From the Intercom: The Best Films of 2022
Asian and Asian American cinema in 2022 was decidedly uncategorical. As monoliths crumble and new ways of being Asian in the diaspora are revealed on screen, audiences this year were treated to intimate personal stories as well as the thrill of breaking barriers we barely had words for. There will always be a cultural gulf between Asian cinema and Asian American cinema, but for the first time in my life, I felt that the gulf started to bridge this year.
Whether it was keying into meta narratives America has been gluttonous for or tattooing Hong Kong fight sequences and Wong Kar-wai sentimentality into a film’s DNA, the cross-pollination of Asian America’s burgeoning idiosyncrasies and the stalwart techniques of Asian cinema were on full display. In terms of accessibility, I saw more Asian films through streaming services and in theaters this year than in any other. I no longer had to depend on the tried and true, yet seasonal, Asian film festivals to get my fix (which you should still always attend by the way.)
From the Intercom’s “Best Films of 2022” represents the bountiful narrative future that we want. There wasn’t any contention of whether a film deserved to be on this list, moreso comments like, “Oh yeah. That was great. That came out this year??” Each film on this list left a special mark on our diligent staff, including one that opened up a googly third eye in all of us. -Justin Ricafort
Here are the Best Films of 2022, decided by the staff of From the Intercom.
Turning Red, directed by Domee Shi
In 2018, Pixar’s short film “Bao” struck a bittersweet chord within the Asian diaspora community—it showed, for the first time in many years, that the first-gen struggle is real, complex, and deserves to be shown by one of the biggest Western animation companies on Earth. Ever since its success, director Domee Shi’s followup feature film was one that was hotly anticipated, and to say the least, Turning Red truly delivers, landing itself as the second most streamed film on Disney+ last year.
If there was one thing I heard, and kept on hearing when I asked my circle about this film, it was that so much of it was just so relatable: sometimes in generic childhood ways, and sometimes in comfortingly specific ways. Mei’s struggles with growing up, including defining moments of embarrassment and new, overwhelming emotions, are a relatively common coming-of-age experience for most—we can all watch with a chuckle and say “yep, been there.” But Turning Red goes beyond that, showing everything from the awkwardness of the first menstrual cycle, to crushing a little too hard in parasocial relationships, to wanting to please your parents and culture while also learning to be your own self, to the overwhelming bodily comments from the gaggle of Aunties you only see once a year.
It’s a true graduation from “Bao” all those years ago, with Shi creating a stunning, entertaining, and fun feature that viewers of all ages will find themselves relating to, in one way or another. – Jacob Ugalde
Incantation, directed by Kevin Ko
More than any genre, horror has the incredible power to bring you into a movie and force you to feel the fear and anxiety of its characters. You watch the terrible things happen on screen and shudder at the thought that the same could happen to you. What if you were actually a part of the experience? What if your actions during the movie could lead to the horrors that you were so afraid of?
Incantation does exactly that. Our protagonist, Li Ronan, narrates the film and asks us to participate. She implores us to memorize these strange symbols and to join her in prayer and chanting when we see them on screen. But as the mystery of the horror reveals itself to us, we realize that symbols and prayer weren’t as protective as we thought. The horrors are real because of our participation.
If the horror of religious cults, curses, and the supernatural are your thing, then I recommend giving Incantation a watch. But be careful what you wish for. – Brian Kim
Return to Seoul, directed by Davy Chou
Wild, spontaneous, and free-spirited, Freddie (Park Ji-min) wants to continue living her life just as it is. Even though she’s a Korean adoptee who was raised in France, she doesn’t seem to really care about her biological family history. But after some prodding from some French-speaking hostel workers during a brief stint in Korea, she finally relents and reluctantly tries to go on that journey. What follows, however, are not happy tears and warm embraces. Instead, it’s all awkwardness and confusion. This is not what she signed up for.
I obviously can’t speak to the complicated experience of being an adoptee, but I found a lot of similarities between my own lived experience of being an Asian American reflected in Return To Seoul. Countless moments in the film spoke true to the hardships of going back to a place that should feel like home, but ultimately doesn’t. It’s especially hard when one confronts that life that could’ve been head-on and all the uncomfortable emotions that come with it all at once.
