44 Best Movies to Watch From Taiwan

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

The atmosphere in Millennium Mambo is magical. The opening scene alone will leave you enchanted, with long walks through a tunnel-like space and dreamy techno music playing in the background. We are misled into thinking that this will be a movie full of colors and dance, and to some degree, this is true, as it portrays Taipei and its neon colors of green, pink, and blue, featuring dance sequences in a bar that serves flashy drinks. But as the movie develops, a chilling shadow is cast as we become entangled in a brutal relationship that is as full of cruelty as it is of love and lust. Narrated from the future, the story shows how the present-day protagonist, Vicky, grapples with her identity as she looks back upon her past self from ten years ago.

Chaotic, messy, but also peppered with moments of serenity and shot with flawless camerawork and cinematography, Millennium Mambo makes time feel fluid, and serves as a reminder that no matter how rough the journey may be, everything is always okay in the end.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chun-hao Tuan, Doze Niu Cheng-Tse, Duan Chun-hao, Jack Kao, Pauline Chan, Pauline Chan Bo-Lin, Qi Shu, Rio Peng, Shu Qi

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien, Hsiao-Hsien Hou

Rating: R

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

A City of Sadness is a film set in 1945, after Japan is defeated in the war and Taiwan is subject to uncertainties of a changing sociopolitical landscape. It follows the four Lin brothers, who each struggle in this tumultuous period — from Wen-heung, the eldest who gets on the bad side of a local gang, to Wen-ching, who chooses to stand against the Chinese Kuomintang government despite being deaf-mute. 

Instead of turning to the usual machinations of a historical family drama, director Hou Hsiao-hsien shows the vast expanse of Taiwanese countryside through steady, beautiful cinematography. In urban areas, the camera moves in scenes of sudden violence, which it pans toward until it exits frame for us to only hear the screams of people offscreen. There are also quiet interludes that barely last a minute, where dynamics between characters depict the anxiety of the times. Tony Leung, who plays the deaf-mute brother, hasn't refined the craft of subtle acting with his eyes yet, but traces of brilliance are already there. 

The trauma of rapidly changing times, as a nation is exploited from one war to the next, is depicted so clearly. The authoritarian state erodes families, and Hou paints a picture of a society on the brink, a representation of 1940s Taiwan that feels more like a tragic poem than a film.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Chan Chung-Yung, Grace Chen Shu-Fang, Hsin Shu-Fen, Jack Kao, Kelly Ko, King Shih-Chieh, Li Tian-Lu, Mei Fang, Su-Yun Ko, Tai Bo, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tsai Chen-Nan, Wu Nien-Jen, 吴念真

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien

, 2019

In The Sun, a family of four is dealt with tragedy after tragedy, beginning with the younger sun A-ho's sudden incarceration. The mother is sympathetic but the father all but shuns him as he chooses to throw all his affection to A-hao, the older brother, and his med school pursuits instead. Themes of crime, punishment, family, and redemption are then explored in gorgeous frames and mesmerizing colors with director Chung Mong-hong doubling as the film's cinematographer. 

Despite itself, The Sun never falls into cliche melodrama territory. Its heavy themes are undercut by naturalistic acting and poetic shots, resulting in a deeply emotional but balanced film. Rich in meaning and beauty, The Sun will surely stay with you long after your first watch.

 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Family

Actor: Apple Wu, Chang Han, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen, Chen-Ling Wen, Chien-Ho Wu, Chih-ju Lin, Greg Hsu, Guan-Ting Liu, Han Chang, Huang Hsin-Yao, Ivy Yin, Ko Shu-Chin, Kuan-Ting Liu, Li-Tung Chang, Liao Hui-Jen, Lin Chih-ju, Liu Kuan-ting, Lung Shao-Hua, Ming-Shuai Shih, Samantha Ko, Samantha Shu-Chin Ko, Shao-Huai Chang, Shu-Chin Ko, Shu-qin Ke, Siu Wa Lung, Wang Ko-Yuan, Wen Chen-ling, Wu Chien-ho, Wu Tai-ling, Yi-Wen Chen, Yin Shin

Director: Chung Mong-hong, Mong-Hong Chung

Rating: N/A

Slow cinema might be an acquired taste for many viewers, but Tsai Ming-liang's gorgeous feature debut about Taiwan's aimless youth should have enough mystery and suspense to draw anybody in. They key, as with many of these films, isn't to demand that things happen or actions get explained, but to surrender to every possibility and suggestion of what might be motivating these characters beneath the surface. And through patient, perceptive observation, Tsai gives us so much to chew on: the sleeplessness of urban life, the unpredictability of relationships, and most importantly the morality that forms when a disillusioned young man fully embraces his being an outcast.

