Three SE Asian films you can watch on Netflix now

JUNE 15 — The Netflix debate among those involved in the film industry will perhaps only end with either the demise of Netflix itself, or the theatrical distribution model championed by those who are opposed to Netflix’s subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) business model. 

However that debate eventually turns out, the real winners now are the viewers, especially those in countries or areas where the theatrical distribution model only serves them with a limited amount of viewing choices, more often than not skewed more towards the Hollywood side of things.

As SVOD services like Netflix and Amazon battle to strengthen their position in the marketplace, the need to broaden their horizons and serve as many segments of the market as possible has meant that even niche markets are getting their share of service from these SVOD providers. 

The promotional strategy may still be focused on big titles and big stars like Stranger Things, Birdbox and Bright, billboard-wise, but if you’re adventurous enough to scour their titles, Netflix has got all sorts of movies just waiting to be discovered.

That’s how tweets have surfaced from all over the world about our very own Paskal, and even festival titles (like Cannes prizewinner Divines) have ended up on Netflix, probably getting more views internationally than they’d expect for such a niche title. 

Probably thanks to the huge success of The Night Comes For Us last year, 2019 has seen a slew of new Asian and South-east Asian action movies surface on Netflix. 

And don’t even get me started on the totally unexpected arrival of Singapore’s Locarno prizewinner A Land Imagined on Netflix, the acquisition of which might have been helped by the success of another Singaporean title last year, Shirkers.

Yes, the reality may well be that all these acquisitions were made because of Netflix’s famously precise algorithms, a purely business decision, but if it means that I get to see female-centric action movies from neighbouring countries, not to mention a highly touted arthouse prizewinner also from a neighbouring country at the press of a button, then why the hell not? 

Here’s what I think of them.

A Land Imagined

The first Singaporean film to win the top prize at a major European film festival (it won the Golden Leopard at Locarno in 2018, beating some pretty stiff competition), A Land Imagined is everything I had hoped and expected a Locarno prizewinner would be. 

Showing a side of Singapore that many of us haven’t really seen, the film is set almost exclusively in the nation’s industrial west, where all we see are the endless land reclamation projects (which has, since 1965, expanded the nation’s land area reportedly by more than 20 per cent) and the people involved in it, from the local bosses right down to the migrant workers involved doing the gritty work.

This movie is a story about their lives, wrapped around a detective story, wherein a local detective goes in search of a missing undocumented Chinese worker who was injured while at work. 

Director Yeo Siew Hua, however, has something else up his sleeve as the movie slowly evolves from its social realist beginning into a frustrating Chinatown-like detective story, before then morphing into the kind of trance-like experience that we often associate with film-makers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Bi Gan. 

An unforgettable and hypnotic viewing experience, this is already one of 2019’s best films.

Furie

Thai female action star JeeJa Yanin was a big deal when she first arrived on the scene with Chocolate in 2008. 

Back then it was a very rare sight to see a female movie star kick that many asses onscreen performing her own stunts and impressively choreographed fight scenes too. 

In 2019 though, female empowerment has gone totally mainstream, first with the huge success of Captain Marvel followed by Princess Jasmine’s character arc in the “live” action Aladdin remake, so it makes perfect sense to see the much welcomed arrival of new female action stars from around Asia. 

So from Vietnam, we’re gifted with the arrival of Veronica Ngo who plays Hai Phuong in Furie, a former gangster hiding out in the countryside when she chose to turn her life around after becoming a mother.

But as is usually the case with action movies, you can’t really hide from your past forever, and an accidental encounter with a child kidnapping syndicate who abducted her daughter leads Hai Phoung onto a one-woman revenge mission against everyone who stands in her way, to save her daughter. 

In short, this is a Vietnamese female Taken, by way of The Raid. And Ngo is a hugely impressive physical presence, powerfully executing her fight scenes with gusto and convincingly conveying that primal rage that comes when a mother’s protective instincts comes into play.

Maria

Not content with introducing one new South-east Asian female action star, Netflix brings us another one, this time from the Philippines, and her name is Cristina Reyes. 

Maria is more or less exactly the same as Furie in terms of plot — a former female assassin tries to lead a normal life with her new family and leave her murderous gangster ways behind, only for her past to catch up with her, which then leads her on a one-woman rampage against everyone who stands in her way.

Again, in short, this is more or less a Filipino female Taken, by way of The Raid

And again, Reyes is impressive in the lead role here (not to mention drop dead gorgeous), but probably slightly less impressive than Ngo as the fight scenes here are not as technical as the ones in Furie

But still, these two films can easily beat any of the male-headlined Malaysian action films released so far anytime. 

We absolutely need one of these from Malaysia soon, preferably on Netflix as well. Girl power for the win!!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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