, Song Duk-ho, Soo-Kyung Kim, Steven Yeun, Yoo Ah-in

Director: Chang-dong Lee, Lee Chang-dong

Rating: Not Rated

The World of Us is a vibrant, colourful movie that follows the story of Lee Sun, a shy and sweet fifth grader who meets Ji Ah, a new girl in town. The movie is innocent, light and relatable, centered around two new friends playing in the summertime. But behind its vibrant colors, there is a very realistic commentary on how children can grow up to realise they are not of equal wealth and social status. The World of Us is not only about the fun of childhood, but also shows its bitterness. It perfectly captures the feeling of being left out by the ones who are supposed to be our friends. The movie shows that children can feel pain and jealousy toward others too, and it encapsulates the highs and lows of being young in the best way possible.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Choi Soo-in, Jang Hye-jin, Lee Seo-yeon, Ri Woo-jin, Seol Hye-in

Director: Yoon Ga-eun

Midnight Runners is a hilarious and action-packed buddy comedy that delivers both laughs and thrills in equal measure. The film follows two police cadets who find themselves embroiled in a dangerous conspiracy after witnessing a kidnapping. The chemistry between the two leads is electric, and their banter and antics provide some of the film's funniest moments. However, it also has its share of intense and suspenseful scenes, as the cadets race against time to save the victim and uncover the truth. Midnight Runners is a highly entertaining and enjoyable film that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Bae Yoo-ram, Byeon Woo-seok, Cha Si-won, Dong-il Sung, Go Joon, Ha-Neul Kang, Ha-seon Park, Ha-sun Park, Hwang Chan-seong, Hwang Chan-sung, Jeong Da-eun, Jung Won-joong, Kang Ha-neul, Kim Gyu-baek, Kim Kyu-baek, Ko Jun, Lee Eun-saem, Lee Ho-jung, Lee Jun-hyeok, Park Ha-seon, Park Seo-joon, Park Seo-jun, Seo-Joon Park, Suh Jung-yeon, Sung Dong-il

Director: Joo-hwan Kim, Kim Joo-hwan, Kim Ju-hwan

Rating: Not Rated

, 1998

Despite being remade, parodied, and absorbed into pop culture over the years, the original Ring defiantly marches to the beat of its own drum. Focused entirely on building a slow-burn mystery instead of dispensing scares, the film provides ample space for a number of interpretations: on the spread of technology, the erasure of traditional beliefs, or even motherhood. It's all relentlessly quiet and extremely creepy, the tension building with the same energy as ghost stories told around a campfire. And while famous for its eerie images and the rules surrounding its cursed videotape, Ringu also serves as a reminder that great horror should compel the audience to keep on watching, even if they already know exactly what awaits them if they do.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Daisuke Ban, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hiroyuki Watanabe, Hitomi Satô, Katsumi Muramatsu, Kiriko Shimizu, Masako, Miki Nakatani, Miwako Kaji, Nanako Matsushima, Rie Ino'o, Rikiya Ôtaka, Yôichi Numata, Yôko Ôshima, Yûko Takeuchi, Yutaka Matsushige

Director: Hideo Nakata

There is a lot to admire about this revenge film from director Mouly Surya—the breathtaking shots of rural Indonesia, the grisly practicality of the titular Marlina, the relevant observations on gender politics, and the simple yet stylistic way all of this is revealed. Fans of Westerns and Spaghetti Westerns are also treated with an Eastern reimagining of tropes as the film exchanges long guns for Kabeala knives and sprawling deserts for tropical hills.

Packed with so many delights, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a near-impossible miss. But if you somehow find none of this gripping, you can always rely on the sure thrill of seeing scorned women bloodily and rightfully avenge themselves. 

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Western

Actor: Anggun Priambodo, Ayez Kassar, Dea Panendra, Egi Fedly, Egy Fedly, Haydar Salishz, Indra Birowo, Marsha Timothy, Norman R. Akyuwen, Ozzol Ramdan, Rita Matu Mona, Ruly Lubis, Safira Ahmad, Sapto Soetardjo, Tumpal Tampubolon, Yayu A.W. Unru, Yayu Unru, Yoga Pratama

Director: Mouly Surya

Rating: Unrated

Based on the first jury trial in South Korea, Juror 8 tells the story of eight ordinary citizens with different backgrounds who are summoned to be the jurors of a case that's believed to be a murder. These characters who have no background or knowledge in law find themselves able to decide someone's fate. Unlike 12 Angry Men, Juror 8 delivers a lot of cunning and humorous dialogue between the characters. It’s a good mix between comedy and mystery.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Baek Soo-jang, Cha Mi-kyeong, Cho Soo-hyang, Choi Ri, Choi Young-woo, Go Seo-hee, Jeong Do-won, Jo Han-chul, Kim Hak-seon, Kim Hak-sun, Kim Mi-kyoung, Kim Sun-young, Kwon Hae-hyo, Lee Kyoo-hyung, Lee Yeong-jin, Lee Yong-i, Lee Yong-yi, Moon So-ri, Park Hyung-sik, Rie Young-zin, Ryu Deok-hwan, Seo Hyun-woo, Seo Jeong-yeon, Seo Jin-won, Seo Jung-yeon, Seo Young-ju, Shim Dal-gi, Yeom Hye-ran, Yoo Soon-woong, Yoon Kyung-ho

Director: Hong Seung-wan

Rating: Not Rated

Always follows the story of Jeong-hwa and Cheol-min, both very different individuals who are gentle in their own way. The story starts off by demonstrating how different the leads are in terms of their personality and their outlook on life. The plot can be a little predictable and cliche in some moments, but Always is not a complicated movie—though in addition to being a romance, it also includes some surprising violence that may intensify your viewing experience. Still, Always is about the two leads’ struggle against fate as they try to survive their tough situations, with strong chemistry between the lead actors from start to finish.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Romance

Actor: Cho Seong-ha, Goo Seung-hyun, Han Hyo-joo, Jin Goo, Jung Jae-jin, Kang Shin-il, Kim Jung-hak, Kim Jung-pal, Kim Mi-kyeong, Kim Seon-hwa, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Park Cheol-min, Park Chul-min, Park Seong-geun, So Ji-sub, Yeom Hye-ran

Director: Song Il-gon

Hotel Salvation is a touching movie about a father asking his son for a last wish : let him die in the Holy city of Varanasi. This Indian drama will let you discover a modern Hindu philosophy, the power of the scenic Varanasi and the bonds of family. It faces the question of death in the light, gentle and humorous way that perfectly illustrates the contradiction in question: celebrating life while surrounded by death.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adil Hussain, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Lalit Behl, Navnindra Behl, Palomi Ghosh

Director: Shubhashish Bhutiani

Rating: Not Rated