12 Asian Films To Get You Started

My earliest childhood memory (seriously) is watching Star Wars, and that started a lifelong love affair I’ve had with the movies. However, if you’re like me at all, most of the film you grew up watching was in English and the only real Asian film you were exposed to usually involved a big guy named Godzilla. But the truth is there is some great and innovative film coming out of Asia that unfortunately gets next to no attention from North American audiences. As a matter of fact, most people I talk to are still surprised when I tell them “The Ring” was originally an Asian film.

Now, the reality is that I am FAR from being an expert on Asian film. I’m just a film fan who has started to develop an appreciation for some Asian cinema. So I thought it would be a good idea, as a casual Asian film fan who is also just in the process of developing my understanding for the genre, to introduce some of you who are interested in expanding your horizons, to 15 movies to get your feet wet in Asian film. Some of you have seen lots of these films already, but I know a bunch of you haven’t.

So without any more delay, here are 15 benchmark Asian films to get you started. In no particular order:

Asian-Film-Ju-On-11) Ju-On (The Grudge)

Yes, the original version that the inferior North American Grudge (with Michelle Gellar) was based on. To this day maybe the scariest film I’ve ever seen apart from American Werewolf in London. The main difference between most North American horror and Asian horror, is that American horror tries to scare you with gross visuals and “startle scare” (when something jumps out at you), whereas a lot of Asian horror freaks the hell out of you with your own imagination… with concepts and atmosphere… with tension and mood. Ju-On makes you want to check yourself into a mental ward your nerves take such a beating. FROM THE IMDB: “An evil curse and vengeful spirits seem to linger upon a house where the horrific murder of a woman and child took place and anyone who sets foot inside the house is marked for a terrifying haunting which will not rest. One by one, those who have been tainted by the house begin to die, and nowhere is safe”

Asian-Film-Fist-12) Fist of Legend

Not the deepest, or the most artful, or the best… but hands down my favorite Jet Li film of all time. Set during the Japanese occupation in China, the political and cultural tensions are really just a backdrop to total non-stop ass kicking deliciousness. Everything you expect to find in a great old style kung-fu film and more. Revenging a slain master, settling even the most trivial dispute with to-the-death combat to be followed by more ass kicking. The action is amazing, funny at times, always pretty lighhearted. FROM THE ROTTENTOMATOES: “A martial arts protege (Li) leads his classmates in revolt after their teacher is poisoned by the invading Japanese. The final fight scene is arguably one of the best of all time. Fights choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping, action director of THE MATRIX”

Asian-Film-Vengeance3) Sympathy for Mr Vengeance

Have you ever had a day where nothing seems to be going right… so you try something to improve the situation by doing something a little drastic, but that only leads to the situation getting even worse, then you try to fix what you did wrong and it gets even worse still… and then a giant elephant shits on your face? Yeah well… that’s Sympathy for Mr Vengence. A heart breaking, brutal and viciously violent story that leaves you wondering if you should be cheering for the “hero” or not all the way through. FROM MSN MOVIES: “Korean director Park Chan-wook followed up his highly acclaimed Joint Security Area with this tale of a deaf mute named Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun) trying to help his sister (Lim Ji-Eun) get a kidney transplant. Because his blood type is incompatible and no donors are available, he turns to a group of black-market organ dealers who offer to find one in return for one of his and ten million won. The dealers rip him off, so Ryu conspires with his girlfriend, a political activist, to kidnap his former boss’ young daughter and ransom her for the ten million won. But a horrible complication ruins their plans and things begin to spiral out of control as the girl’s father (Song Kang-ho) decides to take matters into his own hands with the help of a sympathetic cop.”

Asian-Film-Hero4) Hero

One of the rare films that actually got a North American wide release so I probably shouldn’t even put it on this list… but I know ludicrous numbers of people who haven’t seen it, so here it is. Forget just Asian film… Hero is one of the most beautifully shot films in the history of cinema. Every single solitary frame of this movie is a pure work of art. The use of color is like nothing I have ever seen before. You could watch this film on mute and you’d still have a rich experience watching it. FROM TRIBUTE: “At the height of China’s Warring States period, the country was divided into seven kingdoms: Qin, Zhao, Han Wei, Yan, Chu and Qi. For years, the separate kingdoms fought ruthlessly for supremacy. The Qin King was obsessed with conquering all of China and becoming her first Emperor. He had long been the target of three legendary assassins. To anyone who defeated the assassins, the King promised great power, gold and a private audience with the King himself. For ten years no one came to claim the prize. So when the enigmatic county sheriff, Nameless (Jet Li), came to the palace bearing the legendary weapons of the slain assassins, the King was impatient to hear his story. Sitting in the palace, only ten paces from the King, Nameless told his extraordinary tale. But then something unexpected happened – the King had a different story to tell of how Nameless really came to sit there. In the center of the intrigue sits Nameless and the ruler of the Kingdom, with only ten steps between them. Within those ten steps holds an earth-shattering tale of love, honor and duty, a story that moves beyond the reaches of history.”

Asian-Film-Battle5) Battle Royale

This list is in no particular order… but if it was in order, and someone asked me “what is the one Asian film I should go out and grab” the words “Battle Royale” would come out of my lips before they even finished the question. An interesting mixture of social commentary, violence and dilemma tension (where you as an audience member think “what the hell would I do?”). We all always knew those asshole teachers wanted to see us dead! This movie just fucking RULES! There have long been rumors of a North American remake of this gem… I’m open to that… but it stands very little chance at being as good as the original. FROM SPOUT: “In a future where society is on the verge of collapse, the government takes drastic action against the problem of rebellious teenagers in this violent sci-fi opus from Japan. In the year 2002, Japan’s economy has taken a dramatic turn for the worse, and massive unemployment and inflation have thrown most adults into a state of chaos; the nation’s youth culture responds with unprecedented violence, delinquency, and truancy. Desperate to restore order, the Japanese parliament responds by creating the Millennial Reform School Act, in which groups of junior high students are selected at random, sent to an isolated island, and forced to play a rigorous war game, in which all but one of their number are killed. Kitano (Beat Takeshi) is an embittered school instructor who guides the 44 students of the Zentsuji Middle School’s Class B through the deadly game known as “Battle Royale,” as they struggle to survive against the elements and each other.”

