May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to commemorate the diverse cultures, experiences, and contributions of the AAPI community. Over the years, Asian American and Pacific Islander filmmakers have fought to break stereotypes, working diligently to accurately portray their respective communities on-screen. Through the power of great storytelling and their nuanced portrayals of the AAPI experience, they have showcased the importance of representation and helped to bridge cultural divides. 

Spanning every genre over the decades, their films – both the famous and the underseen – have depicted everything from the poignant details of day-to-day life to the outer reaches of otherworldly fantasy. These unique artistic voices, from the pioneering and award-winning maestros to the experimental artists, have all had something special to offer. 

Most recently, Hollywood has seen a significant rise in AAPI representation, with more diverse roles and stories being told. Movies like Crazy Rich Asians, The Farewell, Minari and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings have not only received critical acclaim for their superb filmmaking and indelible performances, but have also been hits with audiences.  

Last year in particular, one film made history at the 95th Oscars. Everything Everywhere All at Once, starring Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, received 11 Oscar nominations and took home a total of seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Directing. Yeoh became the first Asian actress to win the Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar, and only the second woman of color to do so after Halle Berry, who won for 2001's Monster's Ball. Quan became only the second Asian actor to win the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar, joining Haing S. Ngor, who won for 1984's The Killing Fields

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, A.frame partnered with Oscar-winning film director Freida Lee Mock (Best Documentary Feature for 1995's Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision) and film editor Richard Chew, who won an Oscar for Best Film Editing for Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, as well as Oscar nominee Jessica Sanders and award-winning visual effects artist Eva Flodstrom, to curate a list of films that illustrates the talent and creativity of the AAPI community. 

Here are a few films from the past several decades from the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, India and other countries that entertain and enlighten while dealing with the themes of romantic love, parenthood, environmental preservation, and so much more. 

Blue Bayou

Filmmaker Justin Chon's ongoing dissections of the experience of being an Asian American turn to the immigration system in this portrait of Korean American Antonio (played by Chon himself), a blue-collar worker in the Louisiana bayou who discovers that he could be deported due to a clause in the U.S. adoption process. Created with consultations with numerous real-life adoptees, the film presents a harrowing example of devastating circumstances that have torn apart many families. 


In writer-director Taika Waititi's heartwarming comedy-drama about growing up and trying to make sense of the world, an 11-year-old Maori kid (James Rolleston) living on the east coast of New Zealand in the '80s gets the chance to know his absentee father (Waititi) and learns that the man is not the heroic adventurer he had imagined him to be.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge 

The debut romantic musical comedy from Indian filmmaker Aditya Chopra broke box office records at home in 1995 and, incredibly, is still running in at least one theater in Mumbai. One of the reigning modern rom-com stars, Shah Rukh Khan, and Kajol have effervescent chemistry together as two travelers in Europe who must overcome a slew of obstacles, from an arranged marriage to the pitfalls of international travel.  

Drive My Car 

Chauffeured by a young woman, theater director Yūsuke Kafuku embarks on a trip to Hiroshima to helm a highly anticipated production of the play Uncle Vanya while still recovering from the death of his famous writer wife. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's eloquent look at grief, regret and healing received four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture (becoming the first Japanese feature to do so), Best Directing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film took home the Oscar for Best International Feature Film. 

The Handmaiden 

Visually sumptuous, dramatic, and tastefully erotic, Chan-wook Park's intoxicating psychological thriller updates the conventions of film noir with a twist in Korea during the Japanese occupation. Viewers are best served going into this one with as little foreknowledge as possible, but the setup involves a con man setting his sights on a wealthy, unmarried heiress that he plans to have committed to get his hands on her fortune… but there's far, far more than meets the eye.


In Between Days 

Culled from nearly round-the-clock shooting for two months, this experimental indie from writer, director, and editor So Yong Kim draws on her own experiences as a Korean American immigrant channeled through Aimie (Jiseon Kim), a teen who falls for her best friend against the chilly backdrop of Toronto. The hard life lessons she picks up in the process ring deeply true in this acclaimed 2006 drama, a debut that paved the way for the director's romantic drama Lovesong (2016) a decade later.

In the Mood for Love

One of the most widely beloved films by auteur Wong Kar Wai fuses his knack for rich atmosphere and vivid emotions to a story of unrequited love between Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) in 1962 Hong Kong while each is married to another. As with many of the director's films, this tender look at attraction and regret was years in the making and underwent many changes with a loose, improvised approach that evolved from his previous, much more turbulent love story, 1997’s Happy Together

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... 

Shah Ruhk Khan’s lengthy winning streak with Bollywood productions continued with this 2001 family musical drama about healing the deeply entrenched class divide. Long after adopted Rahul (Khan) is kicked out of the family by an intractable father for marrying below his station, Rahul's younger brother Rohan (Hrithik Roshan) learns the truth and takes steps to heal the rift. A cross-generational success, the film’s use of multinational locations (including London) and its memorable portrayal of the Diwali holiday have since made it a perennial favorite.

Kung Fu Hustle 

After making his name starring in a string of raucous Hong Kong comedies, actor Stephen Chow made the transition to working behind the camera as a writer, producer, and director on a string of beloved and outrageous hits, such as Shaolin Soccer. His biggest international breakthrough was this stylized, violent, and hilarious sendup of martial arts films, heroic bloodshed films, Spaghetti Westerns, and 1940s period epics. Chow stars as Sing, a down-on-his-luck drifter with bad chi who stumbles into the turf of the brutal Axe Gang – and the screen's most unforgettable pair of landlords. 

