The Top Ten Asian Filmmakers
May has marked Asian Heritage Month since 1979; it’s a time to acknowledge Asia’s rich history and contribution to society. In honor of Asian Heritage Month, DMG Entertainment highlights the top ten Asian filmmakers. These famed artists not only changed the wider global film industry’s perception of Asia, but also inspired other Asians to chase their silver screen dreams. So check out these incredible Asian filmmakers’ and their greatest works!
Born in 1954 in Pingtung, Taiwan, Ang Lee established himself as one of the greatest modern filmmakers. With art degrees from the National Taiwan College of Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and New York University, Lee learned how to showcase his vision and versatility through a variety of genres. Lee has directed such diverse films as EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (1994), CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000), BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005), LUST, CAUTION (2007), LIFE OF PI (2012) and even dabbled in superheroes with 2003’s HULK. Lee’s unparalleled storytelling skill made him the first Asian person to win an Academy Award, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. Lee is also the only director to win the Golden Bear and Golden Lion several times. Lee’s next project? BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK (2016).
Director, writer, and producer John Woo was born in Guangzhou, China on May 1, 1946. Woo grew up in Hong Kong and started his career as an assistant director for Shaw Brothers Studio. His directorial début, THE YOUNG DRAGONS (1974), gave him exposure to the action genre and introduced him to famed martial artist Jackie Chan. Woo quickly gained international recognition for his intricate gun battle scenes and edge-of-your-seat style and an affinity for doves. Staying true to his action roots in Hollywood, Woo directed such films as A BETTER TOMORROW (1986), THE KILLER (1989), FACE/OFF (1997), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II (2000), and THE CROSSING (2014). Woo has won many international awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2010 Venice Film Festival.
Chinese director, producer, and writer Tsui Hark was born in Saigon, Vietnam on February 15, 1950. After graduating from the University of Texas – Austin, he started his career working on Christine Choy’s documentary FROM SPIKES TO SPINDLES (1976). Hark moved to Hong Kong in 1977 and threw himself into the “New Wave” filmmaker scene. By combing Kung-Fu elements, Chinese storytelling and Hollywood special effects, Hark developed his own unique style. Hark directed such films as ALL THE WRONG CLUES (1981), SHANGHAI BLUES (1984), ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA (1991), THE BLADE (1995), SEVEN SWORDS (2005) and DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (2010). Hark, nicknamed the ‘Steven Spielberg of Asia,’ has earned a Golden Horse Award, two Hong Kong Film Award and a Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Award nomination.
Born in Tokyo in 1910, director, writer and producer Akira Kurosawa is one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. Kurosawa joined Photo Chemical Laboratories film studio in 1935 where he studied under Kajiro Yamamoto as his assistant director. After learning the art of direction and writing, Kurosawa went on to direct 30 films over 57 years, including DRUNKEN ANGEL (1948), RASHOMON (1950), SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) and THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958). Kurosawa has won dozens of awards over the span of his career including a Golden Lion, Silver Berlin Bear, Palme d’Or, BAFTA Film Award, Golden Jubilee Award and an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. Kurosawa’s contribution was so substantial to cinema that not only did the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Tokyo International Film Festival name film awards after him but also Anaheim University established an online filmmaking program in his honor. To this day, many directors draw inspiration from Kurosawa and recreate his masterpieces on the big screen. Posthumously, he was named “Asian of the Century” in the “Arts, Literature, and Culture” category by AsianWeek magazine and CNN, cited as “one of the [five] people who contributed most to the betterment of Asia in the past 100 years”.
Hayao Miyazaki, Japanese director, producer, writer, and animator, was born in Tokyo on January 5, 1941. Miyazaki started his career in Toei Animation, where he gained exposure to the Japanese animation community. After directing LUPIN III: THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (1979) and NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984), Miyazaki co-founded the famed Studio Ghibli, which allowed him to explore a brand new vision of Japanese animation, creating such blockbusters as PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997), SPIRITED AWAY (2001), PONYO (2008) and THE WIND RISES (2013). Miyazaki, often compared to Walt Disney, earned numerous awards, including an Annie Award, Golden Berlin Bear, Japanese Academy Award, Hong Kong Film Award, and the first Hollywood Academy Award for an anime film for SPIRITED AWAY.