Asian-Film-Eye6) The Eye

No, not the Jessica Alba remake coming out soon (which actually inspired this list to be made) but rather the Pang bros horror masterpiece (the fact that Hollywood is so keen on remaking these Asian horror flicks should tell you something about just how good the originals are). Imagine being blind… then getting new eyes… but you start seeing thing you should not see. CREEPY… AS… HELL! Just a terrific concept for a horror film and it’s pulled off beautifully. FROM THE IMDB: “A blind girl gets a cornea transplant so that she would be able to see again. However, she got more than what she bargained for when she realised she could even see ghosts. And some of these ghosts are down right unfriendly. So she embarks on a journey to find the origins of her cornea and to reveal the history of the previous dead owner”

Asian-Film-Sisters7) A Tale Of Two Sisters

A combination of erie mystery thriller and outright horror, the film is a little hard to follow at times, but if you can hang on for the ride you’ll love it immensely. The movie also does a terrific job of playing out the paralyzing family issues well beyond just the creepies and scares of many other films of this type. I think I liked this movie even before I saw it, since I think it’s one of my all time favorite movie posters. FROM KFC CINEMA: “Su-mi and Su-yeon have always been very close as sisters. Su-mi, being the elder of the two, is very protective over her young sister Su-yeon. Since the death of their mother, the stepmother has ruled the house with an iron fist. Su-mi has always managed to confront her stepmother, but Su-yeon, being a very calm and fragile girl, could not defend herself against the psychological and physical abuse of her evil stepmother. Su-mi has tried many times to explain the situation to her father, but his relationship with the stepmother and his disbelief has insured no result. Su-mi and Su-yeon are now back from a mysterious absence and being back home doesn’t seem to please the two sisters very much. Having to live under the same roof as the stepmother is a nightmare for them. However, during the following days, strange incidents will occur. Another presence can be feel within the house, is it the step mother trying to scare the girls, or a spirit trying to take revenge?”

Asian-Film-Infernal8) Infernal Affairs

Hands down my favorite cop film of all time, and it was the basis for the remake that won the Oscar for best picture “The Departed” (obviously they changed the name). One of the best concepts for a crime drama of all time. The cops and the mob each plant an agent in the other side and each side is on a race against time to try to figure out whole the mole in their ranks is. Brilliantly written, fantastic performances, superbly orchestrated conflict… man, there just aren’t enough great things I can say about this movie. I loved The Departed… but even that doesn’t stand up again Infernal Affairs. Loyalty, betrayal, intrigue, suspence… this movie has it all. FROM STARPLUS: “As Infernal Affairs opens, Ming (Andy Lau of Full-time Killer) is being initiated into the criminal underworld by triad boss Sam (Eric Tsang of The Accidental Spy), who ends his speech to his young charges by wishing them success in the police department. Ming enters the police academy, where he excels, but sees his classmate, Yan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai of In the Mood for Love), expelled for “breaking the rules.” It turns out that Yan wasn’t actually drummed out of the force, but recruited by Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong of Hard-Boiled) as an undercover operative. Just as Ming is achieving success in the police department while secretly working for Sam, Ming is gaining Sam’s trust as a triad member, while reporting to Wong. Ten years later, both men, still undercover, have grown confused about their true identities, while their bosses, Sam and Wong, wage a battle of wits against each other.”

Asian-Film-Ong-Bak9) Ong Bak

The only thing I can say about Ong Bak is that you’ve probably never seen anything like it before. World, meet Tony Jaa… he is not human. This film gained a lot of notoriety not only because of the CRAZY martial arts action… but also because 100% of everything you see in the film is real. There is no CGI, no special effects, no wires… it’s all Tony Jaa doing his thing. What you see him doing, is really what you see him doing, and your jaw will hit the floor multiple times during your viewing. Narrative wise, it’s one of the worst films ever made, but you won’t care, because Jaa oozes awesomeness. ROTTEN TOMATOES SAYS: “Jaa stars as Ting, a quiet young man who lives in the peaceful village of Nong Pradu. As the village’s special celebration approaches, a Bangkok villain named Don (Wannakit Siriput) steals the head of the Buddha statue Ong-Bak, which is said to protect the village from bad luck. Ting volunteers to go to the big city to bring back the head of Ong-Bak, but remembers what he was taught by sage monk Pra Cru (Woranard Tantipidok): he must not use his Muay Thai skills to harm people. However soon after arriving in Bangkok, Ting, a peaceful fish out of water, finds that the only way to recapture the village’s sacred treasure is by using his arms, his legs–and his head.”

Asian-Film-Ikiru10) Ikiru

Yes Dorothy, there is Asian film beyond action or horror, and probably the finest of them ever made is this masterpiece (an overused word that truly applies here) by director Akira Kurosawa, before he ever made The Seven Samurai. A touching yet powerful film about life, meaning, purpose… all with an unmistakable “It’s a Wonderful Life” feel to it (although in a very different sort of way). FROM AMAZON: “Shimura, who nobly led the Seven Samurai two years later, is sublimely perfect as a melancholy civil servant who, upon learning that he has terminal cancer, realizes he has nothing to show for his dreary, unsatisfying life. He seeks solace in nightlife and family, to no avail, until a simple inspiration leads him to a final, enduring act of public generosity. Expressing his own thoughts about death and the universal desire for a meaningful existence, Kurosawa infuses this drama with social conscience and deep, personal conviction, arriving at a conclusion that is emotionally overwhelming and simply unforgettable.”

