7 Movies Like Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Staff & contributors

Much like Berlin’s infamous nightlife, which serves as the backdrop to the plot, this daring German real-time drama will eat you up and spit you out. After leaving a nightclub at 4am, Victoria, a runaway Spanish girl, befriends a gang of four raucous young men, climbing rooftops and drinking beers among the city’s moon-lit streets. The gang’s light-hearted banter is impressively improvised from a skeleton script, offset by Niels Frahm’s ominous original score.

But what starts out as late-night high jinks swerves into darker territory. Driven by her infatuation with the pack leader Sonne, played by Frederick Lau, Victoria ends up being recruited as a get-away driver for an ill-prepared bank robbery and loses herself in a sinister spiral of events. What sounds like a standard-issue crime drama is, in fact, a staggering cinematic experiment.

Filmed in one take, on location, and in real time, the movie’s production is indeed a gamble, but director Sebastian Schipper more than pulls it off. The claustrophobic camerawork of cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen leaves the viewer feeling like a hapless accomplice to Victoria’s plight. With Laia Costa giving an awe-striking lead performance, the high wire acting of the entire main cast only adds to this effect. Victoria is a stellar directorial debut, heart-stopping drama, and a truly immersive experience.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Adolfo Assor, Andre Hennicke, Anna Lena Klenke, Burak Yigit, Daniel Fripan, Eike Frederick Schulz, Eike Frederik Schulz, Franz Rogowski, Frederick Lau, Hans-Ulrich Laux, Laia Costa, Lena Klenke, Martin Goeres, Max Mauff, Philipp Kubitza

Director: Sebastian Schipper

Rating: Not Rated, 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 woman yearns to find her biological mother, another woman struggles with infertility, a third wants to connect with her rebellious daughter. Director Mike Leigh has the prowess to seamlessly weave these stories together, and part of the joy is knowing, that like clockwork, these narratives are set on a spectacular collision course.

As melancholy as it is optimistic and as funny as it is tragic, Secrets & Lies is a perfect example of Leigh’s oeuvre and earned him a Cannes’ Palme d’Or. The film features a full cast of his regulars with the fantastic addition of Marianne Jean Baptiste as Hortense - the woman who sets the wheels of the film in motion.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alison Steadman, Angela Curran, Annie Hayes, Anthony O'Donnell, Brenda Blethyn, Brian Bovell, Claire Rushbrook, Clare Perkins, David Neilson, Denise Orita, Elizabeth Berrington, Emma Amos, Frances Ruffelle, Gary McDonald, Gordon Winter, Grant Masters, Hannah Davis, Jane Mitchell, Janice Acquah, Jean Ainslie, Joe Tucker, Jonny Coyne, Kate O'Malley, Keylee Jade Flanders, Lee Ross, Lesley Manville, Linda Beckett, Liz Smith, Lucy Sheen, Margery Withers, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Metin Marlow, Mia Soteriou, Michele Austin, Nitin Ganatra, Paul Trussell, Peter Stockbridge, Peter Waddington, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Phyllis Logan, Richard Syms, Ron Cook, Ruth Sheen, Sheila Kelley, Stephen Churchett, Su Eliott, Su Elliot, Su Elliott, Terence Harvey, Theresa Watson, Timothy Spall, Trevor Laird, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

Clocking in at just under four hours, Hu Bo's first and last feature film—before his tragic death at the age of 29—is a sprawling indictment of a country that the filmmaker must have viewed as positively hostile and suffocating. Following several characters whose paths intersect as they try to escape their current circumstances, An Elephant Sitting Still creates a truly oppressive atmosphere that may not lead you to the answers you expect, but it should leave you feeling haunted for a long, long time. Beautifully scored, shot, and acted, Hu's film offers practically no hope but it keeps on moving with a sense of freedom and determination all its own. This is as honest a film can get; Hu has left behind a moving legacy.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Li Congxi, Peng Yuchang, Wang Yuwen, Zhang Yu, Zhao Tao, Zhu Yan Man Zi, Zhu Yanmanzi, Zhu-Yan Manzi

Director: Hu Bo

This startling debut from Chinese director Bi Gan is a mesmerizing synthesis of cinema and poetry. A man searching for his nephew goes on a journey that blurs the boundaries between time and space, and dreams and reality. All this is expressed through gorgeous and understated camerawork reminiscent of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s languorous lens. However, Bi Gan’s style is all his own, including spectacular long takes whose sophistication and complexity only become apparent once they are done. 

Kaili Blues’ hypnotic aesthetics are like a mud bath for you to soak and luxuriate in. There are no easy answers for putting together its past/present/future puzzle-box, and it’s best to leave the deconstructions for later viewings as repeated trips to Bi Gan’s dreamy recreation of his hometown will reveal even more.

 

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Chen Yongzhong, Feiyang Luo, Guo Yue, Linyan Liu, Yongzhong Chen, Yue Guo

Director: Bi Gan

This quirky 1988 adventure drama is newly available on Amazon Prime. It’s the classic that never was, the story of a rundown gas station motel in the Southern US where a lonely West German lady called Jasmin Munchgstettner ends up by accident.

The owner of the operation, a short-tempered woman by the name of Brenda, doesn’t really take to Jasmin. However, the longer the West German guest stays at the motel, the more a friendship forms between the two.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan S. Craig, Apesanahkwat, CCH Pounder, Christine Kaufmann, Darron Flagg, G. Smokey Campbell, Gary Lee Davis, George Aguilar, Hans Stadlbauer, Jack Palance, Marianne Sägebrecht, Mark Daneri, Monica Calhoun, Ray Young, Ronald Lee Jarvis

Director: Percy Adlon

Rating: PG

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the mix of ideas and aesthetics that gave us Her has roots in Japan. Borrowing from the country’s poeticism, attention to detail and just appreciation for beauty; Tony Takitani is Her’s quiet and delicate elder brother-film, and one of the best this genre has to give. After spending a solitary childhood, a Japanese kid with the American name Tony grows up to be a successful technical illustrator. Without the time for the outside world or any luck with it, Tony indulges in his work and by extension his loneliness until he suddenly falls a distinctive young woman. Tony Takitani is a slow film, which quickly becomes a memorable experience due to its profound study of loneliness.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Issei Ogata, Issey Ogata, Miho Fujima, Rie Miyazawa, Shinohara Takahumi

Director: Jun Ichikawa

Rating: Unrated