12 Asian Films With The Greatest Pop Culture Influence
1/12 Godzilla (1954)
First released by Japanese production company Toho in 1954, Godzilla famously depicted a gigantic reptilian sea monster that rose from the depths of the oceans due to the radiation from atomic weapon testing by the United States military.
The monster towered over the buildings of Tokyo and destroyed everything in its path. The film’s themes of horror and fear resonated with audiences as memories of nuclear disaster, war and catastrophe continued to haunt people worldwide. The film became a long-running franchise, with Toho releasing 32 Godzilla films and Hollywood producing four remakes. The latest instalment, Godzilla V Kong, will be released by Warner Brothers later this year—it stars actors Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown and Zhang Ziyi.
Outside of cinemas, the monster continues to plague our global subconscious. Godzilla’s name is often referenced when attaching “zilla” to the end of a word to emphasise power, or monstrous and destructive behaviour. Most notably, ongoing reality show Bridezilla on the WE television network documents the extreme and demanding behaviour of brides leading up to their big day. The name of open web browser Mozilla Firefox is also a nod to the infamous sea creature.
Godzilla is often parodied in films and television shows like Austin Powers in Goldmember, Ted 2 and The Simpsons, which has featured the monster on multiple occasions. The character is so recognisable that even cartoons aimed at young children make direct references to the monster, including Rugrats in Paris: The Movie, which showcases a large mechanical reptile robot roaming the French capital. Shrek 2’s gigantic and monstrous gingerbread man was also a nod to Godzilla.
The fictional reptile has also become a muse for musicians—earlier this year Eminem released the single Godzilla, which now holds the record for the fastest rap. On the song’s third verse, Eminem raps 224 words in 30 seconds.
The monster has had its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame since 2004, when it was granted one to mark its 50th birthday.
2/12 Enter The Dragon (1973)
Named by legendary film critic Peter Bradshaw as the greatest martial-arts film of all time, Enter the Dragon solidified Bruce Lee’s status as a cinematic legend. The movie drew global interests towards the Chinese martial-arts scene and prompted the mass importation of kung fu movies to the United States, which were later dubbed in English for western audiences.
Enter the Dragon not only revolutionised the portrayal of Asians in western media, with Lee holding a starring role in a Hollywood production, but also kick-started the “kung fu craze” of the 1970s, which saw Hong Kong studios produce and release dozens of films that reached increasingly international audiences.
The film’s influence moved beyond the movie screen, inspiring many martial-arts video games, including popular ones like the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat franchises, which borrowed plot elements from the film. Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama also credited Enter The Dragon as an inspiration behind his successful Japanese manga and anime series. In the music world, hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan also paid tribute to Lee’s iconic film with their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), which achieved critical acclaim.
Bruce Lee’s final film Game of Death also deserves a mention for depicting the actor in his now famous yellow and black jumpsuit, which he wore to fight basketball player-turned-actor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The appearance of the American star athlete in a Hong Kong film was culturally significant and highlighted the global impact of Asia’s martial-arts scene. Thirty years later, an altered version of Lee’s iconic jumpsuit was worn by Uma Thurman in the quirky American crime and martial-arts thriller Kill Bill: Vol. 1, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.
3/12 Drunken Master (1978)
Drunken Master cemented Jackie Chan’s career as a comedic martial-arts actor in Asia. The film popularised Chan’s iconic ‘drunken fist’ fighting style, which the actor continued to use throughout his long career. The fighting style has repeatedly been replicated in successful Hollywood film franchises including buddy-cop comedies Rush Hour with Chris Tucker, and Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights with Owen Wilson.
Like Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master was also a major inspiration for Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, notably inspiring the name of the character Jackie Chun, who also uses the ‘drunken fist’ fighting style. The film also influenced a number of martial-arts video games decades later, including the PlayStation game Jackie Chan Stuntmaster and Street Fighter X Tekken, which both used Chan’s popular fight style.
4/12 A Better Tomorrow (1986)
The landmark Hong Kong film is said to have started the Heroic Bloodshed genre and kick-started the large number of action and triad-themed films in Hong Kong cinema. A Better Tomorrow was Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat’s breakout role and helped solidify John Woo’s career as an in-demand director.
The popularity of the film in Asia led to two subsequent sequels in Hong Kong, a South Korean remake in 2010 and a Mainland Chinese remake in 2018. The film also paved the way for another renowned Hong Kong triad film: Infernal Affairs, which was then remade in Hollywood as The Departed, which earned director Martin Scorsese an Academy Award for best picture.
5/12 The Joy Luck Club (1993)
As the second film ever produced by a major Hollywood Studio to feature an Asian majority cast, the film provided much-needed insight and representation to the Asian-American community. Leading up to the release of The Joy Luck Club, Asian actors were often typecast in stereotypical roles or were relegated to only playing supporting characters. The film proved to producers that a majority Asian-American cast could sell tickets and helped paved the way for the Crazy Rich Asians phenomenon in 2018.
See also: Author Kevin Kwan Compares the "Crazy Rich Asians" of Then and Now
6/12 Ring (1999)
Japanese film Ring is considered to be a timeless horror movie classic, which achieved both critical and commercial success across Asia. The film was so well-received that it inspired two sequels and a prequel. It sparked a revival in horror filmmaking in Japan and garnered interest in Japanese horror cinema worldwide, coining the term J-Horror in the west. Subsequently, Ring led the way for other acclaimed Japanese films such as Ju-On: The Grudge and Dark Water.