Asian-Film-Shaolin11) Shaolin Vs. Lama

By all rights this film shouldn’t be on this list… but I figured I should put at least one really silly, yet immensely enjoyable popcorn Kung-Fu flick on here… and that’s GOTTA BE Shaolin Vs. Lama. The movie is almost 25 years old and I’ve still never seen another Kung-Fu film with as much pure personality and serious laughs. Where else are you going to find a druken Shaolin monk who kicks ass for chicken? Or a bad guy who kills himself at the end by slapping himself in the head while yelling “I must die to prove Buddha exists”! But the two best lines (that you have to see in context) were easily “If you beat me, you will be my master and you can beat me with this staff for my insolence”… or… “Master, let me be your student, and I’ll give you a chicken.” Fan-Freaking-Tastic. FROM WIKIPEDIA: “Alexander Lo Rei plays Yu Ting, a kung fu fanatic in search of a teacher. After five years of challenging masters but never being beaten he runs into Hsu Shi (William Yen), a young Shaolin monk who stole money from a gambling match in order to acquire meat and wine for his master, who later discovers Yu Ting inside the Buddhist temple. Although Hsu’s master defeats Yu with ease he refuses to take him on as a student. Yu then resorts to trickery to try and learn techniques from the aged monk. Eventually these antics come to the attention of the senior abbot who expels Yu Ting from the temple altogether. Yu is only allowed back into the temple after he rescues a girl escaping from the dreaded skyhawk clan. The head of the gang is a chief Lama and sworn enemy of Shaolin who, twelve years ago, stole one of temple’s most treasured martial arts manuals the e-ching manual. Hsu Shi’s master eventually agrees to take Yu Ting on as a student but lessons are cut short when the Lama turns up and kills the master (who was his ex-master). Yu now swears revenge but before he can leave Shaolin he has to learn the Buddhist Finger technique, the only style that can defeat the Lama Chief.”

Asian-Film-Ringu12) Ringu (The Ring)

Yet another film that sadly most people here in North America associate with the vastly inferior english version. In this original version, you crap your pants not because of jumping out at you and yelling “BOO!”, but rather because of sickeningly tense atmosphere. Far superior to the American version. FROM YAHOO MOVIES: “A strange video begins to circulate among high school teenagers. When you watch the tape, a ghostly figure appears, points her finger at you, and then the phone will ring, signalling your death in one week. When her niece is killed in a car accident, reporter Reiko Asakawa begins an investigation that leads to her own viewing of the tape. Knowing she has only a week left to live, Reiko enlists the aid of her ex-husband in tracking down the origin of the fatal videotape.”

SOME OTHER NOTABLES TO GET YOU GOING:

– Infernal Affairs 2 (Some think it’s even better than the first one)
– Audition
– Old Boy
– Lady Vengeance
– Police Story
– Hard Boiled
– Expect the Unexpected

So there you go. If you’ve got a regular movie night, I suggest using your next one to grab a couple of these flicks, but be warned, you might get a bit addicted to them. And remember, I’m not some Asian Film guru or elitist, I’m a Hollywood film fan, and I love all the films listed above. Check them out.

WHEN COMMENTING, PLEASE REMEMBER I’M NOT LISTING THE GREATEST ASIAN FILMS OF ALL TIME HERE. I’M LISTING WHAT I THINK CURRENT NON-FANS OF ASIAN FILM MAY ENJOY AS A STARTING POINT TO GET INTO ASIAN FILM.

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140 thoughts on “12 Asian Films To Get You Started

  1. This is a great list. One movie I would strongly recommend in addition is Robo-Geisha. It is a ridiculous movie that stands as the definition of so bad it’s awesome

  2. 2 more movies i think should be on this list are ICHI and Blood:The Last Vampire. They are very good movies that i quite enjoyed. They both are samurai movies with women samurai being the main characters and have very great plots. I most definetly recommend these 2, to be watched.

  3. Just wanted to throw in “Returner” – GREAT “Matrix” like flick. Basic story is about a girl who comes back from a future where we (*earth) are getting out butts handed to us by some aliens. She has this wrist watch thingy that slows time – thus the “Matrix” type action. GREAT special effects. Pretty cool story. 5 out of 5 stars!

  4. I thought “Silk” was a really nicely done horror movie. I disagree with the comments regarding The Ring being inferior to Ringu. The Ring was the last great horror remake, in my opinion.

    Another thing regarding those arguing Ong Bak’s validity in the list: not all audiences are “movie buffs.” while many of us choose to connect to films on a cognitive level more than aesthetics, the mainstream moviegoer does not, hence the success of movies like Scary Movie, Paul Blart, Alien VS Predator, etc. The mainstream audience also doesn’t normally go out and rent older movies. In a time when CGI and wire effects dominate action sequences, Tony Jaa impresses any martial arts fan ith his ability. He is the new generation of Jackie chan and Bruce lee, in that he forgoes film tricks. I, for one, enjoyed that movie, on the same level that I enjoy all martial arts films. It’s mindless action, that is much like a snickers bar: easy, enjoyable, and quick. No one discusses the subtle nuances of the caramel interacting with the nougat and peanuts. You just eat it. That being said, drunken master is a better pair of movies. I would also list Azumi and Skyhigh as being good introductions to Asian cinema, along with the oldboy trilogy, any Kurosawa film, shutter, and a tale of two sisters.

  5. I’m not “Johnny Asian Cinema” but the one film that made me fall in love with it is ‘Once Upon A Time in China.’ Gotta have a Tsui Hark film SOMEWHERE on this list!

  6. Ju-On is much scarier than The Grudge. The only Hollywood horror movie I enjoyed was Drag Me To Hell. The Grudge and The Ring not so much, even though they were adapted by Ju-On and Ringu… I also enjoyed Infernal Affairs much more than the adapted version: The Departed.

  7. Tae Guk Gi! I cried when I watched it. Then when it was done, I went to my room and cried for about 15 minutes more.

    Maybe not one of the best, but very widely known and a good date movie is My Sassy Girl.

  8. KUNG FU HUSTLE is a must watch! amazing skills of film making, very subtle yet mindblowing!

    Ju-on is also a winner, altho the sequel wasn’t too captivating!

    I need to watch Warlords, 7samurais, 3emperors now :P

    nice post, nice list!

  9. What the hell is On Bak doing there?! Worst of it all is that its in front of Oldboy! =)
    Either then that. they really are amazing filmes, in fact it was Ju On and Battle Royale that “introduce” me to asian cinema, after that…well, lets just say i could make a 100 movies to make you see Asian movies :P
    ( Infernal Affairs being my favorite )

  10. Hey there. I caught some of the American remakes, such as The Eye and The Grudge, but I would so have included Old Boy, Audition, and the Thai version of Shutter on this list. The IFC channel has recently started playing some of these films and I find myself in awe watching them. I definitely wrote some of these down to check em out sometime in the near future. I have Battle Royal at home, but not had the chance to watch it. I’ve added A Tale of Two Sisters and Ikiru on my must watch list. Thanks.

