Top 10 Asian Noir & Neo-Noir Films to Watch

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Film noir is one of the most valuable genres in cinema. Along with its successor, neo-noir, the genre swept the world and produced some of the most interesting and beautiful films. Many filmmakers in Asia got the memo and started making their versions of noir, mixing genres and tropes perfectly.


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The list of Asian noir and neo-noir films is long and can take time to go through. However, there are examples of how the genre has changed and influenced filmmakers over the years. Some amazing properties represent the best of the breed from Asia, unique in their production and creation. For noir lovers, it’s like Christmas all over again.

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‘Stray Dog’ (1949) – Japan

Stray Dog - 1949

Stray Dog (Nora Inu) among the most famous collaborations between Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Together, the two made sixteen masterpieces, and Stray Dog the third in that collaboration, and also one of Kurosawa’s non-samurai films. Mifune plays a detective who loses his gun in the slums of Japan and desperately searches for it.

Akira Kurosawa said the film was inspired by a true detective who wrote a novel about losing his firearm. Although the novel was not published, Kurosawa thought it would make a good film. This is one of his most famous features, although he said it was “too technical.” Fans of classic noir will agree that this film is worth recommending.

‘Zero Focus’ (1961) – Japan

The female lead of the film noir 'Zero Focus'

The golden age of Japanese crime films began in the post-war era; Colorful posters, Western fashion and film titles that resemble James Bond series were all the rage in the early 1960s. Zero focus (Zero No Shouten) is one of those movies, except it throws mystery and a lot of suspense into the mix.

The story revolves around Teiko (Yoshiko Kuga) and in search of her missing husband. She follows hidden clues and postcards to find out where he is, and thus stumbles upon more than she can handle. This particular thriller is directed by women and seems to be heavily influenced by Hitchcockespecially Vertigo.

‘The Bad Sleep Well’ (1960) – Japan

Toshiro Mifune and Kou Nishimura in 'The Bad Sleep Well'

Another famous collaborator of Kurosawa and Mifune, The Sleepless Well (Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru) focuses on corporate crime and is inspired by Shakespeareand Hamlet. It imitates noir in the most surprising ways, as Mifune plays the son-in-law of the CEO of his company, whose intentions are not as pure as viewers are first led to believe. .

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His motive is revenge, and the other two suspicions surrounding the group are financial mismanagement and fraud. The Sleepless Well It’s a work of art – Kurosawa’s direction from this film is often scrutinized, from setting the scene to letting the actors be the characters without saying much , or anything. This movie has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, for good reason.

‘The Housemaid’ (1960) – South Korea

Eun-shim Lee in 'The Housemaid'

It’s time to leave Japan and land in South Korea, where some of the best and most prominent noir films have been made. Some publications like Nikkei went so far as to call South Korean cinema the “home of film noir”. In many ways, that’s right, but their noir roots go back further than what audiences like today.

The Housewife (Hanyo) is an example of that. A busy family needs a housekeeper, so they hire Myung-seok (Eun-shim Lee) by suggestion. However, she seems to be anything but, and her presence sends the family into a downward spiral. The film was so terrible for its time (and even today, considering when it was made) that Eun-shim Lee was never hired again because she was considered immoral for her role .

‘Infernal Affairs’ (2002) – Hong Kong

Infernal Affairs (2002)

Fans of the movie The Departed maybe he doesn’t know he was inspired by Hong Kong Infernal Affairs (Mou Gaan Dou). The movie is so good that anyone who watched it praises it more than The Departed. It’s tight and full of surprises, with a stellar cast – Tony Leung and Andrew Lau star as the criminal-cop combo.

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Tony Leung plays the tormented mole in the ranks of the police, and Andy Lau portrays the pale undercover officer. Their goals are the same – both have to find the mole in the places where their loyalties lie, although these lines are becoming more and more blurred for them. This film, along with its sequel, is one of the most acclaimed Hong Kong films of all time.

‘A Bittersweet Life’ (2005) – South Korea

Shin Min-a and Lee Byung-hun in 'A Bittersweet Life'

When you ask a South Korean movie lover to recommend a movie, their list usually starts Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan Insaeng). This modern neo-noir classic has found its way to the screens of genre lovers since its release. Lee Byung-hun He is in the lead, and he plays Sun-woo, the manager of the bar La Dolce Vita and the deputy boss of the underground mobster Kang.

When Sun-woo fails to carry out his orders and Kang finds out, his life turns upside down. It goes from the sweet life to the bitter, because it seems that Sun-woo’s motives are in more than just fulfilling orders. This TarantinoBloodshed -esque takes elements of noir in its quieter moments when the audience is forced to believe that Sun-woo has made it and is doing the right thing.

‘Mad Detective’ (2007) – Hong Kong

Lau Ching-wan in 'Mad Detective'

The creators of the Mad Detective (San Taam) has made an inventive and highly engaging film. Former Principal Investigator (Lau Ching-wan) had fallen from grace and had to leave the service because of his unorthodox methods of solving crimes. However, when a police officer and his gun go missing, he must help rookie detective Ho.Andy on) find out the truth behind it.

The film is a tribute to Kurosawa Stray Dog, but it’s also a new and unique twist on the story. Despite a few details here and there, it is recommended to stay with the film; It’s an acting masterclass by Lau and an interesting spin on non-noir and detective stories as a whole.

‘The Chaser’ (2008) – South Korea

Kim Yeon - Caught in 'The Chaser'

The Hunter (Chugyeokja) is another neo-noir from South Korea, but this time, it combines the noir elements with a gripping thriller. The race against time combined with the sinister story of a corrupt cop running a prostitution ring sounds like a promising film, and it is. The film gives way to a unique South Korean plot within a plot trope.

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The Hunter it was released during a wave of South Korean releases; much has been made for imitation I saw the Devil and An old boy, and several of them managed to do that and one up them at that. There is no doubt that the two classics are an inspiration to the genre, but The Hunter equally worthy of that title.

‘Black Coal, Thin Ice’ (2014) – China

A scene from the Chinese film noir 'Black Coal, Thin Ice'

The latest noir thriller from China, Black Coal, Thin Ice (Bai Ri Yan Huo).

The entire film screams noir – from the dark and subtle setting of a smoky town to the art-house-like cinematography. All the writing, along with great acting, proves how popular this movie is and puts it on the list of the best Asian movies of the 21st century.

‘The Wild Goose Lake’ (2019) – China

He Gu in 'The Wild Goose Lake'

Wild Goose Lake (Nanfang Chezhan of Juhui) has everything a noir lover wants, from an interesting story down to lighting and cinematography. It’s about an ex-convict doing everything he can to protect his family and the woman he’s interested in. The director Yi’nan Dao delivered first Black Coal, Thin Ice so the viewers who watched it can guess what it is.

Gwei Lun-mei returns as the main female role (from Black Coal, Thin Ice) and creates a great chemistry with the Chinese heartthrob actor It is to, who will play the lead. Dao himself has called Wild Goose Lake film noir; his motivations are many heavyweights, while he manages to create his own species.

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