When did Asian films become so good?

I’ve had Netflix Streaming for a while now, and I find myself watching considerably more foreign films, particularly from Hong Kong and South Korea, than American films. When did they get so good? I watched some back in the 80s and they were pretty crappy – lousy production values, bad translations or maybe bad scripts (hard to say which, really).

And now IMO, they’re better than Hollywood’s output – at least the ones that make it over here. The productions are technically just as good, and the stories are much more compelling.

So, it I want to go back and catch up on the good films I’ve missed, how far back should I be looking?

Bonus question – I think much the same has happened with Bollywood films, so I’m watching more Indian films as well, but what other countries’/regions’ films should I be checking out?

Kurosawa (Japanese) is certainly one of the greats.

I should have mentioned Japanese films, and I agree that Kurosawa is a genius. I was just blown away by Ran (I had to look up the date - 1985), and it seems the rest of the industry took a long tome to catch up to his production standards, and who knows whether they will catch up to his aesthetic standards.

Or am I wrong about this? Honestly, my Japanese film knowledge from back then consisted of more monster movies than anything else. Was Kurosawa a huge exception in the Japanese film industry, or was the Japanese film industry leaps and bounds ahead of their neighbors?

I can’t say I know a lot about the subject but I know he was making films in the 1950’s (like Rashoman or The Seven Samurai) that today are considered absolute classics.

It’s possible there’s some selection bias going on - the awful movies just don’t make it on to Netflix.

I’m sure that’s true. But certainly the technical quality of the films have vastly improved.

Plus, there was a selection bias back in the 80s too. IMO, most of the films I saw back then don’t hold a candle to the ones coming out more recently.

I would assume that the rise of businesses like Samsung has poured money into S. Korea. Sure there was Kurusawa in the 50s-80s in Japan. And of course the rise of Horror and Ultraviolent movies in the 90s and 200s in Japan. The late 80s and 90s had all the Hong Kong action flicks.
I think all the great Eastern movies being made now are informed by these movements.

Asian films have always been good, even those coming out of Korea and Hong Kong during the eighties. The problem was that until recently, the American market for those films was non-existent. I suspect it had something to do with the double explosion of independent cinema and international film festivals.

Never? Most them aren’t very good.

When was there an explosion of independent cinema?

And there was* some* market for those films back in the 80s, because I saw some of them without travelling to Asia. Presumably they were above par, or had something special to recommend them to a US audience.

Around the early nineties, when the “indie film” thing became a serious movement, the major production companies started establishing art-house studios, and South by Southwest and Sundance began garnering significant attention. Prior to this, there wasn’t really a venue for good Asian cinema. There were a few theatres being run by cinephiles where, every now and then, between crazy, eight-hour-long German new wave films, you’d see the occasional Korean or Chinese film, but outside that you were basically out of lunk.

I liked Oldman and I saw the devil. Interesting plots.

I don’t have an answer to your question, but wanted to throw those out.

Netflix has tons of awful american movies, tons of B movie slasher/horror films.

Maybe foreign films are held to a higher standard. But I’ve seen some mediocre foreign films too (mediocre in plot, not so much in production values).

Don’t forget Ozu. We have his stuff here at home going back to the 1930s. In fact, we like Ozu better than we do Kurosawa. Tokyo Story (1953) deserves to be on anyone’s top-10 list.

Watch this, and you will be hooked to Majid Majidi.

Watch this and you will admire Jafar Panahi.

And then there is Abbas Kiarostami.

1953 was a huge year for Japanese filmmaking. In addition to Tokyo Story, Ugetsu, A Geisha, and Gate of Hell were released that year - four major classics.

We have Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu on DVD. Very good. Also his Sansho the Bailiff from the following year. I’m sure we have some others of his too.

As for Kurosawa, my personal favorite is probably Ikiru (1952).

If you want to see an example of a good Bhutanese film, try The Cup (1999). Young monklets in a monastery desperately try to obtain a satellite dish to watch the World Cup.

There have always been a fair number of good Asian films. Here are two that are among my one hundred favorite films:

Chungking Express (1994, Hong Kong, dir. Wong Kar-Wai)
Seven Samurai (1954, Japan, dir. Akira Kurosawa)

Here are some more that are usually considered great films:

Ikiru (1952, Japan, dir. Akira Kurosawa)
Pather Panchali (1955, India, dir. Satyajit Ray)
The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (1939, Japan, dir. Kenji Mizoguchi)
Tokyo Story (1953, Japan, dir. Yasujiro Ozu)
Ugetsu Monogatari (1953, Japan, dir. Kenji Mizoguchi)
Yojimbo (1961, Japan, dir. Akira Kurosawa)

And let’s not forget that Israel is in Asia. The last Israeli film we saw was The Band’s Visit (2007). Good. Based on a true story, IIRC. Also worth a look is The Syrian Bride (2004).

And the Palestinian films Paradise Now (2005) and Divine Intervention (2002).