The phenomenon of the guilty pleasure is a funny one. It's something - be it a film, a television series, a video game, a song, a book - that we would rather not let others know we enjoy so much. In the context of a film, it may either not reflect our outward personality, was negatively received by viewers, is exceptionally corny/cheesy, is downright so bad that it's basically good, or a combination of the aforementioned. There's also no doubt that many Asian films fit into at least one of these categories. Whether we care to admit our love for these films or not, there's no denying that they bring us much joy and may make us nostalgic for the past. I think that it's about time that I owned these films and admit that I love them. There's no need to feel guilty about them any more. And who knows, maybe someone, somewhere is reading this article and can relate. Or perhaps one might forgo their tough exterior and decide to indulge in something that's out of their ordinary. So without further ado, here are my top 5 guilty pleasure Asian films!
Anyone who knows me personally knows that I'm a massive horror and action film fan. I enjoy the thrill of being genuinely creeped out, I like visual gore, and take pride in shouting "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING?!" at my television screen. But there's also a softer side to me that rarely makes a public appearance, and that is my fondness for some feel-good romantic dramas. Architecture 101 checks all the boxes in this case. Coincidences, persistence, and coming to terms with teenage heartbreaks shape the plot of this film. The story follows a successful architect named Seung-min, who receives a visit to his office from a woman he doesn't immediately recognise. After some time, he realises that this woman is Seo-yeon, his first love when they were in college together. Surprisingly, Seo-yeon wants Seung-min to help her with redesigning her home. Although hesitant to take up the offer initially, Seung-min finally accepts after Seo-yeon persists and brings his boss into the picture. As they begin working together, old memories of the time they were back in architecture class 15 years ago soon resurface. Their diverging paths in life cross, but can their past love be rekindled?
Architecture 101 received much praise, and with good reason. The characters are incredibly well drawn and the film's subtle-restrained style is a pleasure to watch. I'm not alone with my love for this film, as male viewers in South Korea unexpectedly comprised the majority of film ticket sales upon its release.
The film that made Jackie Chan a household name in America. Some may be disappointed that Rumble in the Bronx was Chan's breakthrough film in the West; the acting is very subpar, and so is the dialogue and dubbing. The plot is silly at times and some of the characters are unbelievable. But that's not what this film is about. This is Jackie Chan: The Stuntman at his best. Chan's stunt-work and fight scenes are excellent. The man is so incredibly inventive and brings an element of humanity and believability to his work. The story follows Keong, who comes from Hong Kong to visit New York for his uncle's wedding. His uncle runs a market in the Bronx and Keong offers to help out while his uncle is on his honeymoon. During his stay in the Bronx, Keong befriends a neighbouring kid and beats up some neighbourhood thugs who cause problems at the market. One of those petty thugs in the local gang stumbles into a criminal situation way over his head.
3. Funky Forest: The First Contact
This film may be one of the strangest ones out there. If you choose to watch it, please be aware that it's a head-scratcher; there's little-to-no discernible plot because it's made up of a number of short stories that rarely ever cross over. Instead there are a series of loosely interconnected scenes involving various characters who say and do the strangest things. It's a surrealist fantasy of a bizarre reality with grotesque body parts, freaky scenes, stand-up comedy, animation, music, dance, and other moments that are entirely inexplicable. The film even has its own commercials. It's safe to say that this film defies categories. There are two parts, Side A and Side B, with a three minute on-screen intermission. It's definitely not for everyone, but fans of extreme comedy and very alternative cinema will be thrilled and delighted. I enjoy it because it simply does not make any sense.
Veteran actor Donnie Yen is well-know for his serious martial arts roles. His portrayal as the legendary Sun Wukong may have had audiences sceptical about his role at first, but his portrayal of the monkey king's childlike behaviour and mischievous antics was actually quite brilliant. It's actually quite refreshing to see Donnie Yen let loose once in a while and deliver an above-average comedic performance. At the same time, he also nails the iconic staff-fighting sequences that Sun Wukong is known for. Despite it's significant budget and success at the box office, The Monkey King was panned for its poor CGI effects and somewhat weak script. Putting that aside, I love this film. It's brilliantly colourful, fun, and quite a faithful adaptation of Journey to the West. The story follows Sun Wukong, a monkey born from a heavenly stone who acquires supernatural powers. After rebelling against heaven and being imprisoned under a mountain for 500 years, he later accompanies the monk Xuanzang on a journey to India. Thus, according to legend, Buddhism is brought to ancient China. The film is filled to the brim with gravity-defying stunts and 3-D action sequences. What it lacks in narrative, it makes up for with its stellar imagery.
1. Kindan no Mokushiroku: Crystal Triangle
The only word to describe this film is insane. Imagine crossing The Da Vinci Code, Raiders of the Lost Arc, and screenwriters under the influence of some questionable substances, and you get Kindan no Mokushiroku: Crystal Triangle. This one is definitely high up on the list of films that are so bad that they become enjoyable. What sets this film apart from other poorly received ones, is that this one has considerable effort (albeit misplaced) put into it. The plot is incredibly convoluted and the story runs like a mad-lib. One moment you have protagonist Koichiro Kamishiro scouring ruins for hints of the past, and next you have encounters with the Soviet Union, the US military, a shadowy cabal that controls the Japanese government, and a conspiracy by an ancient alien race disguised as Buddhist monks. Sounds insane enough yet? You bet it is.
I love this film and I will say it proudly. It was made with great passion and the results are disastrous. It's a non-stop comedy from start to finish and I can't get enough of it. Do yourself a favour and watch this one now (don't tell them I sent you).