  11. I know it’s an anime… but Ninja Scroll is the ultimate anime that I think someone even curious about asian cinema would love.

    Props to listing Battle Royale as well as Audition as an afterthought. Although I always tell people you have to be really, REALLY patient when you watch Audition and just see the whole thing thru… but the quietness (I dunno how else to describe it) and I guess almost boredom of a lot of the movie makes the creepy parts that much weirder.

  12. may I suggest some of my favorite Indian ( bollywood) films- Taare Zameen par, Lagaan, Black, Sholay, Rang de Basanti, Amar Akbar Anthony, Mera Naam Joker, Guide, Bobby.

  13. now i haven’t watched all asian films but this list lost all it’s credibility when it failed to include Ichi the killer! also.. where is oldboy and survive style 5+??

    1. I have to agree, Survive Style 5+ is my personal favorite asian film.

      Oldboy is definitely a good’n as well.

      I also liked Ju-On 2 more than 1 *shrug*

  14. I CANT BELIEVE you’d forget the loveliness that is KUNG FU HUSTLE!

    Most of the titles you picked had pretty intense cultural differences,
    and no COME DRINK WITH ME and CHUNGKING EXPRESS?

    FOORR SHAME :)

    I agree with a few previous posters.
    Crouching tiger hidden dragon should DEF be in the mix,
    and ummmm,

    OH OH.
    and THRONE OF BLOOD by Kirosawa
    you should certainly have that one in there seeing as its basically a retelling of macbeth,

    I think that was by far one of his best, most unappreciated movies

    And THE GIRL WHO LEPT THROUGH TIME?
    Even though it was animated, I LOVED that one, simply driven plot, but lovely storytelling

    but sir, if anything you should correct your list with Come Drink With Me. That is by far the best asian film I’ve seen in a very long time

  15. “A Tale of Two Sisters” is an out and out masterpiece.

    “One Missed Call” is excellent, especially the super-scary last half hour. The American version sucks.

    “Ring” is wildly creepy, the American version is just OK.

    The American version of “The EYE” left out the creepiest scene, the “hungry ghosts” in the restaurant, and changed the original, brilliant last sequence with a sappy “redemptive” ending.

    If you can attune yourself to the slow pacing, Kurosawa’s “Kagemusha” and especially “Ran” are the most visually beautiful movies ever made.

  16. Definitely, the Asian cinematography is advancing. First of all I am thinking about Japanese and South Korean horror movies. They are quite different in approach from western horror movies.

  17. I’m surprised you didn’t list Crouching Tiger. Is that because you think most people have seen that asian film anyways?

    House of Flying Daggers is a pretty good one too.

    I really enjoyed Shall We Dance as well.

  18. Hard Boiled probably should be on there, as it is easily the most watchable and most fun of John Woo’s flicks. But I can’t agree with The Killer, it’s too melodramatic and downright silly in its seriousness.

  19. Aznkingy, another Chinese movie came to mind that somewhat fits your plot description, but I don’t think the sisters were assassins. The movie I’m thinking about is “So close” with Shu Qi, Zhao Wei, and Karen Mok as the cop.

  20. Aznkingy, regarding your comment on June 30, 2008, would the movie you’re asking about possibly be “Naked Weapon” with Maggie Q? Not sure your plot description matches the plot of “Naked Weapon” exactly.

  21. no love for Wong Kar-Wai?

    WHAT THE FUCK?

    just about every movie that guy made during the 90s is awesome. Fallen Angels would even make my “greatest movies ever” top 10.

    and no Takashi Miike? Ji-woon Kim?

    btw: Battle Royale is heavily overrated. for an instance, Violent Cop is a much better movie.

  22. Audition…show it to your friends, and see how many stay in the room as it goes. I had a little experiment with a group of my college friends, and as the film went on, one person left because it was slow, but as soon as the acupuncture scene started, all but two left at one time. Those two today are my bestest buddies… Good shit…

  23. (Type your comment here. Make sure you’ve read the commenting rules before doing so)
    I`m a Chinese. I think the list should include Election ,and Sad City,

  24. Sorry, but I hated ‘The Grudge’. Buffy may have scored with a popular movie and paycheck, but I did not like it. It wasn’t scary. The concept was good but the ‘delivery’ lacked.

  25. Thanks for the list. But I would add, “Hang the Red Latern”, “The Scent of Green Papaya”, and several more whose titles I can’t remember right now.

  26. What about Enter the Dragon? That was a great movie. Maybe not all the martial arts were real but still brilliant.
    Plus, it was Bruce Lee’s last movie before he died, you should have put it on in memory of him.

  27. “The only thing I can say about Ong Bak is that you’ve probably never seen anything like it before”

    I saw them when they were called Jackie Chan movies (his good Hong Kong movies) and they were far more original than this rip-off piece of shit.

  28. If you want something a little less wierd, you can go with my fav movie, Koma. Angelica Lee is awesome and Karen Lam is so freaky! Its one movie that i have been able to share with people who arent into the more hardcore wierd stuff. I also like Inner Senses as a more tame one.

  29. No Wong Kar Wai? Takashi Miike? Yasujiro Ozu? Kiyoshi Kurosawa? Takeshi Kitano?

    All good movies, undoubtedly. A nice list, but a little heavy on the pop-horror no? Never really was my thing.

    I absolutely love Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (Kairo) – part horror, part teen movie, part apocalyptic film, part tech-thriller, part minimal drama. An amazing mix, loved it.

    http://staticfix.blogspot.com

  30. Some more Asian horror..

    Suicide Club- (Jisatsu saakuru) -2002 Intriguing and truly warped film about a mammoth outbreak of suicides. It has some fantastic ideas, not all of which are spelled out for you. A lot of scenes are quite unnerving too.

    Evil Dead Trap-(Shiryo no wana)-1988 Another warped film, this one about a group of reporters who decide to search the abandoned site seen in a snuff film that was sent to their station. The film seems like a combo of both Asian and Eurohorror. The score is outstanding, and their is some striking imagery. The film is quite brutal too.

