It is incredible how many movies of all kinds are produced by Eastern cinema every year.
A catalog spans every genre of preference, from action to horror, from crime thriller to psychological drama.
Unfortunately, it is equally incredible how much the sizeable Western distribution snubs most of these movies.
Indeed, there is no desire to overshadow the blockbusters of European or Hollywood cinema, but perhaps it is not just that.
If the general public discovered other ways of making movies, many Western screenwriters and directors might have to change jobs.
But you do not have to take my words for granted, so I will now tell you about some titles you can judge with your own eyes, according to your instincts.
So let’s cut to the chase and get into these blessed eastern movies.
Table of contents
The taking of Tiger Mountain (2014)
by Tsui Hark
Here the Hong Kong director recounts a real-life war episode in the mid-1940s in the mountains of Manchuria.
To secure the passage of soldiers into the impassable area in the northeast, the Communist Army must capture a fortified outpost on the so-called Tiger Mountain.
But the whole region is infested with a gang of criminals as picturesque as they are bloodthirsty, at whose command is a madman called Lord Hawk.
The command entrusts the mission to select men with various individual skills who form a special assault group, Unit 203.
Starting from an abandoned warehouse in the middle of nowhere, they struggle up the mountains until they become stranded in a small village.
For years the inhabitants have been suffering abuse from the criminals of Tiger Mountain, but things are finally about to change.
Indeed, Unit 203 has a spy mole who will help them overcome the gloomy defenses of Lord Hawk’s stronghold.
But the soldiers’ mere valor will not be enough, so they will be joined by the village civilians, who will prove to be anything but helpless.
Tsui Hark partly abandons the visionary fantasy style that made him one of the kings of the wuxia genre.
However, the director chooses not to launch into absolute realism, staying true to his fun and spectacular action style.
Within these intricately choreographed shoot-outs and fights, there is no shortage of small moments of naiveté and drama to break up the dance of carnage.
This is one of the best Eastern movies to start with, which is both historical and entertaining in a remarkable display of stunt performers and special effects.
Drug War (2012)
by Johnnie To
Let us now turn to one of the best contemporary directors who rarely makes it to mainstream cinema and whom mainly only fans of eastern movies know.
We are talking about Johnnie To, another Hong Kong master who specializes in making magnificent high-tension crime thrillers.
Drug War is one of his few movies that made it to some cinemas in the West, although it grossed a disappointing sum of just over $20 million.
The story begins with a daring chase through the streets of Tianjin, ending with a car smashing through a storefront window.
When police pull the driver out of the wreckage, they realize they have one of the region’s largest methamphetamine producers on their hands.
Chinese law is ironclad, providing for an inevitable death sentence.
However, the captain of the drug squad offers him a chance to survive if he agrees to get wired and frame his bosses.
The opportunity is perfect, almost unrepeatable, as a big deal between two drug cartels concludes within three days.
Although the trafficker seems to be playing along, he will do everything he can to slip away as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
Very soon, however, the situation escalates, and the operation ends up in a bloody war on the city’s streets.
Johnnie To signs one of the best thrillers of recent years, also seasoning the recipe with numerous action scenes.
From the former, he takes the specialization in the crime genre, while in the latter, he recalls mainly the style of some long and elaborate sequence plans.
What else to say then but to experience his movies for yourself? You will hardly be disappointed, I guarantee.
I Saw the Devil (2010)
by Jee-woon Kim
We move to South Korea for a movie by Jee-woon Kim, an eastern director who has arrived in the second millennium but already has an excellent filmography.
His talent significantly enhances the horror-thriller genre, such as Two Sisters or this hallucinating I Saw the Devil.
It begins with the crimes of a maniac that the authorities fail to uncover, being an ordinary bus driver who goes unnoticed.
But things turn for the worse for him when he kills the wife of a young Secret Service agent.