Freddie is a fully-fleshed out character, making countless choices that many may find bewildering, but rings true to these chaotic complicated feelings. Over the span of several years within the film, Return To Seoul also allows us to see the evolution of those feelings as Freddie matures — a rarity in these types of films. Helmed by a masterful performance by first-time actress Park Ji-min and artful direction by Cambodian-French director Davy Chou, Return to Seoul is an absolutely transfixing coming-of-age journey unlike you’ve ever seen. – Li-Wei Chu
Leonor Will Never Die, directed by Martika Escobar
In the middle of someone’s filmmaking journey, there will always be a point where the creative mind questions if they have more to offer. When life stalls, when family is had, and when sacrifices are made, how are you to distinguish if you are in a lull or have reached the end? The films that stay with us are the ones that suggest that life never really ends so long as the story is told.
A dream wrapped up in an action film disguised as a family drama, Leonor Will Never Die is a turducken of a film about Leonor (Sheila Francisco), an aging mother and former screenwriter in the Philippines whose realities become inextricably blended. As she attempts to untangle what is reality and fiction, her family, community, and characters are forced to ask themselves which parts of their lives are worth asserting, performing, and leaving behind.
Martika Ramirez Escobar’s timeless psychological comedy drama is a story about all the stories that we tell ourselves to get through it all. For non-filmmakers, it’s a story about how a movie comes to life in every fiber of our friends and families conversations. For filmmakers, it’s a story that bewilders us once more on how the hell any movie gets made in the first place. Leonor, the character, and the film endeavors us to consider the love needed to tell a story and sustain it. It speaks to me as someone in between both worlds, learning what it means to love harder.
The film is racking up international accolades and is ensuring that Filipino cinema proudly sticks itself in the craw of filmmaking that is decreasingly being defined by America and the West. It’s one of the most entertaining films of the past year and Leonor Will Never Die is as strong as a film as it is a statement of immortality for Filipinos everywhere. – Justin Ricafort
Everything Everywhere All at Once, directed by Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)
You know how if you stare at a word too long, it starts to look strange and made-up? Life can be messy like that. If you think about anything too much, it can start to feel meaningless. Everything Everywhere All at Once tackles the nihilist’s dilemma, (in the form of an Everything Bagel, no less) in a surprising, ambitious multi-verse production that sets out to convince you on the healing, transcendental power of love — and it wildly succeeds.
Hidden behind eclectic, cosmic-bomb scenes where you feel like you’re watching something straight out of a particle accelerator and bits that are so ridiculous and inane you’re shocked it made it on the big screen (dildo trophy, anybody?) are moments that are so intimate and heartwarming, you don’t even realize the tears have sprung until you taste them in your popcorn.
I had gone into the film blind, avoiding spoilers and plot synopses from friends who had already seen it, hoping for the full experience. One friend had told me the wonder of EEAAO was that despite the Asian cast and storyline, there’s really something for everyone. I found that rang true. EEAAO is all-encompassing, with bits and pieces that tug at anyone and everyone’s hearts, be it Joy’s queer struggle, the feeling of detachment from estranged parents, love, regrets, failures, perhaps a (hopefully) less exaggerated version of Jobu’s hopelessness with the world.
For me, however, a first-generation daughter to immigrant Chinese parents who made their living in America on laundry, EEAAO hit home on the often complicated culture and relationship dynamic that can, at times, be mind-numbingly exhausting. Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan’s Oscar-worthy performances of “tough love,” often overbearing parents tugged at my most personal heartstrings, reminding me that like them, they are people I would go to hell and back for, countless times over. And like Stephanie Hsu’s Joy, we learn that the search for the “meaning of life” could truly be found in the simple things.
In the words of Quan’s Waymond: “So, even though you have broken my heart yet again, I wanted to say, in another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.” -Nancy Jiang
RRR, directed by SS Rajamouli
Free Chol Soo Lee, directed by Eugene Yi & Julia Ha
Fast and Feel Love, directed by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit
Triangle of Sadness, directed by Ruben Östlund
Broker, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Omoiyari: A Songfilm, directed by Kishi Bashi & Justin Taylor Smith
Decision to Leave, directed by Park Chan-wook
Holy Spider, directed by Ali Abbasi
Special thanks to Justin Ricafort, Jacob Ugalde, Brian Kim, Li-Wei Chu, Nancy Jiang for their contributions, and to Derrek Chow for designing the banner graphic.