    Cure-1997 Another – winner from Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the director of Kairo. The mystery that takes center stage in this film is dark and thoroughly engrossing, a true joy to follow. The mood created is uncanny, and the slow, methodical pace works perfectly for the story at hand.

    Gozu-2003- A fascinating, surreal piece of work with loads of symbolism and hidden meanings. It definitely leaves you thinking, and is always a joy to discuss. I discover something new with each viewing, and the film offers me endless enjoyment.

  31. A few other noteworthy mentions. Suicide Circle, Audition, Ichi The Killer, Three… Extremes, Versus, Death Trance, Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky, Oldboy, Fighter In The Wind, DOA, Seven Samurai, Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle, Tetsuo Iron Man, and Casshern. And if you want to see some of the weirdest shit ever try Visitor Q or The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai.

  32. hi!

    you might also want to check out some good filipino movies. these are just a few that i could really remember

    for horror/suspense, i would suggest SUKOB, FENG SHUI, OIUJA and SIGAW.

    for drama, check out MAGNIFICO, ABAKADA INA, DEATHROW, PLONING, MURO AMI, MANO PO (part 1), BATA BATA, PAANO KA GINAWA?, KUBRADOR

    history/epic – RIZAL (cesar montano in the lead title). for those who are not so familiar with Noli me Tangere might get lost a bit. But overall, one of the best filipino films ever made. BAYANING THIRD WORLD is also good (more likely same with rizal in a different perspective)

    some feel good romatic and comedy – TANGING INA, MANAY PO OVERLOAD, MOMENTS OF LOVE (almost same story as lakehouse), WANTED PERFECT MOTHER.

    1. A note to Westerners: Filipino horror movies, because of horrible visual and sound effects and mediocre editing, are usually funny, not scary. Even the ones that weren’t meant to be funny tend to become funny because production budget is usually mostly the star cast’s salary, with only pennies left for effects. So, since the effects look stupid and unrealistic, the actors look dumb acting with them.
      Not only do Philippine horror flicks look laughable due to bad effects; even superhero movies look absolutely absurd. Take Captain Barbell for instance: half the time he doesn’t look where he’s goin’ to look intense, AND he unwittingly flies backwards! Check out:
      http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7smx2_extrait-video-de-captain-barbell_shortfilms

  33. This is as pretty good list, and a pretty fun one, to boot. I was very, very pleased to see you recommend Ikiru. “Deep”, emotionally moving, yet very accessible to modern audiences. Infernal Affairs simply was one of the best movie-watching experiences of my life. Viewers would do well to try your recommendations.

  34. I totally agree with “Tale of Two Sisters” that was a very chilling film.

    I would also add to that list a casual Japanese film that I saw recently entitled “A Stranger of Mine” which has a Pulp Fiction sort of fractured yet consistent storyline without the violence and cursing.

    Also:
    “The Road Home” which is the first film by Zyi Zhang (known for her role in Memoirs of a Geisha by most Americans)

    “Enter the Dragon” Bruce Lee – It seems obvious but these films are far too often overlooked. It clearly inspired the film interpretation (and overall concept of the video game) for Mortal Kombat

    I’d also get “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow” which is a great start-off point for Jackie Chan.

    Korean cinema rides both Horror and sappy love TV dramas, so I think your choice of “A Tale of Two Sisters” is ideal for the better half of Korean Cinema.

    Bollywood horror films are not as numerous as they could be, but if you can put up with the dance breaks they can be very entertaining.

    Thai cinema’s contribution to the list could also add “Iron Ladies” and even “Beautiful Boxer” both of which are true stories and they carry similar themes but it does have a good peek into the culture of Thailand as well as the fantastical side of the stories.

  35. Diana is right, let’s not forget Korea either! Korean movie industry is booming, and at the forefront is Tae Guk Gi which is quite an epic war movie (I’d rate it far higher than Saving Private Ryan, or pretty much any war movie to come out in the last 20 years)

  36. 1) “Asian” is not a genre

    2) There are more countries in Asia making films than China and Japan (India anyone?)

    3) Even in China and Japan, there are more genres of film made than horror and action (but maybe you consider them “subgenres” under the umbrella subject of “Asian”).

    It seems to me that you’re exposing your readers to nothing more than your own limitations as well as reinforcing already flagrant stereotypes. Why don’t you just stick to “Star Wars”?

  37. some of my favorite Asian Horror Flicks worth checkin out!!

    The audition —-Japan
    Alone——Korea
    Body#19—–Thailand
    Marebito—–Japan
    To sir, with love—-Korea
    Premonition—-Japan
    Three—–this is 3 stories by Korea,Thailand, and HK directors(the first and the last, very scary)

  38. Interesting list…I actually haven’t seen most of them, but then I kind of have a preference for the classics. Why did you choose to make them more recent films – did you feel this would be a better segue into Asian cinema for people who grew up watching only Hollywood movies?

    As for Ikiru, I wasn’t crazy about it when I saw it five years ago, mostly because I thought the funeral scene stopped the movie in its tracks. But it’s been half a decade and a lot of water under the bridge (in terms of additional films seen, changes of opinion undergone) and it’s definitely time to revisit it.

    Incidentally, I’m planning to start a blog in the next day or two and your tips were great to read. It will probably be called “Observations on the Movies” – a not-too-original (and probably already taken) moniker but then yours is called The Movie Blog so… It will probably consist of daily posts detailing my reactions to some recently viewed movie or movies, not so much movie news which doesn’t really interest me. I’ll also avoid sticking to “one thing” – though I have a preference for older movies it’s time to come out of my shell and I hope to be dealing with a lot of new releases as well. Hollywood, European, Asian, independent (really independent not fancy studio pseudonyms), way off the beaten path (if I can find it now that I’m not living in New York anymore…), hopefully all will be embraced or at least confronted in the days to come.

    Keep up the good work (and I guess I’ll post the new blog here when I finally get it up and running). And thanks for the advice.

    (Oh, and to bring it around to this article again, why Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance over Oldboy? Because it was first? I think the latter – which is one of the few recent Asian films I HAVE seen – is probably more widely viewed and remembered. But then again the sight of (SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS) a man enduring fifteen years of tortue, eating an octopus live and boning his daughter only to discover she’s his daughter, then getting his memory erased so he can keep right on boning her…all that might turn the casual viewer off of Asian films forever, I suppose (though some of the other films you mention are equally horrifying, or so I’ve heard).