And if nothing else, Tsai provides us with some of the most beautiful and honest images of city life around. It's hard to describe, but just the neon-lit arcade halls and dingy hotel rooms are enough to let you into who these characters are. It's an experience not to be missed.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Chen Chao-jung, Lee Kang-sheng, Lu Yi-Ching, Miao Tian, Miao Tien, Wang Yu-wen, Yu-Wen Wang

Director: Tsai Ming-liang

Serene and almost silent, Goodbye, Dragon Inn is a film contemplating an old movie theater in Taipei. In its heyday, this cinema was jam-packed and full of eager eyes watching the 1967 Wuxia classic Dragon Inn, but now it’s nearly empty for its last screening. Despite the lack of attendees, this cinema still has some life. Like the annoying audience members we're all familiar with, the moviegoers still noisily chew on popcorn, put their feet on the headrest in front of them, and refuse to remain silent when walking. Director Tsai Ming-liang affectionately captures moviegoers in their natural element, recreating an experience so nostalgic it makes me want to go back to the theaters. Watching this, post-pandemic in the age of streaming, reminds us of the ways we still try to connect in the cinema in real life.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Chen Chao-jung, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Lee Kang-sheng, Miao Tien, Shih Chun, Yang Kuei-Mei

Director: Tsai Ming-liang

Rating: Not Rated

To plenty of countries around the globe, democracy has become so ubiquitous that we forget it’s relatively new, at least relative to the rest of human history. Bhutan is one of the last countries that became a democracy, and writer-director Pawo Choyning Dorji chose to depict a slice of how they made the shift in The Monk and the Gun. As Tashi sets out to obtain two weapons for his mentor, and Ron seeks a specific antique gun, Dorji presents slice-of-life moments of the beautiful Bhutan countryside, intercut with the subtle ways tradition still persists amidst modernity, and the funny ways change can clash with culture. It’s no wonder The Monk and the Gun was chosen as the Bhutanese entry for the Best International Feature at the 96th Academy Awards.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Choeying Jatsho, Deki Lhamo, Pema Zangmo Sherpa, Tandin Sonam, Tandin Wangchuk

Director: Pawo Choyning Dorji

All the synopses going around the internet won’t fail to let you know that The Falls takes place at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. The film is certainly marketed that way, with commercial posters featuring the leads in ubiquitous face masks, socially distanced from the blurred crowd. 

But interestingly, The Falls is not just a situational, pandemic-era story. More than anything else, it tells the story of Pin-wen and Xiao Jing, mother and daughter who, despite previously living a life of comfort, are now dealt with unfavorable circumstances (exacerbated but not entirely caused by the pandemic). Now, they are forced to navigate life with only each other, and it’s in the isolation they instate from the rest of the world do they forge a genuine and heartwrenching bond any and all family members will immediately recognize and perhaps even sympathize with. 

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Alyssa Chia, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen, Gingle Wang, Guan-Ting Liu, Huang Hsin-Yao, Kuan-Ting Liu, Lee-zen Lee, Liang-Tso Liu, Shao-Huai Chang, Shau-Ching Sung, Tiffany Hsu, Waa Wei, Yang Li-yin, Yi-Wen Chen

Director: Chung Mong-hong

Rating: Not Rated

Slow and almost silent, Edward Yang’s second feature film pins us down in a fast-moving city. In 1980s Taipei, Chin and Lung are childhood sweethearts who try to build a life together, but differences between their wants threaten to pull them apart. Chin bravely adapts to the changes she faces—moving house, shifting jobs, etc.—while Lung misses his promising baseball career and prioritizes familial debt. Through their relationship, the film captures the anxieties of a generation pulled between new Western consumerism and old Asian familial obligations. Watching the two lovers feels like being lost in a cold urban city, unable to move and not knowing where to go.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Chen Shu-fang, Chin Tsai, Cynthia Khan, Grace Chen Shu-Fang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Ko I-chen, Ko Su-yun, Lin Hsiu-ling, Mei Fang, Peng Sun, Su-Yun Ko, Tsai Chin, Wu Nien-Jen, Yang Li-yin, 吴念真

Director: Edward Yang

Rating: Not Rated

At the height of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, a small Singaporean family scrambles to keep their middle-class status afloat. The parents shave their expenses and work extra-long hours, but their busyness causes them to neglect their misbehaved son. When his misdemeanors prove to be too much, the mother is forced to hire a stay-at-home nanny, and her presence (along with other external pressures) brings about a change in the house. Suddenly, everyone becomes a bit more aware of their limitations and potential, and from this, a shared empathy grows. In other hands, this story might come off as bare and forgettable, but under first-time-feature director Anthony Chen’s helm, Ilo Ilo comes to life in rich detail, thoughtful shots, and captivatingly natural performances. Despite its many heartbreaking scenes, the film rarely dwells in sentiment, and it's this restraint that makes Ilo Ilo all the more gripping to watch. 

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Angeli Bayani, Chen Tian Wen, Chen Tianwen, Jialer Koh, Jo Kukathas, Koh Jia Ler, Peter Wee, Stephanie Kiong, Tian Wen Chen, Yann Yann Yeo, Yeo Yann Yann

Director: Anthony Chen

Rating: Not Rated, PG-13

Eat Drink Man Woman takes place in Taipei, Taiwan in the mid-1990s. It tells the story of an aging father and his three daughters, all of whom are navigating different phases of adulthood while embracing new relationships. The family uses cooking and eating together as a way to communicate their love.

Food as a love language wasn’t a new concept in 1994, when the film was released, however it is impeccably explored in Eat Drink Man Woman. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Chen Chao-jung, Chi-Der Hong, Chin-Cheng Lu, Gin-Ming Hsu, Gua Ah-leh, Huel-Yi Lin, Jui Wang, Kuei-Mei Yang, Lester Chan, Lester Chit-Man Chan, Lung Hsiung, Lung Sihung, Shih-Jay Lin, Sihung Lung, Sylvia Chang, Wang Yu-wen, Winston Chao, Wu Chien-Lien, Ya-lei Kuei, Yang Kuei-Mei, Yu Chen, Yu-Wen Wang, 张艾嘉

Director: Ang Lee

Rating: Not Rated