Movies can do that magical thing of transporting us to another part of the world. As children, movies shape our opinion of a far-away destination, its people, geography, customs, and food. As adults, movies often inspire us, whetting our appetite to travel somewhere or perhaps scaring us off that destination entirely. As we did several episodes earlier, discussing books about Asia that influenced our impressions of the region, on this episode we’ll chat about some noteworthy and most memorable movies about Asia or set in Asia. Get your popcorn ready!

Scott & Trevor chat about the first movies set in Asia they remember: 

Scott: Rambo 1&2, Missing in Action, Brokedown Palace, Bloodsport, Bridge on the River Kwai. I thought it was poverty, guns and war.

Trevor: I didn’t see Brokedown until later but i did see Midnight Express: scary. Otherwise, yeah: Every Vietnam War movie: Platoon, FMJ, Born on the 4th…

The coveted double-sheet Apocalypse Now Thai movie poster


Every other week, we have a special Patron-only episode or video. Donate as little as $1/month to enjoy our bonus content. Your donation helps us cover the costs of keeping the show alive. Thanks in advance for your support.

Some memorable early films set or shot in Asia:

Scott mentions Air America and Good Morning Vietnam. Both agree Apocalypse Now is one of the all-time greats in every way with an early career all-star cast. Kickboxer – 1989, Jean Claude Van Damme in Ayutthaya where Noah and Tony acted out the scenes. Bloodsport Scott remembers was awesome but has seen clips since and wow it is bad and dated. Trevor still remembers it and Kickboxer so iconically: Check out the dancing/fight scene in a bar for pure 80s bliss.

Beyond the Vietnam war genre, however, Scott and Trevor both mentioned The Last Emperor (BEST PICTURE WINNER) – ​​Aisin Gioro Puyi, the last emperor of China, has a sheltered upbringing till his world gets turned upside down by the Chinese revolution, a subsequent exile and an inconspicuous end. Release date: October 23, 1987 (Italy) Director: Bernardo Bertolucci. Scott suggested Bridge Over the River Kwai (SCOTT’s), which Trevor saw at USC in Film Class with Drew Casper.

Tony Jaa: Thailand’s martial-arts movie master

As we discovered Asian cinema:

China: Trevor suggests two sides of the same coin:  Hong Kong and Mainland China…

Chungking Express– IMDB says, “Two melancholy Hong Kong policemen fall in love: one with a mysterious female underworld figure, the other with a beautiful and ethereal waitress at a late-night restaurant he frequents.” Director: Kar-Wai Wong | Stars: Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Faye Wong

Fairwell my Concubine: IMDB says, “Two boys meet at an opera training school in Peking in 1924. Their resulting friendship will span nearly 70 years and will endure some of the most troublesome times in China’s history.” Director: Kaige Chen.

Ju On: The Grudge

And then there’s Kung Fu and Horror, althought they’re not really ABOUT Asia most of the time.

Ju-on,, Ringu…damn scary! Shutter: the Thai one is solid (introducing Ananada Everingham) and inspired Hollywood to do a worse job with Jessica Alba as lead (who later starred in the Thai-shot, and way sexier The Mechanic).

Crouching Tiger & Kung Fu hustle were hits with western audiences but not really ABOUT Asia either. And somewhat controversial for only being considered instant-classics because they were arguable intended for a western audiennce.

Hero was cool in that it was Kung Fu AND historical: Jet Li: IMDB says, “A defense officer, Nameless, was summoned by the King of Qin regarding his success of terminating three warriors.” Director: Yimou Zhang

Shutter: the better Thai version

After we moved to Asia:

Tomb Raider. The Beach. City of Ghosts – Stupid foreigners in Cambodia? Arguably scarier than the Killing Fields

Scott: I really liked this one – solid effort from Matt Dillon, James Kahn with and it had the late Snow from Maxine’s bar and a samlor driver who I met a few times. Great scenes particularly atop Bokor Mountain before the reno. Well worth a watch.

The Hangover 2, obvs. Scott says: Not good but fun to know where they were shot.

Scott: There was a bad Ryan Goslin movie shot here in the last decade (saw him eating at WTF) and the bad Nick Cage one Bangkok Dangerous. The city always looks mega cool at night but avoid these movies.

The Man with the Golden Gun of course (we almost forgot). Trevor joined a Q&A with Christopher Lee at the Bangkok Film Festival one year where Lee reminisced about the film (and complained about Sauron scenes getting cut from LOTR).

The Beach: shot on Phi Phi Ley, Thailand

Trevor loved the beginning of Tom Waller’s Soi Cowboy (the end too: very Lynch).

Slumdog Millionaire. Scott says, fantastic – Danny Boyle really knocked it out of the park and gave a really good portrayal of life in India

Scott: Ong Bak – this was beyond cool – his own stunts – Tony Jaa was about to take the world by storm then the sequels really sucked, but this is well worth checking out for incredible martial arts really done by him.

Hey, listen to the episode if you want to hear the rest of the list: It’s good stuff! 😀 ~ Trevor


Learn more about Scott and Trevor:

Theme Music by Jamie Ruben

Liked it? Take a second to support Talk Travel Asia on Patreon!

Leave a Reply