  39. (Type your comment here. Make sure you’ve read the commenting rules before doing so) What about “The One” or “Enter the Dragon”?! The were they’re great. How could you put on some i’ve never heard of and not these kung fu legends? (maybe The One isn’t as well known as Enter the Dragon but it’s still fucking awsome!!)

  40. It is all Hong Kong, Japan and China, and a little Thai maybe. Last I looked, Asia was a pretty big continent with a lot of other countries – India (ahem…the most prolific movie industry in the world, in fact), Iran.

    You should catch Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali to see poetry on film and a hindi film called4 Dor. Granted they are not typical Indian movies, but they are representative of the possibilities.

  41. For Horror, I would recommend: The Eye / Shutter / Ju-On / Ringu (each comparable).

    For Comedy Drama, I would recommend: My Sassy Girl. I watched this movie so many times, and the fact that is being remade into many versions tell you how good this is.

    Hero is real beautiful movie as stated above.

  42. does anyone know that movie with the two assassin sisters? where one gets killed.. the other gets revenge with help from that leading lady cop…i cant think of the title
    love that movie though
    please help me out

  43. I enjoyed Battle Royal but I was not blown away or kept on the edge of my seat. It is definitely better than the second one which I couldn’t finish watching.

  44. Just wanted to throw in “Returner” – GREAT “Matrix” like flick. Basic story is about a girl who comes back from a future where we (*earth) are getting out butts handed to us by some aliens. She has this wrist watch thingy that slows time – thus the “Matrix” type action. GREAT special effects. Pretty cool story. 5 out of 5 stars!

  45. I honestly have to say Sympathy for Mr. Vengence was a horrible movie imo. Whereas OLDBOY is probably in my top 5 of all time. Go figure.

  46. How can you mention Hong Kong cinema and not mention The Once Upon A Time in China films with Jet Li?
    Others:
    Eat, Drink, Man Woman
    Kikujiru
    Master Killer with Gordon Liu
    5 Deadly Venoms
    Tampopo (very funny)
    God of Gamblers
    Royal Tramp with Stephen Chow
    Police Story
    Storm Riders (I think this is a very influential film, since it started the Special Effects Marital Arts genre that surface in the late 90’s into the 2000’s.) A slew of big budget CGI laden movies came after it.

    1. Don’t forget Stephen Chow’s ultra-silly and damn funny Chinese food culture movie The God of Cookery. This may have inspired the tv show Iron Chef!

  47. I’m so glad someone mentioned My Sassy Girl, one of the best movies I’ve ever seen even though I usually hate romcoms!

    So John, hows it going with the asian movies, it was half a year ago since you posted this.

  48. If you enjoyed Battle Royale even half as much as I had, than you will definately find this Thai film entertaining. It has a variety of different titles across the globe but is commonly known as 13 Beloved. I definately think you’ll appreciate this one, though not nearly as genius as Battle Royale, it’s definately worthy of your attention.

  49. Thanks for the list, I’ll be looking them up when I get the chance.

    FilmSuggestions.com is a free online service that allows you to catalog your favorite movies. It’s built for exactly this purpose – to tell everyone which movies you think are the best. Movies can be tagged with keywords and you can filter by tag, actor and director.

  50. Thank god “shadopup” mentioned the movies of Zhang YiMou! I love when people start discussing “Asian” films and then the only ones that get mentioned are almost always a horror or samurai film. Zhang YiMou is probably one of my favorite film makers of all time. To Live, Raise the Red Lantern, and The Way Home should be watched by EVERY movie lover and film analyst at least once in their lives! If you’ve never experienced this man’s work or any Chinese film take a look. What that man did with the government’s restrictions on film content and subject are amazing!

  51. Zatoichi reminded me of playing samurai showdown lol awesome movie and people who dont like asian movies would like it for sure

  52. Just to add a little variety to this list. Most of the movies mentioned so far are great but seem to lean towards action/martial arts or japanese horror (except the Wong Kar Wai picks). Can anyone recommend any Japanese movies that aren’t action oriented or of the horror genre?

    Here are some non action/martial arts films.

    Romantic Comedies

    “Needing You” (Hong Kong) directed by Johnny To starring Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng. Two of HK’s biggest stars. The workplace is the setting for this at first unlikely romance.

    “My Sassy Girl” (South Korea) directed by Kwak Jae Young starring Cha Tae Hyun and Jun Ji Hyun is perhaps most popular romcom in all of asia and for good reason there are tons of laughs and some very touching dramatic moments. The leads are both excellent.

    “Waiting Alone” A Chinese Romcom set in Beijing with a much more modern setting I’d recommend. Granted this is probably not easy to get in North America and probably unknown to most.

    Historical Drama

    You might want to look up some mainland China films starring Gong Li like “To Live” and “Raise the Red Lantern” (both directed by Zhang YiMou)and Fairwell My Concubine (directed by Chen KaiGe) which are historical/period pieces.

    Also check out Zhang Ziyi’s very first film “The Road Home.” This one isn’t historical but is a sweet, simple love story set in the past with a very innocent looking Zhang ZiYi. It’s in total contrast to most of her later roles in which she plays total biatchs.

    Contemporary Drama

    “Beijing Bicycle” is a surprisingly intense and compelling film considering the premise of a boy’s bike being stolen sounds like a surefire recipe for boredom (but it’s not).

    And pretty much anything by…

    China’s big three directors: Zhang YiMou, Chen KaiGe and Feng XiaoGang (most of their stuff is quality, emphasis on most)

  53. If your looking for something to keep delving into the bright points of Asian Cinema, then you might want to look at

    15: The Movie
    Fulltime Killer
    Hong Kong History X
    Killzone
    Shoalin Soccer
    Suicide Club
    Kung Fu Hustle
    Wasabi (It’s technically a French film, but it’s set in Japan)
    and Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

  54. I have to agree that OLDBOY is the greatest asian film ever made. I never appreciated or understand the asian genre until I saw OLDBOY and it is now one of my top 5 favorite films of all time. Sympathy for Mr Vengeance is equally impressive, Lady Vengeance the last in the series not so much.

