4 Best Movies to Watch by Lawrence Ko

Staff & contributors

, 2000

Edward Yang’s masterful and lush Yi Yi follows the lives of the Jian family and their respective, middle-class worries. The father agonizes over a business deal and, at the back of his mind, an old flame. The mother struggles with emptiness, the daughter with sensuality, and the son with his burgeoning artistry. In the periphery are other family members trying to get by as best they can despite having no certain future to look forward to. The story, which is bookended with life and death, is punctuated with these lingering anxieties but also, crucially, with moments of potent, profound joys. 

The premise seems simple, but Yang weaves a breathtaking epic out of the mundane. The mise-en-scene is immersive, the dialogue delicate, and the direction effectively real. The understated elegance of each piece coming together to build a rich whole is what makes YiYi Yang’s legacy to the world of cinema.

Genre: Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: Adriene Lin, An-an Hsu, Chen Yiwen, Cheryl Yang, Danny Deng, Edward Yang, Elaine Jin, Hsi-Sheng Chen, Hsu Kuei-ying, Hsu Shu-Yuan, Issey Ogata, Jerry Sun, Jonathan Chang, Kai-Li Peng, Kate Yeung, Kelly Ko, Kelly Lee, Kenjiro Tsuda, Lawrence Ko, Leon Dai, Liang-Tso Liu, Luo Bei An, Ru-Yun Tang, Sharon Mao, Shau-Ching Sung, Shu-shen Hsiao, Shu-Yuan Hsu, Tang Ru-Yun, Tang Tsung Sheng, Tao Chuang Cheng, Wang Chi-tsan, Wu Nien-Jen, Yi-Wen Chen

Director: Edward Yang

At nearly four hours long, A Brighter Summer Day is a sprawling, beautifully composed film that follows young Xiao Si’r and his eventual entanglements in nearly everything, from love to youth gangs to politics. While parts of the story, particularly its bone-chilling climax, are based on true events, the film is largely reconstructed from Edward Yang’s memories of the era he grew up in. As a result, the visuals feel crisp and true, tinged with just the right amount of nostalgia to balance the grittiness of its realism. 

As coming-of-age films go, A Brighter Summer Day is certainly more on the tragic side. It’s also seminal in its specificity and depth—an absolute must-watch for any and all filmgoers. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alex Yang, Chang Chen, Chang Han, Chang Kuo-chu, Chen Chang, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Chen Yiwen, Chiang Hsiu-Chiung, Chin Tsai, Chuan Wang, Danny Deng, Dao Nan Wang, Elaine Jin, Emily Y. Chang, Feng Guoqiang, Han Chang, Hsi-Sheng Chen, Hsu Ming, Joyce Ni Shu-Chun, King Shih-Chieh, Kuo-Chu Chang, Lang Tsu-Yun, Lawrence Ko, Liang-Tso Liu, Lisa Yang, Ni Shu-Chun, Ru-Yun Tang, Stephanie Lai, Tan Chih-Kang, Tang Ru-Yun, Tsu-Yun Lang, Wang Bosen, Wang Chi-tsan, Weiming Wang, Yi-Wen Chen

Director: Edward Yang

Rating: Not Rated

Based on co-writer Wu Nien-jen’s experiences, Dust in the Wind is a bittersweet coming-of-age story about lost love. The two sweethearts, Ah Yuan (Wang Chien-wen) and Ah Yun (Hsin Shu-fen), move out of their rural hometown to try to make a life in Taipei. Through day-to-day glimpses of the life they’re trying to make, it’s easy to root for their love in the beginning. As they go through the struggles of daily life, the lovers seem to glow only in each other’s presence, thanks to the gorgeous cinematography from Mark Lee Ping-Bin. However, love isn’t enough. Outside circumstances threaten their love, such as poor healthcare, theft, and the military draft. Director Hou Hsiao-hsien refuses to let us recognize this at the immediate moment, though. Like Yuan, the weight of each moment hits us belatedly, and it’s only in the end when he can’t do anything, that we realize it.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chien-wen Wang, Danny Deng, Grace Chen Shu-Fang, Hsin Shu-Fen, Lawrence Ko, Li Tian-Lu, Mei Fang, Wu Ping-nan, Yang Li-yin

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien

Rating: Not Rated

During wartime, war supersedes everything, including love. Wartime would have people ending relationships, forgoing potential dates, and seducing enemies to lead them to downfall, all in order to win, but sometimes, this rarely goes as planned. Lust, Caution is one such story, with the novella’s emotional repression making it a great match for director Ang Lee, main actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai as Japanese informant, and main actress Tang Wei, who made her breakthrough here. It’s not an easy watch. There are moments that falter and the film is a tad too long. But the smoldering stares shared by the two leads, with the lush production design and the beautiful direction, makes Lust, Caution a difficult contemplation of love and sexuality as Wang’s, and the nation’s, double-edged sword.

Genre: Action, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Akiko Takeshita, Anupam Kher, Cheng Yu-Lai, Chih-ying Chu, Chin Ka-lok, Chung Hua Tou, Hayato Fujiki, He Saifei, Jacqueline Zhu Zhi-Ying, Joan Chen, Johnson Yuen, Johnson Yuen Tak-Cheung, Kar Lok Chin, Ko Yu-Luen, Lawrence Ko, Lawrence Ko Yu-Luen, Lee Hom Wang, Leehom Wang, Lisa Lu, Liu Jie, Saifei He, Tang Wei, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tou Chung-Hua, Tou Tsung-Hua, Ven Kao, Vince Kao, Wang Lin, Wei Tang, Yan Su, Ying-hsien Kao

Director: Ang Lee

Rating: NC-17