10 must-see Asian sci-fi movies below the radar, from S. Shankar’s Enthiran and Joko Anwar’s Gundala to Frant Gwo’s Lee’s Adventure
- Asian science fiction has evolved since Japan’s Godzilla movies – witness Korea’s Train to Busan and China’s The Wandering Earth
- There are plenty of underrated Asian sci-fi gems to catch, from Fruit Chan’s The Midnight After to Yoshihiro Nishimura’s evocatively named Tokyo Gore Police
There is a lot more to Asia’s science-fiction heritage than these barnstorming behemoths, however, and some of the best examples that the region has to offer have gone overlooked by international audiences.
From micro-budget gems to regional success stories still searching for global acclaim, here, listed in chronological order, are 10 great examples of envelope-pushing entertainment from around Asia that might have passed you by.
1. Save the Green Planet (2003)
Shin Ha-kyun stars as Byeong-gu, an unhinged conspiracy theorist who kidnaps a powerful business tycoon (Baek Yoon-sik) who he believes to be an extraterrestrial plotting to take over the planet.
Throwing genre conventions to the wind, Jang’s hugely entertaining comedy thriller proves an emotional roller-coaster, and keeps audiences guessing to the very last moment.
2. Tokyo Gore Police (2008)
Emerging from the low-budget genre hotbed of Japan’s V-Cinema video heyday, special effects artist turned filmmaker Yoshihiro Nishimura conjured this deliriously grotesque snapshot of a chaotic near future where man and machine have mutated into a new race of genetic cyborgs.
Melding the extreme horror of Sion Sono with the punk rock sensibility of Tetsuo creator Shinya Tsukamoto, Tokyo Gore Police plays like a carnival parade for the proudly depraved, as katana swords and chainsaws clash in an endless torrent of blood and gore.
3. The Clone Returns Home (2008)
Kanji Nakajima’s film about an unwitting clone faced with the truth of its existence predates Duncan Jones’ widely acclaimed Moon by a year, and is arguably a more hauntingly beautiful meditation on the topic.
Mitsuhiro Oikawa plays Kohei, an astronaut who dies in space only to be replicated in a lab back on earth. Rather than willingly returning to work, he becomes obsessed with memories from childhood, specifically the death of his twin brother, which sends him on an existential quest to find the meaning of life.
4. Enthiran (2010)
Drawing upon everything from The Terminator to The Matrix and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Indian filmmaker S. Shankar’s mind-melting maelstrom of action, romance, music and mayhem epitomises the endless energy of the Tamil film industry.
Sixty-year-old superstar Rajinikanth plays both a scientist and his robotic construction, a state-of-the-art android crafted in his own image, that runs amok after falling in love with its creator’s beautiful fiancée.
Featuring some of the most ridiculous, illogical and audaciously incomprehensible action ever committed to screen, Enthiran is a gift to the world that too many have yet to discover.
5. Lee’s Adventure (2011)
Long before he took the Chinese box office by storm with his action-packed deep-space spectacle The Wandering Earth, Frant Gwo assisted Li Yang in adapting the latter’s sci-fi short into a wildly imaginative feature.
Jaycee Chan plays the eponymous hero, an obsessive gamer with a bizarre time displacement disorder which distorts his perception. When he meets the girl of his dreams, only for their burgeoning romance to be cut short by an unexpected tragedy, Lee hatches a plan to save the day.
6. Young Gun in the Time (2012)
Made for a reported budget of US$30,000, writer-director Oh Young-do’s time-travelling detective thriller is packed with so many twists, turns and eccentric outcasts that it resembles a lost Coen Brothers project.
Hong Young-geun plays the one-handed, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing detective who is tasked with finding an antique wristwatch that may or may not be a time machine. What follows is an absolute hoot from start to finish, though the greatest crime remains that Oh hasn’t directed anything since.
7. The Midnight After (2014)
Late one night, a minibus full of ordinary commuters emerge from the Lion Rock Tunnel to discover that the city’s population has disappeared. Taking refuge in a local cafe, an assortment of residents (including Lam Suet, Wong You-nam and Kara Wai Ying-hung) slowly piece together the startling truth, and set about regaining control of their city.
8. Gundala (2019)
Adapted from a revered local comic book series, Gundala blends a Batman-style origin story with head-spinning martial arts. An orphaned street urchin grows into a vengeful crusader, played by Abimana Aryasatya, who, after being struck by lightning, unleashes previously dormant superpowers on a nefarious underworld cabal.
This box office hit is just the first chapter in a planned Bumilangit Cinematic Universe franchise.
9. The Long Walk (2019)
For her third feature, Laotian filmmaker Mattie Do transports us to a rural community in the not-too-distant future, where technological innovation exists side by side with a struggling third-world economy that has barely changed in decades.
Eschewing visual razzle-dazzle in favour of a smartly executed time-loop premise, The Long Walk charts an elderly man’s encounters with a mysterious young woman who enables him to revisit his long-dead mother, all while retaining an aesthetic in keeping with the region’s grounded sensibilities.
10. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020)
Proving once again that the best science fiction is accomplished through smartly executed ideas rather than big-budget spectacle, Junta Yamaguchi’s micro-budget masterpiece stands as one of the genre’s finest examples.
This single-take 70-minute wonder follows a young cafe owner (Kazunari Tosa) as he discovers that the webcam in his apartment transmits events from two minutes in the future, as recorded by the camera in the cafe downstairs.
By positioning them to face each other, he creates a time breach of infinite possibilities.