The film resonated so well with international audiences that it was also remade in the United States in 2002 and went to number one at the box office, ultimately prompting one of the most curious baby-naming trends of all times: a boom of girls called Samara in America. (Samara jumped from the 929th to 456th most popular name for girls in 2003, according to the US Social Security Administration, and reached 256th in 2018.) Across the movie genre aisle, the comedy-horror franchise Scary Movie also used the plot from Ring as part of the central storyline of its third instalment in 2003.
7/12 In the Mood for Love (2000)
To mark the 20th anniversary of In the Mood for Love, a remastered 4K version of the film is set to be released this year. Inspired by the 1972 novella Intersection by Liu Yichang, the father of modern Hong Kong literature, Wong Kar-wai’s romantic drama depicts encounters between two neighbours, who become close after discovering their spouses are having an affair.
The film won Tony Leung the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Palme d’Or. Multiple directors and screenwriters across the globe have since cited the film as a major inspiration, including Sofia Coppola, who described the film as an influence on her Oscar-winning Lost in Translation. Barry Jenkins has also said Wong and the cinematographer of In the Mood for Love, Christopher Doyle, both inspired his Academy Award-winning film Moonlight.
In the Mood for Love’s costume designs by William Chang have also been cited by numerous designers as inspiration for their collections. Roberto Cavalli credits the film as having influenced his Ming vase dress for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass, which took place in 2015. And London-based designer Oliver Spencer’s spring-summer 2020 menswear show was a homage to the film.
8/12 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Director Ang Lee’s film, which depicted a martial-arts master’s mission to retrieve a jade sword, accumulated the most Academy Award nominations for a foreign language film until Roma in 2018. After winning four Academy Awards, it boosted the popularity of Chinese wuxia films in the west, and led to further films including Hero and House of Flying Daggers, which were heavily marketed towards western audiences.
9/12 Old Boy (2003)
At the centre of director Park Chan-wook’s revenge trilogy, Old Boy achieved cult status for its graphic scenes of stylised violence. The film won a Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, and garnered international attention for South Korea’s growing movie industry—especially the country’s thrillers.
A favourite of director Quentin Tarantino, who tried to convince his fellow Cannes Film Festival jury to award the film the Palme d’Or in 2004, there were also at one point talks for it to be remade by director Steven Spielberg with Will Smith cast as the lead, though that fell through. The film was later remade in 2013 by director Spike Lee and starred Josh Brolin and Samuel L Jackson. Old Boy also paved the way for other South Korean psychological thriller films including The Handmaiden and Parasite.
10/12 Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
Based on Arthur Golden’s novel of the same name, director Rob Marshall’s epic drama tells the story of an impoverished young girl who goes on to become the most famous geisha in Kyoto. The film sparked controversy over the casting of Chinese actors such as Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li in lead roles, but still went on to win three Academy Awards. As part of its ambitious marketing campaign, the film partnered with Banana Republic, which launched a line of kimono-style tops and dresses, and French beauty brand Fresh, which released a series of geisha-themed products that used rice and sake as key ingredients.
11/12 Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians was the first Hollywood film since The Joy Luck Club to feature an Asian majority cast. The film is currently the top-grossing romantic comedy in a decade and has received multiple accolades, including two Golden Globe nominations for best motion picture and best actress.
Fashion played a key role in the film, with designer outfits used to display the characters’ wealth and taste—or sometimes lack thereof. One of the most famous dresses in the film, the light blue, V-neck Marchesa gown worn by lead actress Constance Wu in the wedding scene, is now having a second life off camera. The dress was presented to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in celebration of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The pivotal scene in the film where Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh’s characters play mahjong together also ignited interest in the Chinese tile game. Multiple news sites including CBS, Vox and Vice all produced programmes or articles explaining the rules of mahjong.
The phenomenon that is the first film, and the global attention it has received, have paved the way for the book’s sequels China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems to also be adapted into films. Crazy Rich Asians has further cemented the careers of actors Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Nora Lum, popularly known as Awkwafina, and the three stars have continued to pave the way for Asian representation in leading roles in Hollywood.
12/12 Parasite (2019)
Parasite made film history this year by becoming the first South Korean film to win an Oscar. But it didn’t just win one statuette—it took home four, including best picture. The dark comedy thriller was inspired by director Bong Joon-ho’s experience tutoring wealthy families while he was in college and follows the story of the poor Kim family, who con their way into working for a rich Korean family.
The film set off a noodle trend known as the ‘ram-don’, a dish made by housekeeper Mrs Kim in the film. In Korea, the meal is popular with cash-strapped students and is made by mixing two popular Nongshim noodle products: Jjapaghetti ramen and Neoguri spicy seafood-flavoured udon. The internet has since exploded with food and news sites offering a step-by-step recipe for fans to make the dish at home, while high-end Korean restaurants in New York—such as the Michelin-starred Cote in the Flatiron District—have begun serving up their own interpretations of the dish.
As a result of the film’s success, Bong Joon-ho has released the film’s storyboards as a 304-page graphic novel and is now rumoured to be in discussions with HBO to turn the film into a TV series. Tilda Swinton and Mark Ruffalo are said to be in the running for the lead roles.
See also: Tatler Hot List: Asia’s Biggest Fashion Stars