Similar to the rise of East Asian modes of entertainment, such as Korean movies and TV or even Japanese anime, as outlined by CNN, Asian literature has also become popular in recent years. Books like Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 were smash hits in their own country, spurring movie adaptations, but, for the first time in history, they began to receive mainstream global attention outside academic study. This interest weaves together well with the increasing demand for global media of entertainment, creating a holistic firsthand experience of another society through the arts.
Poetry and drama were critical literary traditions in classical modes of literature all across Asia; legends were adapted for performance and poetry, like Chunhyang, traditionally retold as pansori, or Peking opera. In countries like Indonesia, poetry has deep cultural roots. It seems only natural that contemporary Asian writers have tapped into making their tradition, creating unique stories that represent the era they have lived through. Some of the best movie adaptations have come from these writers — these are the best movies adapted so far.
7 Crazy Rich Asians
Singaporean-American writer Kevin Kwan released the novel Crazy Rich Asians in 2013, which was then adapted for the screen in 2018. Jon M. Chu directed this adaptation, bringing together an ensemble cast mainly consisting of actors of Chinese descent. A Chinese-American professor of economics (Constance Wu) returns to her boyfriend’s (Henry Golding) native country, Singapore, only to discover that he is extremely wealthy. As she is thrust into the world of Singapore’s elite, her relationship begins to fall apart due to the demands of this new society.
6 Never Let Me Go
Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield star in the 2010 adaptation of British-Japanese novelist and Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro’s award-winning novel Never Let Me Go. In 1952, a medical breakthrough discovers that there is a way to extend the human lifespan. At a boarding school in the English countryside, the sinister implications behind this are exposed: its students are destined to be organ donors. They are not human, but the movie asks what does it mean to have a soul? Does one technically need to be human to take on humane qualities?
5 Raise the Red Lantern
Zhang Yimou, known for his wuxia films, released Raise the Red Lantern in 1991. The movie is an adaptation of the 1990 novel Wives and Concubines, which tackles the concubine system in 1930s China and one woman’s navigation through it. A young woman (Gong Li) has to marry into a wealthy family after the death of her father, but she must become the patriarch’s third concubine in addition to his wife. The movie gorgeously moves from room to room in order to uncover the backstories of the other concubines, all the while offering breathtaking visuals and coloring.
4 Kiki’s Delivery Service
Studio Ghibli films have become a staple of an entire generation and represent the whimsical nostalgia for a time long past. Kiki’s Delivery Service was the fourth film created and animated by the studio, but it was not the last. It was adapted from a children’s book by the Japanese author Eiko Kadono. Thirteen-year-old Kiki is a witch in training, but she has finally come of age. To complete her training, she gathers her cat and trusty broom to start a new life in a seaside town. She opens a delivery business utilizing her flying skills, but difficulties await her as she settles into a routine.
3 Drive My Car
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story, Drive My Car, made waves internationally when released in 2021. It would go on to win the Oscar for Best International Feature Film, among many other awards. An actor and theater director comes home one day to find his wife dead on the floor, and, two years later, he is still grappling with the events that led up to her death. He accepts a residency in Hiroshima to direct a play, which puts in him confrontation with his past alongside new revelations.
2 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an adaptation of a Chinese novel by Wang Dulu. The cast consisted of Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-fat, Zhang Ziyi, and Chang Chen — all big names in Asian entertainment and Hollywood. Set in 1800s China, a swordsman (Chow) and his friend (Yeoh) discover their legendary sword has been stolen by a thief. The epic journey to get that sword back makes this wuxia highly entertaining, full of drama and action, and bursting with beautiful, sweeping shots of scenery.
1 Farewell My Concubine
Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine is a contemporary masterpiece, and one of the best movies from China in decades. Adapted from a novel by Lillian Lee, it stars late LGBTQ+ icon Leslie Cheung, Zhang Fengyi, and Gong Li in the lead roles. A young man (Cheung) performs in Chinese opera in female roles, but his dedication to his acting bleeds into reality as he begins to love his male co-star (Zhang). This unrequited love’s stakes begin to dramatically increase as the Chinese Cultural Revolution unfolds.