  55. Some of my favorite Asian films:
    Anything by Akira Kurosawa (mainly Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Ikiru)
    Police Story (1 and 2, Jackie Chan at his very peak)
    Gojira (The original Godzilla is just plain brilliant)
    3-Iron (Kim Ki-duk is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today)
    Absolutely anything by Wong Kar-Wai (Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, Days of Being Wild, etc.)
    Some other Jackie Chan films, such as Project A, Crime Story, Drunken Master (1 and 2), Meals on Wheels, Miracles, Who Am I?, and many more. His newer stuff isn’t as crazy, but it also has merits. Rob-B-Hood was an extremely fun movie, and we got to see Jackie playing an atypical role.
    Fist of Legend
    The Once Upon a Time in China trilogy (FoL and OUatiC are the only Jet Li projects I ever got really into, although he is extremely talented)
    All early John Woo is perfect, especially A Better Tomorrow, the Killer, and Hard Boiled.

    I don’t go out for wire-fu or Tony Jaa all that much. (Although I loved House of Flying Daggers, and The Protector is a decent movie) I also don’t really go in for Japanese horror, but I understand why it’s popular. I also suggest a film called KillZone. It has Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen, so there’s some great action scenes. Asian cinema is, for me, the best in the world right now, and should definitely be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

  56. I would recommend
    Blood Rain, Friend, Memories of a Murder, Time & Tide, Failan, Oldboy, I loved Bittersweet Life, and kinda in the same group is “Shutter” a very scary Thai movie, oh yah, Tae Guk Gi is my favorite war movie… I absolute love Asian cinema (Korean especially)

    Really looking forward to Dog Bite Dog

  57. After it was mentioned in Kill Bil Volume 2, I watched Shogun Assassin with a friend who owns a ton of Asian flicks. Loved it. After The Departed, I really need to see Infernal Affairs.

  58. i think suicide club is just awesome for what the japanese pop culture can do !!!!!

    suicide club!
    suicide club!
    suicide club!

  59. Fist of Legends is my favorite Jet Li film of all time … I have all his dvds in my collection.

    You picked some good movies

    – A Tale of Two Sisters, Hero, Sympathy for Mr. Vengence, etc.

    Great List.

    1. This blog forgets to mention that Fist of Legend is Jet Li’s somewhat different but remarkable remake of Bruce Lee’s “The Chinese Connection” (American release) / “Fists of Fury” (Asian release). Jet Li’s remake held more water as far as storyline and historical context, and included very varied fight scenes (one vs many, group vs group, 1:1 duel, even belt vs katana sword).

  60. So Close…that thing is amazing. Zhao Wei, Karen Mok, and Shu Qi kicking ass and taking names. As much as I love Crouching Tiger, Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, So Close is the one I’ll watch 756 times in a row.

    Check it out!

  61. For almost 2 years John and I were roomates and I was exposed to Shaolin vs Lama. It still ranks as one of the best KungFu flicks ever for me.

    And the line “If you beat me, you will be my master and you can beat me with this staff for my insolence” was the inspiration for a random unmarked 6ft wooden dowel that stood in the corner of our living room that we dubbed the Staff of Insolence.

    If someone asked “What’s with the stick” we would make them watch Shaolin vs Lama (or at least tell them about that scene)

    True Story.

  62. Woah, woah, woah. No Killer, no Shaolin Soccer, no Kung Fu Hustle, no Fulltime Killer, no Avalon (yes, it’s in Polish but it was funded in Japan and made by a Japanese director in a style that is UNMISTAKEABLY Japanese) no Hana-Bi, no Survive Style 5+?

    I won’t even mention the anime films you’ve missed…

    Admittedly you do have a good mix of films there, some I wouldn’t have picked (Ringu, and Hero for instance), but a lot of real classics.

    Still….no Shaolin Soccer? I mean seriously, that’s one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen…..dubbed of subbed….heck I’d watch it in Estonian and it would probably still be funny.

  63. Some other asian films worth mentioning:

    Tagukgi: Brotherhood of War – Its been called the Korean equivalent to Saving Private Ryan. IMO, I think Taegukgi had a more emotional punch. This is one of the few films I tear up.

    Shaolin Soccer – A Stephen Chow’s film with his blend of martial arts comedy. It had me laughing out loud so many times. Stay away from the dubbed/cut version.

    Flash Point – A crime film with Donnie Yen’s ground breaking fight choreography. My jaw immediately drop to the floor when I saw the last fight scene. An absolute must see for martial arts fan.

    Seven Samurai – Best samurai movie ever made. A masterpiece.

    Basically any John Woo’s heroic bloodshed films…Bullet in the Head is worth mentioning. Some great action but also some heartbreaking moments.

    Drunken Master – My favorite old school Kung Fu films. Jackie Chan plays the goofy troublemaker with great comedic timing…his slap stick humor is excellent.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg….There is so many Asian films I’m probably forgetting.

  64. Great list John, Im happy and surprised the Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is one there almost as good as Oldboy. Also Casshern was a visual masterpiece (story….meh). Where’s some of the old school classics….Fearless Hyena and 36th Chamber of Shaolin.

    Few additions: Iron Monkey, 12 Diagram Pole Fighter, The Great Yokai War, Gozu (fricken WEIRD), Dragon Tiger Gate, Dragon Inn, and some others I cant remember.

    Overall good job, yall should make an anime list like this….props

  65. I will check some of these out. I netflixed Old Boy, and I loved it. I liked the Host, too. If they made an American version of Old Boy, Hollywood would probably make a hash of it, starting with miscasting the protagonist. The actor who played Old Boy was outstanding. I am too lazy to look him up.

    The Eye seems like a must see.

  66. Nice list.

    I saw Ikiru on cable last year, and it was VERY good!

    There are others I have interest in (Ong Bak, Infernal Affairs, Seven Samurai), but the one that is really hard to find is Battle Royale. The other big problem with finding these films is the prices!

    Anyways, I highly recommend watching Fritz Lang’s M
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022100/
    Really great thriller that puts today’s films to shame!

