Oscars 2022: from Drive My Car to A Hero, Asia's 10 hottest contenders for best international feature film at the Academy Awards

Hero, Read the full review, A Separation, The Salesman, Venice International Film Festival, Parasite, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, A Sun, SCMP Film

The 94th Academy Awards are expected to take place on March 1, 2022, and the submission deadline has now passed for the best international feature film Oscar.

A shortlist of 15 finalists is to be unveiled on December 21, from which five nominees will be announced on February 8.

Of the 93 films submitted, 27 hail from Asia. Films produced in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Iran – on two occasions – have won the award in the 21st century alone, while last year saw Hong Kong score only the third nomination in its history.

So which Asian films are most likely to find success this awards season? Below are our picks of the 10 most likely Asian candidates for Oscar glory among the submitted entries.

1. Rehana (Bangladesh, dir. Abdullah Mohammad Saad)

Bangladesh has yet to secure a nomination in the category, but this year’s submission might change all that. The film premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival – the first film from the country to do so.

Saad’s film, a hard-hitting psychological drama about a middle-aged female teacher at a private medical school who speaks out against one of her male colleagues, garnered rave reviews. It later won the Jury Grand prize and best actress prize for Azmeri Haque Badhon at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

2. Cliff Walkers (China, dir. Zhang Yimou)

China has never won this award and only had a film nominated twice, despite 35 submissions since 1979. However, there are no safer hands than those of Zhang Yimou, who directed both the Chinese films previously nominated (Ju Dou and Hero) and secured an Oscar nomination for Hong Kong with 1991’s Raise the Red Lantern.

Cliff Walkers, a stylish and sophisticated tale of espionage and betrayal set in 1930s Manchuria and starring Liu Haocun and Zhang Yi, should play well with international voters, and could see the director secure a place in the final five for a fourth time. Read the full review

3. Yuni (Indonesia, dir. Kamila Andini)

Indonesia will be hoping to secure its first Academy Award nomination with Kamila Andini’s festival favourite Yuni, winner of the Platform Prize at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

A compelling drama focusing on the struggles of young women to take control of their lives in a male-dominated society, the film stars Arawinda Kirana as a high-achieving high school student with dreams of going to university and becoming a poet. Her future becomes uncertain after she rejects two different marriage proposals, provoking a superstitious backlash from her family and community.

4. A Hero (Iran, dir. Asghar Farhadi)

Past form has taught awards pundits never to bet against Asghar Farhadi when he competes in the Oscars race. Director of four submitted films, he won the award for Iran both times that his films were nominated, in 2011 for A Separation and in 2016 for The Salesman.

A third win would be a remarkable achievement, and A Hero has already proved popular with critics and at festivals, winning the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Only a case of Farhadi fatigue from Academy voters seems to stand in his way. Read the full review

5. Drive My Car (Japan, dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi)

This year’s other hot favourite to bag the award on Oscar night is Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s epic three-hour meditation on grief. Tipped by many to win the Palme d’Or (the highest prize awarded) when it premiered at Cannes, Drive My Car had to settle for the best screenplay prize when it was beaten out by Julia Ducournau’s Titane (also in the running for the Oscar).

France’s entry is almost certainly too provocative for the Academy’s traditionally conservative voters and Hamaguchi’s long, understated story of a struggling theatre director dealing with the death of his wife may prove similarly divisive. Read the full review

6. Amira (Jordan, dir. Mohamed Diab)

Jordan’s submission bears the distinction of being the first Palestinian film to be directed by an Egyptian. It premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, where it won two prizes in the Horizons section, which focuses on new trends in world cinema.

Set in Palestine, it tells the story of a 17-year-old woman, Amira (Tara Abboud), who discovers that her imprisoned father and role model is actually infertile, turning her entire world upside down. Should the film get through to the final five it would mark only the second time a film from Jordan has been nominated, after 2015’s Theeb.

7. Yellow Cat (Kazakhstan, dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov)

Writer-director Adilkhan Yerzhanov has become something of a cause célèbre on the festival circuit, with his work recognised at Cannes, Venice, Tokyo and San Sebastian to name just a few.

Yellow Cat, which premiered in Venice’s Horizons section, is a delightfully cine-literate tale of young lovers on the run, who dream of opening a cinema of their own in a remote region of the Kazakh steppe. Referencing everyone from Terrence Malick to Wes Anderson, the film’s offbeat style and deadpan wit, combined with its spectacular setting, make this a truly unique delight.

8. Escape from Mogadishu (South Korea, dir. Ryoo Seung-wan)

Since Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite won the best international feature film Oscar on its way to making history as the first foreign-language best picture winner at the 92nd Academy Awards, all eyes have been on the Korean film industry.

Ryoo Seung-wan’s taut political thriller may be more of a mainstream crowd pleaser than typical Oscar fare, particularly in this category, but the extensive on-location shoot (with Morocco doubling for 1990s Somalia) and accessible, propulsive narrative may just see the film garner the necessary attention to sway Academy voters in its favour. Read the full review

9. The Falls (Taiwan, dir. Chung Mong-hong)

Taiwan has been submitting films to the Academy since the 1950s, and three have secured nominations, all directed by Ang Lee, who won for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2001. A Sun director Chung Mong-hong’s pandemic drama could add to that tally.

The film depicts the increasingly strained relationship between a mother (Alyssa Chia Jing-wen) and daughter (Gingle Wang Ching) when they are forced to quarantine together at home. Since premiering at Venice, The Falls has enjoyed a run of festival success, winning four prizes at last weekend’s Golden Horse Awards in Taipei, including best film and best original screenplay. Read the full review

10. Honourable mention: Memoria (Colombia, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

While Colombia obviously falls outside the remit of this list, many supporters of Asian cinema will be following the progress of this year’s submission with a keen eye. Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2010 for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, ventured outside his native Thailand to make Memoria.

Starring Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton, this surreal metaphysical drama set in present-day Bogotá has already garnered strong international acclaim since winning the Jury Prize at Cannes, making it a likely contender to secure Oscars recognition. Read the full review

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