By Ng Su Fey on February 19th, 2021
It’s no surprise that countless filmmakers have been inspired by the people, cultures, and natural world of Southeast Asia. There is so much to highlight from our tropical region, and this list features a selection of shows that do exactly that, from award-winning films to beloved local productions.
The Ghost Bride (2020)
Based on Yangsze Choo’s novel of the same name, this Netflix original series follows Li Lan, a young woman who becomes tangled in afterlife affairs after accepting a ghost marriage to the dead son of an affluent family.
Fun Fact: The ghost marriage custom also features in an episode of hit Korean drama Hotel del Luna, another show that deals with themes of mystery and the supernatural.
Ma’ Rosa (2016)
Rosa, a mother of four, is arrested along with her husband for selling narcotics out of their convenience store. The film chronicles the family’s desperate journey to reunion, exploring themes of corruption and economic inequality.
Fun Fact: Jaclyn Jose was awarded Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance as the titular character in this Filipino drama.
After committing a hit-and-run, a woman and her photographer boyfriend find mysterious white faces in the pictures they develop, the first in a series of unsettling discoveries.
Fun Fact: This classic horror film boasts not one, not two, but four remakes. However, the original — one of Thailand’s most famous productions — is not to be missed.
Street Food: Asia (2019)
Not to be watched on an empty stomach, this culinary documentary transports viewers across the largest continent. It is a celebration of local cuisines and the stories behind them.
Fun Fact: Street Food: Asia’s Southeast Asian destinations include Bangkok, Yogyakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, and Cebu.
A man leaves his family in search of fortune but never returns from sea. Decades later, his wife beseeches their grandson to investigate her husband’s fate.
Fun Fact: Pulang (which means ‘return’ in Bahasa Melayu) was inspired by the scriptwriter’s own search for his grandfather’s grave.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
This classic adventure film follows a young Angelina Jolie’s race against the Illuminati in a treasure hunt to determine the fate of the world. Her adventures lead her to Cambodia, where the action is set against a distinct backdrop of ancient trees sprawling over ruins.
Fun Fact: The filming in Cambodia famously took place at Ta Prohm in Angkor, which has subsequently been dubbed the “Tomb Raider Temple”.
Ilo Ilo (2013)
Ilo Ilo centers on a Singaporean family and their Filipina helper, exploring the strains of everyday relationships and real life problems amidst the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Fun Fact: Ilo Ilo is the first Singaporean feature film to receive a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It was awarded the Caméra d'Or in 2013.
The Scent of Green Papaya (1993)
Mui is a servant girl for a wealthy household in Saigon. After her first employer’s ruin, she takes up a position with a handsome family friend and his fiancée. An elegant portrayal of Mui’s journey through adolescence, it was awarded the Caméra d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
Fun Fact: Although set in Vietnam, filming for The Scent of Green Papaya actually took place in France.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
This film needs no introduction, but for anyone who still hasn’t seen it, take this as a sign to do so! With two sequels reportedly lined up, you won’t regret diving into the realm of Singapore’s elite where family drama and extravagance go hand in hand.
Fun Fact: Gemma Chan’s character carries a Siren Minaudière by Filipino designer Neil Felipp in the film’s ethereal wedding scene.
As teenagers, Singaporean director Sandi Tan and her friends spent a summer creating an independent film, only for their mentor figure to mysteriously disappear with all the footage. Years later, his widow calls to return the reels. Shirkers is the result of these strange events, part investigation and part reflection.
Fun Fact: Shirkers was awarded the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Su Fey is Dia’s intern from Malaysia. She is currently on a gap year and has volunteered with local welfare and environmental organizations. Her interests include sustainable development, literature, and film photography. Su Fey is planning to pursue a degree in engineering and will begin her undergraduate studies this fall.