10 great modern Southeast Asian films

A rough guide to contemporary cinema from Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia is an expansive region that produces diverse cinema, much of which now reaches the international festival circuit. Yet only a relatively limited number of titles receive overseas commercial release, usually based on the director’s prestige or their potential to ride current genre waves.

Spotty distribution aside, a further challenge for viewers looking to familiarise themselves with contemporary south-east Asian cinema is acquiring relevant knowledge of influential films from past decades. For instance, the vibrant works of Filipino master Lino Brocka have inspired Lav Diaz, Brillante Mendoza and Khavn De La Cruz yet remain little known in the west. South-east Asia’s film industry is generally better developed today than when Brocka made his classic Manila in the Claws of Light (1975), which is now restored and available on a new BFI Blu-ray with the same director’s Insiang (1976). But the difficulties of shoestring budgets and political restrictions remain for directors seeking to follow his fiercely personal path.

For the full list, visit  BFI Film Forever, www.bfi.co.uk

About the author(s)

Kathy Rowland is the Managing Editor of ArtsEquator.com, a registered charity that she co-founded with Jenny Daneels in 2016. The site is dedicated to supporting and promoting arts criticism with a regional perspective in Southeast Asia. Kathy has worked in the arts for over 25 years, working in the areas of critical writing and arts advocacy, with a special interest in media platforms for the arts. She is the Project Lead for ArtsEquator’s Southeast Asian Arts and Culture Censorship Documentation Project, launched in 2021. She has written extensively on censorship of arts and culture in Malaysia. She was a member of the International Programme Advisory Committee of the 8th World Summit on Arts and Culture, 2019.

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