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision 

Though the controversy has long subsided today, the creation of Washington, D.C.'s Vietnam Veterans Memorial stirred up resistance when the design was commissioned to a 20-year-old Chinese American artist, Maya Lin. This 1994 documentary by Freida Lee Mock, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, captures her resilience in the face of rising protests.

Nobody Knows 

Acclaimed filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda has scored major successes with films like After Life (1998), Still Walking (2008), and Shoplifters (2018). One of his most affecting looks at human dynamics came with this small-scale 2004 drama partially based on a notorious real-life case of child abandonment in Japan. When his mother takes off, young Akira is left in their apartment to care for and protect his three younger half-siblings who must be kept out of sight from the landlord. Distinct and unforgettable, the film went into the record books at Cannes when young star Yûya Yagira became the first Japanese winner and the youngest winner in the Best Actor category. 

Once Were Warriors

Based on a novel by author Alan Duff, this gritty 1994 drama tackles the issue of domestic violence in New Zealand. Jake (Temuera Morrison), an unemployed Maori in the Auckland slums, has a horrible temper that he takes out on his family. His wife Beth (Rena Owen) takes regular beatings, and the kids try to avoid getting into trouble at home. Lee Tamahori's film is not an easy watch by any means. The performances of its excellent cast, however, make sitting through Once Were Warriors worth it.

Princess Mononoke 

There has to be a Hayao Miyazaki film here somewhere, and what better place to start than with the one that truly broke through in the U.S. theatrical market when it was given a prestigious arthouse release. The animation legend’s respect for the environment and delicate touch for the textures of characters and landscapes are all on display in this groundbreaking 1997 anime classic in which cursed young warrior Ashitaka becomes embroiled in a clash between mankind and deep forest dwellers, including the titular princess who holds the key to stopping cataclysmic destruction.

Rabbit In the Moon 

Emiko Omori's powerful 1999 documentary takes a unique perspective on the notorious internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II. Winning Best Documentary Cinematography at Sundance and its release via PBS helped to spread the word about the film, which details how the detainees responded to and viewed their treatment. Much of the narrative is framed from the perspective of Omori, a preschooler during the internment, and her sister Chizuko, a teenager who had to grapple with the experience long after the war had ended.

Return to Seoul

A collaboration between seven countries and shot in a combination of Korean, French, and English, Davy Chou's 2022 drama explores the search for identity and fulfillment. Adopted by a French family, South Korean-born Freddie (Park Ji-min) finds out during a circumstantial stopover in Seoul that she can communicate via telegram with her biological parents. What ensues is a journey during which Freddie's outlook shifts as she finds both struggle and potential trying to communicate with her blood relatives.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… Spring 

The cycle of life is captured with rare poetry in this 2003 examination of a man's life from young Buddhist apprentice to elderly monk, broken into five segments, leaping forward at least a decade at a time. An elaborately constructed lake set serves as the unique and stunning backdrop for this meditative study of the passage of time, which is now regarded as a key entry in modern South Korean cinema.

Treeless Mountain 

After In Between Days, So Yong Kim returned two years later with this sophomore American feature shot on location in Seoul. Her 2008 drama focuses on two much younger female characters, little Jin and Bin. When their mother takes off to find their wayward father, the girls are left in the care of their alcoholic aunt. Their mother leaves them with a piggy bank, telling them that she will return when it is full. Determined Jin and Bin come up with ways to fill their piggy bank, taking care of themselves in their mother's absence. With its child’s eye view of life in a world that doesn’t always value the youngest generations, the film shines a light on the endurance of those who have been left behind.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives 

This ethereal drama became Thailand's first production to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes. The culmination of an ambitious cross-media art project by filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, no screen depiction of reincarnation is quite like this mind-bending Thai modern classic. As he nears death, an elderly man is visited by his wife's ghost and other apparitions tied to his life as he gets a look at his history in various lifetimes on earth.


Unfinished Business: The Japanese American Internment Cases 

This documentary charts the powerful stories of three people whose paths were permanently impacted by the Japanese American internments of World War II. Washington college student Gordon Hirabayashi, Oregon attorney Min Yasui, and San Francisco welder Fred Korematsu served sentences for violating laws against Japanese Americans. 40 years later, they file suits to have their sentences overturned. This acclaimed 1985 film by Steven Okazaki received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara 

Another ambitious Hindi-language film shot across multiple continents (this time ranging from Egypt to the U.K.), this 2011 dramedy from Zoya Akhtar takes the formula of The Hangover in a far more heartfelt and romantic direction. When three best buddies decide to embark on a bachelor party road trip through Spain as a last hurrah, they end up getting more than they bargained for when they discover a few things that might end their bond forever – or strengthen it.

3 Idiots 

This popular 2009 Bollywood farce from Rajkumar Hirani tackles the state of the 21st-century educational system as seen through the eyes of three close-knit college students whose engineering aspirations come up against the pressures of their assignments, family tragedies, and their own sense of competition. The successful teaming of stars Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan, and Sharman Joshi got moviegoers into seats, while its important message of balancing mental health and academic achievements made it a staple of educational viewing throughout India and other Asian countries, including China and Japan.    


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