Looking to get into Asian cinema? The following article briefly reviews (spoiler-free) three acclaimed, yet accessible films from diverse genres.
Thirst (Horror, Drama, Romance) – 9/10
A modern retelling of a nineteenth-century romantic drama (Therese Raquin), but with vampires. Thirst is a rare instance where its twist actually adds a new layer of depth to a classic’s plot and characters. Complementing and reinforcing the original themes of Therese Raquin, such as the loss of humanity, captivity, and desire, Thirst is also probably one of the greatest additions to the vampire genre. In addition to the aforementioned subject matter, the film explores key themes that are often underrepresented or poorly executed in vampire movies – existentialism, lust, and psychological turmoil.
The two main characters offer brilliant portrayals of their respective roles, and make perfect foils in their twisted love. The characterization in Thirst is also spot-on. Where the priest is meek, melancholic, and struggling to overcome his newfound desires, Thirst’s Therese is impulsive, manipulative, and entirely submissive to the ids of vampirism. A must-watch for aficionados of macabre love stories and classic vampire films. Twilight lovers and fans of pre-teen, angst-filled vampire dramas need not apply.
3-iron (Art-house, Romance, Drama) – 9/10
In a genre that’s plagued with heavy-handedness and clichés, 3-iron is a unique and welcome love story. The premise is simple – a nameless, drifting teenager breaks into empty houses and experiences the habitant’s life for a day. The boy takes nothing from the houses, but he always leaves a small gift for the absent residents. Before moving on to a new home, he repairs a small, broken item around the house, such as a clock or a toy gun. During one of these stays, the boy encounters a young, physically abused wife in an otherwise well-off home. On a whim, the two decide to leave together, and their journey begins to touch the lives of homeowners they run across. While the premise might be reminiscent of your run-of-the-mill Korean drama, a single, unusual twist makes it anything but – there is no dialogue. The lack of dialogue between the two main characters makes the budding romance play out like a surreal and whimsical poem. Without any words exchanged between the two lovers, and little in terms of background music or ambience, viewers begin to pick up on subtle body language, visual cues, and character expressions. In the end, each scene is as transient as the boy himself, but carries weight and beauty that few love stories could ever hope to accomplish.
Thirteen Assassins (Action, Adventure) – 8/10
Thirteen Assassins is an homage to the classic samurai films of the mid-1900s – preparation and strategic exchanges in the first act, and nonstop, visceral action in the second. While most of the titular assassins were forgettable and received little in terms of characterization and development, their leader, Shinzaemon, epitomizes the ethics of bushido. Charismatic, wise, and compassionate, he makes the perfect antithesis to the sadistic ruler he’s tasked to slay. What sets Thirteen Assassins apart from your standard action flick is that there isn’t a mundane moment throughout the film. Pitting the thirteen assassins against hundreds of enemies in an over-indulgent, continuous hour-long battle, there’s little repetition in the brilliantly choreographed sword fights. Furthermore, even though the body count is in the hundreds, a level of philosophical depth is embedded between the immense amounts of action. A dark, satiric undertone and subtle humour underlies the film, and the concept of servitude is a frequent (but at the times, heavy-handed) question posed by the cast. One jarringly awful aspect of the film, however, is its comedically sociopathic and one-dimensional villain. Although hyperbolically evil villains tend to be a staple of films grounded by action, the villain is entirely characterized by his self-proclaimed love of rape and carnage.