14. Love In A Puff (Pang Ho Cheung, 2010, Hong Kong)
It’s not easy to make an earnest, realistic and charming romance in this age of irony and sarcasm, unless you’re Richard Linklater and you’re making one of the films in his Before trilogy. But that’s exactly what Hong Kong indie turned mainstream favorite Pang Ho Cheung did with his hit Love In A Puff, which charts the first seven days of a courtship and relationship between a slightly older woman and a man, who first met during a cigarette break outside their workplace.
A truly modern romance that’s absolutely spot on about modern day mating rituals as dictated by mobile phones, text messages and casual sex, it’s a film that’s funny and tender in equal measures. Former ugly duckling Miriam Yeung confirms her metamorphosis into a beautiful swan here as people all across Chinese speaking Asia fell in love with the pair of lovebirds, so much so that an equally good and equally successful sequel called Love In The Buff awaits you after you’re finished with this one.
13. Macabre (The Mo Brothers, 2009, Indonesia)
Slasher films, at least before they got diluted by Hollywood, used to mean big bucks at the box office. Who doesn’t love a good scare and a healthy dollop of blood onscreen? And this beautifully tight and nasty little film from Indonesia by a directing team calling themselves The Mo Brothers (even though they’re not really brothers, they just have ‘Mo’ in some parts of their names) is one of the most entertaining slasher films in recent memory.
Despite its typical story of a group of friends finding themselves trapped in an isolated house deep in the woods, it’s the execution here (in both senses of the word) that makes a world of difference as it is armed with breakneck pace and filled to the brim with blood, guts, gore and chainsaws. Horror aficionados worldwide have understandably taken to this film with wide open arms. Time for your mainstream slasher loving friend to join the club as well!
12. Chinese Puzzle (Cedric Klapisch, 2013, France)
This is actually the third part in a trilogy of films that revolve around the same characters that’s sometimes called the Spanish Apartment trilogy, as it all began with the film L’Auberge Espagnole which was set in a student apartment in Barcelona.
No prior knowledge of the first two films are needed to enjoy this very funny and frank rom-com, which benefits greatly from the characters and actors, most of them big stars now like Audrey Tautou, Romain Duris, Cecile De France and Kelly Reilly, now pushing 40.
Just as Before Midnight feels like a maturation of the characters in Richard Linklater’s much cherished Before trilogy, Chinese Puzzle gives away that feeling as well, but it’s all wrapped up in a package that combines the funniest bits of Woody Allen with French director Francois Veber’s comedy of embarrassment.
11. Dod Sno 2 (Tommy Wirkola, 2014, Norway)
In case you’re wondering, there are actually 2 versions of this film, one of them wholly in English (called Dead Snow 2) and the other one in Norwegian with a smattering of English when American characters are involved (called Dod Sno 2), with no dubbing involved as they’re both shot separately, with the actors going through the scenes twice to nail both versions.
While the first Dead Snow was a huge favorite of the fanboy market, it really wasn’t as good as people made it out to be, but this sequel clearly blows that one out of the water as director Tommy Wirkola has clearly learned a thing or two about entertaining audiences from his brush with Hollywood directing Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Everything in this sequel smells of confidence, from the hilarious and nasty jokes to the climactic battle between an army of Nazi zombies and an army of Russian zombies.
10. Delhi Belly (Abhinay Deo, 2011, India)
For some reason, Hindi films have tried real hard at emulating Guy Ritchie’s brand of snappy and flashy gangster film for ages now. Even after all these years, there’s only 1 obvious champion, which is Abhinay Deo’s hugely entertaining Delhi Belly.
If there’s one film that’s perfect for people who don’t like Hindi films, then it’s probably this one as not only it has a generous splashing of English (or Hinglish, as in a combination of Hindi and English) but it has a wild and madcap plot involving gangsters, mistaken identities, misplaced cargo, toilet humor and an alarming amount of swearing that would make even Lock Stock and Snatch-era Guy Ritchie a bit green with envy.
9. Ping Pong (Sori, 2002, Japan)
Based on the popular manga by Taiyo Matsumoto, this film version should have been a huge international hit as it’s the kind of absolutely lovable feel-good comedy that anyone will enjoy.
Telling the story of ping pong playing childhood friends Peco and Smile, the former playing for love of the sport and the latter playing just to kill time to spend time with his hero Peco, the film has a classic sports film narrative that’s made infinitely more interesting by the dynamics between not only the characters of Peco and Smile, but also of their other childhood friend Demon and their rivals Dragon and China.
It has a depth of feeling and wisdom that one would usually associate with arthouse films, but with a pep that only the best of pop films possess.
8. On The Job (Erik Matti, 2013, Philippines)
Propulsive and thrilling enough to be a big commercial success in the Philippines but intellectually meaty enough to be have been chosen to play at the Directors Fortnight in Cannes, receiving very good reviews too, On The Job has proven to be so audience friendly that Hollywood has signed on for a remake, reportedly to be directed by Contraband and Two Guns director Baltasar Kormakur.
It’s a smart narrative involving two pairs of characters, one a pair of police Sergeant and Federal Agent investigating a murder and the other involving a pair of inmates, temporarily released from jail to carry out assassinations before returning to prison after carrying out their jobs.
It also has a remarkably bleak ending that more or less makes the same points about the state of the Filipino nation as Lav Diaz’s 4 hour epic Norte, The End Of History, but in a hugely entertaining pop package. How’s that for a mainstream thriller?