At the sight of the woman’s mutilated corpse, the man doesn’t rest and starts scouring the seedier neighborhoods to find him.
After fruitlessly slaughtering the worst criminals on the suspect list, he finally discovers the serial killer’s identity and captures him.
At that point, he surprisingly decides not to kill him, preferring to beat him to a pulp and then chase him again, reducing him almost to death each time to make him live in constant terror.
But this sick game obviously cannot go on forever, and the killer will also have his revenge on the avenger in the worst possible way.
The torture and revenge strand already had illustrious exponents such as the numerous Death Wish up to horror films like I Spit on Your Grave or The Last House on the Left.
However, Jee-woon Kim succeeds in carving out his own space with I Saw the Devil, transforming the avenger into the insane and bloodthirsty monster he hunts.
Revenge never brings anything good to individual men and even less to society, being a primal instinct far removed from genuine justice.
These concepts are far from Western cinema, which simply likes to divide into good guys and bad guys without ever delving into anyone’s motivations.
The Beast Stalker (2008)
by Dante Lam
Finally, we come to one of my favorite action directors, Dante Lam, with one of his best-known movies among fans of eastern cinema.
The Beast Stalker is an old-fashioned crime story that centers on a no-holds-barred duel.
It begins with a police raid that escalates into a shootout with the criminals fleeing at full speed, kidnapping a little girl as a hostage.
During the chase, the car crashes, and the hostage dies; the policeman in charge of the operation is so distraught that he throws away his badge and retires.
Sometime later, however, he gets his chance at redemption when the same gang kidnaps this little girl’s sister.
Indeed, the mother is a lawyer working specifically for the prosecution in the case against their dangerous boss.
The kidnapping forces the woman to make the evidence that would frame the criminal disappear, burying the gang for good.
At that point, the ex-cop decides to do whatever it takes to save the girl in the hands of a maverick outside the gang.
As I mentioned earlier, the line between good and evil in eastern movies is so blurry that they fade into one another.
In this case, the scarred child kidnapper initially seems just a psychopath with no emotion.
Everything changes, however, when the sick wife he desperately wants to help enters the picture, feeling guilty about her condition.
The rest of the characters are stereotypes of the long-suffering mother and the complex cop, but Dante Lam is a master at keeping the tension high.
Any action lover will find fights, shootouts, and chases that very few Western movies can rival.
Once again, then, here is another director to add to the list of action masters from faraway Hong Kong.
by Kazuaki Kiriya
To conclude with a bang, we talk about a fantasy movie set near the end of a war between Europe and the Eastern Asian block.
Despite countless casualties on both sides, Asia prevails and overwhelms the enemy.
The conflict has left a land blighted by famine and disease, but perhaps a Japanese scientist has finally found a universal cure.
Before he can complete his research, unfortunately, a handful of guinea pigs in his castle/laboratory revolt and flee, taking his wife with them.
At that point, driven mad with rage, the scientist uses his experimental compound on his beloved son’s body, a war hero who tragically died in battle.
The formula reanimates his son’s corpse, and the father armors him with invincible armor, unleashing it against the survivors of his experiment to exterminate them for good.
But perhaps the will of the weapon he created does not coincide with his intentions for slaughter, and he will have to choose which side to take in this war.
Kazuaki Kiriya does not have numerous filmographies behind him, and Casshern is undoubtedly his best work.
His experience as a photographer is seen especially in the immense sceneries that are as absurd and far-fetched as they are wonderfully fascinating.
The movie takes its cue from the famous eastern manga Casshan, changing several story points to compress the more than twenty episodes into about two and a half hours in length.
As a result, the result is a highly entertaining spectacle that draws inspiration from every possible genre staple.
From far-off Frankenstein to Fritz Lang‘s Metropolis, we find quotations in profusion going all the way to the Terminator or the insane Tetsuo.
In short, Casshern is a tasty soup for every cinephile’s delight and one of the best eastern movies of the last 20 years.