Turning Back Time – Iconic Asian Films We Want to See Back in Theatres8 min readReading Time: 6 minutes
On 26 March, Singapore closed the door on all entertainment outlets in a bid to combat COVID-19. This, unfortunately, included movie theatres. With production halted all over the world, the decision was sensible and necessary.
However, as of 13 July 2020, major theatres such as Golden Village and Cathay Cineplexes are set to reopen as community cases remain low in Singapore’s reopening in Phase Two. I excitedly went onto their respective websites as I was curious to see what films would be showing. Unsurprisingly, the variety is limited right now with the most exciting film being Train To Busan 2: Peninsula.
With that, I started thinking about how nostalgic it would be to watch some of the older classics brought back to the big screen, especially with the current technical capabilities of cinemas. Like the scheme in the UK, where film studios and distributors have come together to create a 450 iconic film library for theatre owners, imagine watching your favourite films in theatres again. In Japan, cinemas have reopened with ET, Wizard of Oz and other classic Hollywood films. Based on my fantastical rumination, here are some Asian films that I would rush back to the cinemas for.
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
If there is one Asian film that is the mother of genre amalgamation, I would present that title to Kung Fu Hustle. At a time where Chinese martial arts movies were all the rage, this film came about to present something completely different – action, comedy and CGI. With that, director and frontman, Stephen Chow, was propelled into international stardom.
Chow plays Sing, a petty thief who pathetically tries to climb ranks in the notorious Axe Gang. Once a virtuous child, he abandons chivalry for the instant gratification of petty crime. The plot of this film is extremely predictable which leaves enough room for the audience to enjoy its theatrics rather than focus on the story, exactly the way Chow intended.
On paper alone, Kung Fu Hustle points to great commercial success. It is a mix of different Chinese martial art forms, including Fut Gar Buddhist Palm Technique, Tai Chi, Wushu and Hung Ga Iron First Technique – all of which draw mass audiences. However, what is special about the film is its usage of slapstick comedy. Often described as Looney Tunes Comedy, the cartoon-style CGI is unique to the film. Chow has said in several interviews that he wanted to make a film where The Matrix met The Roadrunner.
Having released in 2004, there is an entire generation that does not know about the trailblazer that is Kung Fu Hustle. While the older generation may have had the opportunity to catch it on the big screens way back when, it would be an ideal classic to bring back to cinemas to allow the younger crowd to experience the magic of this film. I would pay top dollar to re-watch this iconic film if it gets remastered!
Infernal Affairs (2002)
Box office smash hit and enough success to branch out into a franchise? Check! Infernal Affairs is the original Asian crime thriller that set in motion for all the others to follow. I have always felt that Asian films lay the groundwork around the region for Asians to appreciate western work – exposure to different genres begins in our backyards. In that aspect, thrillers like The Departed have this film to thank when Martin Scorsese remade this film which went on to win the Academy Awards for Best Picture in 2006.
Chan Wing-yan, played by Tony Leung, is a police officer that goes undercover to infiltrate an organised crime triad. At the same time, Lau Kin-ming, played by Andy Lau, is sent by the triad into the police force. This cat and mouse game is the premise of the film which leads to layers upon layers of highly intelligent policing (and the lack of) work. The two characters are interlinked in a way that is the epitome of what crime thrillers are about.
Andrew Lau and Alan Mak are the directors (and masterminds) behind the film and have shown expert filmmaking, way back when. When it released in 2002, the film garnered overwhelmingly positive responses from critics and viewers alike. It went on to sweep the 22nd Hong Kong Film Awards, winning seven out of the 16 nominations, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor.
Infernal Affairs was already regarded as a film that was way ahead of its time due to its incredibly engaging storyline and top-notch crime portrayal, at a time that technology was not like it is today. The film could still do extremely well today because it features the who’s who of Hong Kong cinema while presenting an alternate (and perhaps better) presentation of crime thrillers minus the cushioning of mind-blowing technology.
Singapore Dreaming (2006)
Singapore is at the tail end of what was an extremely eventful election season. As with any political climate, we might have made some bridges and burnt others. Singapore Dreaming is the film that every Singaporean can unite through. It is like an umbrella that Singaporeans from all walks of life can stand under and bask in its shade – a much needed embrace at the end of a contentious period.
The film, made locally, follows the Loh family, a middle-class working family that attempts to fulfill their aspirations amidst the tough Singaporean competition. Its authenticity and relatability comes from true stories from everyday Singaporeans who wrote in countless letters and emails to directors Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh.
Featuring the likes of Richard Low, Alice Lim, Serene Chen and Yeo Yann Yann, this film is packed with familiar faces who make the experience even more relatable. Singapore Dreaming did exceedingly well both locally and internationally, making appearances in many film festivals. The late S R Nathan who was the president at that time also praised the movie saying “It is life in its reality.”
The speciality of this film is its nostalgia and relatability. As a child, I remember sitting in front of the television and watching Channel 8 dramas even though I could not speak Mandarin. This film encompasses just that – the authentic Singaporean spirit. Watching Singapore Dreaming on the big screen is one that the whole family can enjoy together – regardless of age or generation.
“Legendary” is a word that I associate strongly with this 1995 smash hit. Anyone who is Tamil speaking would have made their initiation into Tamil cinema and the massive star that is Rajinikanth by Baasha. Almost 25 years later, this film retains its cult following, with viewers scrambling in front of the television to catch every rerun of it.
Baasha follows Manikam, played by Rajinikanth, a humble rickshaw driver with an illustrious past. He tries hard to conceal his past and live a changed life but the demons of his past refuse to let him do so. Rajinikanth’s screen presence is simply unmatched in Tamil cinema and that is the main draw of this film. The scenes of him as an underworld gangster is as awe-inspiring as the original gangster movie, The Godfather.
Imagine having a film in theatres for 15 months – that is how long it took for Baasha to complete its entire theatrical run as fans refused to allow theatres to replace the film. Theatre owners were not complaining too, as the film garnered consistent crowds which meant more money. In an era where piracy was next to nil, watching Baasha on the big screen was truly an experience.
Baasha was released the year I was born (yikes!). It forever irks me that I did not have the opportunity to catch this classic on the big screen. Furthermore, the Tamil version of this film was digitally remastered in 2017. There has never been a more opportune time for cinemas to release this film again and watch business pick up by itself!
While it is quite unlikely that my picks will be released again in theatres (help a girl out, GV), I am immensely excited to watch all the films that were previously postponed come back into cinemas! I have never appreciated the theatres more!