Born in 1951 in Xi’an, China, director, producer and actor Zhang Yimou is a core member of China’s Fifth Generation. After graduating from the Beijing Film Academy in 1982, Zhang worked in Guangxi Film Studio as a cinematographer. In 1985, Zhang moved back to Xi’an, where he not only continued his cinematographer work but also tried out acting. He proved to be a terrific performer, earning himself a Tokyo International Film Festival Best Actor award for his role in OLD WELL (1986). Zhang’s directorial début, RED SORGHUM (1987), was critically acclaimed and gained worldwide notice. Zhang, noted for crafting highly stylized martial arts films, went on to create such films as RAISE THE RED LANTERN (1991), THE STORY OF QIU JU (1992), THE ROAD HOME (1999), HERO (2002), HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (2004), CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER (2006) and THE FLOWERS OF WAR (2011). One of Zhang’s recurrent themes is the resilience of Chinese people in the face of hardship and adversity. Zhang’s work has earned him a Silver Lion, Golden Lion, Grand Prix du Jury, and several Academy Award nominations. Zhang’s current project is THE GREAT WALL (2016) starring Matt Damon and Andy Lau.
Wong Kar-Wai, considered a Hong Kong Second Wave filmmaker, was born in Shanghai on July 17, 1958. Wong started his film career in a TVB television network training course, where he learned the media production process. In the beginning, Wong focused on screenwriting and developing television episodes and soap operas. However, in 1987, Wong was able to get behind the camera with the gangster film AS TEARS GO BY (1988). Wong went on to create such films as CHUNGKING EXPRESS (1994), IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000), 2046 (2004) and THE GRANDMASTER (2013). Wong’s defining film, HAPPY TOGETHER (1997), won him Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, making him the first Chinese filmmaker to win the prestigious award.
Chen Kaige, a key member of China’s Fifth Generation filmmakers, was born in Beijing on August 12, 1952. After graduating the Beijing Film Academy in 1982, he joined the Guangxi Film Studio, where he worked alongside Zhang Yimou. Chen created YELLOW EARTH (1984), THE BIG PARADE (1986) and KING OF THE CHILDREN (1987) before becoming a visiting scholar at New York University. Chen’s masterpiece, FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE (1993), was nominated for two Academy Awards and won a Palme d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. Chen went on to create TEMPTRESS MOON (1996), THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN (1999), TOGETHER (2002) and SACRIFICE (2010). Outside of the Palme d’Or, Chen has also won awards such as the International Federation of Film Critics Award and a Moscow International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award.
Director, actor, and writer Feng Xiaogang was born in Beijing in 1958. Feng began his film career 30 years later, primarily working as an art designer at the Beijing Television Art Center. Feng later learned how to write and direct, allowing him to create a unique style of comedy. Feng has earned box office success with THE DREAM FACTORY (1997), CELL PHONE (2003), A WORLD WITHOUT THIEVES (2004), ASSEMBLY (2007), AFTERSHOCK (2010) and BACK TO 1942 (2012). Although Feng is primarily known for his mainstream comedies, Feng shifted his focus towards more darker themed comedies. Feng has won awards such as the Asian Film Award, Beijing International Film Festival Best Picture, Golden Horse for Best Actor, Rome Film Fest Golden Butterfly, and Venice Film Festival Future Film Festival Digital Award.
Park Chan-Wook, a South Korean filmmaker, was born in Seoul on August 23, 1963. After Park graduated from Sogang University, he tried his hand at film critiquing until becoming an assistant director. Although his first film, THE MOON IS… THE SUN’S DREAM (1992), was not considered a success, Park continued to chase after his dream. Park’s perseverance paid off in 2000 when his work on JOINT SECURITY AREA (2000) gave him the opportunity to continue his artistic pursuit. Park has made such films as SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002), OLDBOY (2003), SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE (2005), THIRST (2009), and SNOWPIERCER (2013). Park’s work often incorporates dark humor and brutal visual imagery, creating a movie-going experience like no other. Park has won many awards, including a Seattle International Film Festival Special Jury Prize, Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix, Venice Film Festival CinemAvvenire Award, Stockholm International Film Festival Audience Award, and a Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear. Park’s most recent feature, THE HANDMAIDEN (2016), will compete in the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
Happy Asian Heritage Month to all!
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