When you think of foreign language Oscar contenders, the kinds of films that come to mind are probably harrowing Holocaust dramas or gritty social dramas. Indeed, you’d hardly describe them as populist entertainment. Among this year’s submissions for Best International Feature Film, however, there are a number of genre films seeking to buck that trend. With action films, horror and even a Bollywood musical represented among their lineup, Asian cinema, in particular, has led this charge. Here’s a closer look at this year’s stylish Oscar submissions from the world’s largest continent.
Epitomizing the bold filmmaking of this year’s Asian contenders is none other than Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” the presumptive frontrunner. Ever since it won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, this comedy/drama/thriller has become a bona fide phenomenon, scoring the biggest ever per-theater average opening at the US box office and some of the best reviews of any film this year. With its widespread appeal and relatable social commentary, “Parasite” seems set to deliver South Korea’s long overdue first Oscar nomination and emulate the mainstream awards success of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma”.
While “Parasite” attempts to land nominations in Best International Feature and Best Picture, a quintet of other Asian films will also attempt to double dip in multiple categories. China and Japan have selected two of this year’s eligible films for Best Animated Feature, in the form of Jiaozi’s “Ne Zha” and “Weathering With You“, Makoto Shinkai’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed “Your Name”. Additionally, the Asian entries include a pair of Documentary Feature contenders, namely “M for Malaysia” (Malaysia) and “Finding Farideh” (Iran).
A trio of action films will also attempt to resonate with Academy voters. They include “The White Storm 2” from Hong Kong, “Laal Kabootar” from Pakistan and Vietnam’s “Furie” which was acquired by Netflix. Also challenging the traditional notions of “Oscar bait” are India’s “Gully Boy” (a musical set in the world of street rappers), Palestine’s “It Must Be Heaven” (a satirical comedy from director Elia Suleiman), Singapore’s “A Land Imagined” (an award-winning neo-noir) and the Thai horror film “Inhuman Kiss” by Sitisiri Mongkolsiri (joining the other Thai-language submission “Buoyancy” from Australia).
Not all of the Asian countries are taking their chances on genre films, however, as the remaining submissions are more conventional drama efforts. These films explore themes surrounding love (“1982” from Lebanon, “Bulbul” from Nepal” and Taiwan’s “Dear Ex“), war (“Shindisi” from Georgia, “Lengthy Night” from Armenia, “Kazakh Khanate – Golden Throne” from Kazakhstan, and Mongolian entry “The Steed“), music (Cambodia’s “In the Life of Music” and Indonesia’s “Memories of My Body“) and politics (Israel’s “Incitement” and Saudi Arabia’s “The Perfect Candidate“). And finally, rounding out the list of Asian submissions are “Alpha” (Bangladesh), “Aurora” (Kyrgyzstan), “Verdict” (Philippines) and “Hot Bread” from Uzbekistan.
Contenders to watch: “Parasite” and “It Must Be Heaven”