  67. Glad someone mentioned ‘Exiled’ (Fong Juk) .. was awesome! ..

    as for Asian films .. surely Bollywood would fall under Asian and I can’t see even one … tut tut :-P

    Well I’ll throw in a couple: Rang De Basanti (Paint It Yellow), Dil Se.. (From the Heart), & firring with the Japanese style action flicks: Don (the 2006 version)

  68. Most of us who got into asian films hard core back in the day got into ’em via John Woo. I’m surprised not to see Hardboiled or The Killer on that list (OK, Hardboiled squeaked into the bottom there, but it may just bet the best damn action flick ever put out in Asia!). Both of these key John Woo films have aged remarkably well.

    Nice mention of A Tale of Two Sisters it is a darn near perfect film all around. My absolute favorite horror film from Asia is Fruit Chan’s “DUMPLINGS” – It’s a bona fide masterpiece.

    Also like to tip my hat to Johnny To’s “EXILED” which is a chinese triad film by way of a Spaghetti Western. It’s unbelievably good. His two “Election” are bloody awesome too.

    Further more Kim Ki Duk’s 3-Iron is a sublime little wonder.

    Jackie Chan’s Snake in Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master II spring to mind as essential.

    BongJoon-ho’s Memories of Murder and Im Sang-soo’s The President’s Last Bang and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe are all essential too.

    Yea ,I could go on forever with this one, but all the ones you mentioned are pretty above are a pretty good starting point.

  69. Joe H:

    John did include a Johnnie To (Expect the Unexpected), that was a great fucking movie. But my favorite from Johnnie To is “Throwdown”, a tribute to Akira Kurosawa.

  70. It would be fun to see a American remake of Old Boy where they would follow the original story 100%.
    I would love to see the peoples reaction.

    1. Yeah, Akira’s an old but incredibly, painstakingly made technical achievement in Japanese animation! While we’re on the subject of animated Asian movies, you gotta see Ninja Scroll, Ghost In The Shell, and Sword of the Stranger (go for the full-length movie version, not the tv-series spin-offs!). All other animated films would pale in comparison.

  71. I find it funny that you mention Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance but no mention of Oldboy. Overall good list though I would’ve thrown in another Kurosawa (I love Rashomon and Yojimbo).

  72. The lack of Kar Wai Wong (Particularly Cungking Express), Stephen Chow (Kung Fu hustle), and Johnny To (Breaking News is all I’ve seen, but damn) is unsettling. Good going on Chan Wook-Park and Hard Boiled though.

  73. Here are some non-Kurosawa Japanese films that are absolute MUSTS!

    The Twilight Samurai
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0351817
    Made in 2002, it should have a much wider appeal to casual movie fans who have trouble getting into Kurosawa’s samurai films like Yojimbo and Seven Samurai. If I could recommend The Movie Blog readers ONE modern day Japanese film, this would be it. John, I know we don’t agree on much, but check this one out. You won’t be disappointed.

    The Hidden Blade
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0442286/
    Directed by the same fellow that made The Twilight Samurai, the ending to this has one of the most subtle, brilliant, beautiful, REALISTIC sword fights I’ve ever seen. Just a gorgeous film.

    When the Last Sword is Drawn
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0359692/
    Probably a little tougher and more confusing then the two films above, but still an astonishing piece of filmmaking.

    The Samurai Trilogy
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047444/
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048579/
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049710/
    Made in the 1950s (but still in color for you B&W wary folks), the trilogy, directed by Hiroshi Inagaki, stars the legendary Toshirô Mifune and these hold up to the very best of Kurosawa’s work.

    Check ’em out, folks. You won’t be disappointed.

  74. Hey John, very nice list!

    Ikiru is a great film and one that, perhaps, will change the way the viewer approaches their life. I can’t recommend it enough.

    Akira Kurosawa is easily on the list of the greatest directors ever. While The Seven Samurai is the classic everyone knows, it’s only one part of his great career in storytelling.

    Another fine drama, for those looking for stories outside of the gunplay and monster genres, is Yasujiro Ozu’s Floating Weeds, which is on a nice Criterion dvd with commentary by Roger Ebert. Check it out!

  75. “as a casual Asian film fan who is also just in the process of developing my understanding for the genre”

    Err… “Asian” is not a genre.

    1. Actually asian is a genre when refered to as a film style there is a distinct style in the asian making of a film therefore allowing it the genre classification. I dont see how this seems demeaning to you (or so youseem to be hinting in your comment)

      To say the asian film genre is not insulting racial or degrading it is merely educational in the way the horror genre denotes horror so to does asian in its different approache towards filmmaking. of course under the asian genre there are the common subs eg horror comedy matial arts etc. But make no mistake asian film is different enough in its style to be denoted a genre

  76. Some I would include that you missed out.

    2046 – Although I didn’t care at all for it’s predecessor, In The Mood For Love, I somehow LOVED this one. Some of the most gorgeous cinematography ever put on film, amazing performances, a great storyline (if hard to follow at times) and a fantastic musical score. It’s a bit artsy and I wouldn’t recommend it being one of someone’s first Asian films but once you have dove into the deep end I would highly recommend this one.

    Audtion – Go and watch this film without hearing what anyone has to say about it. Don’t read ANYTHING about it and most importantly DON’T SEARCH FOR ANY PICTURES. That’s all I’ll say – go rent Audition.

    Ichi the Killer – A crazily violent film that I admit won’t be for everyone. It WOULD be disgusting and offensive if it weren’t so over the top. From the same director as Audtion although at the opposite end of the spectrum.

    A Bitterweet Life – Quite similar to Oldboy in many ways only with a lot more punch to it (gunplay in particular). Although ultimately inferior to said film it still is MORE than worth a look.

    Three…Extremes – Now this is about as far away from a film that will be liked by general audiences as you can get. Seriously…brace yourself before watching this one. It consists of three short films – Dumplings (dir. Fruit Chan), Cut (dir. Chan-wook Park) and Box (dir. Takashi Miike). I am still shuddering at the thought of the first short film to this very day.

  77. While that’s a good list, I probably would have ranked Hard Boiled higher (or even The Killer, which seems to be absent)

    However, the is one film you didn’t list that I reccomend to anyone and everyone.

    Shiri

    1. Great list. The only real change is I would definitely have put “Oldboy” in place of “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” or maybe just included the director’s entire trilogy as one entry.

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