Credited with marking the rise of a new wave of socially conscious Malaysian filmmakers, Tan Chui Mui has enjoyed a multifaceted career in her country’s film industry. She first gained wide recognition when her debut feature, Love Conquers All (2006), took home top honors at the Rotterdam and Busan International Film Festivals. The melodrama, which she wrote and directed, focuses on the pressures faced by a small-town girl as she enters a dangerous romance amidst the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur.
Her next film, Year Without a Summer (2010), a nostalgic look at friendship, dreams and the passage of time set in her hometown of Kuantan, was selected for funding by the Asian Cinema Fund and enjoyed critical success at several international festivals.
An avowed lover of short films, which Tan says give her a freedom most feature projects lack, the versatile filmmaker spent 2008 making a short film each month, which she later humorously compiled as All My Failed Attempts. Aside from her own work, she has produced, edited, written and acted in other Malaysian director’s projects.
An extroverted NYU Tisch graduate who first came on the scene with Women’s Private Parts (2000), a sensationalistic documentary about female sexuality in her native Hong Kong, Barbara Wong Chun-Chun is one of Asian cinema’s most exciting rising talents known for approaching subjects in a frank, open light. Having trained in acting as well as directing, she returned to Hong Kong and released a series of successful comedies, garnering four Hong Kong Film Award nominations.
Now living in mainland China, where she has founded her own production company, Real Films, Wong continues directing, acting and writing in films that deal with Chinese youth in a uniquely modern way. Break Up Club (2010) presents a world in which a website allows exes to rekindle their romance, so long as they destroy somebody else’s; Girls (2014) follows the lives of three career-minded young women as they navigate life after graduation.
With fourteen films under her belt, Wong names the rising trend of Chinese co-productions as something in which she is interested, saying “Hollywood movies have reached such a professional and deep level technically, but the West also wants some inspiration. So I think working with the East, we can work together and it’s a win-win situation.”
Xu Jinglei (b. 1974)
Rising to fame playing a policewoman in love with a gangster in the popular Chinese television series, “A Sentimental Story,” Xu Jinglei enjoyed an extremely successful career as an actor before expanding into other aspects of cinema. Long deemed one of the four most bankable stars in China, Xu’s first foray into directing came with My Father and I (2002), a tender father-daughter drama that won her Best Directorial Debut at the Golden Rooster Awards presented by the China Film Association the following year.
The year 2003 was an extraordinary triumph for Xu, as she took home awards from all three of China’s main film institutions. Aside from her Golden Rooster, her performance in I Love You (2002) was honored at the Ministry of Culture’s Huabiao Film Awards and her turn in Spring Subway (2002) won Best Actress at the Hundred Flowers Awards, voted on by readers of the country’s Popular Cinema magazine.
The following year continued her winning streak: her page-to-screen adaptation of Letters from an Unknown Woman (2004) won the Silver Seashell best director award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival. Xu has continued acting, directing, producing and screenwriting across genres, as well as focusing on philanthropic educational efforts and her own production company, Kaila Pictures.
Yang Mingming (b. 1988)
A tech-savvy Chinese millennial with her finger on the pulse of our social media obsessions, Yang Mingming quickly inaugurated herself as a rising cinematic force with her debut short, Female Directors (2012). A witty tale about two film school graduates who discover they’ve each been seeing the same sugar daddy when they begin recording their everyday lives, the 43-minute mockumentary blurs the boundaries between its fictional protagonists and the actors playing them: Yang and her real-life film school classmate, Gue Yue.
Described by Yang, who directed, edited, wrote and co-starred the project, as a “Cubist treatment of Weibo” – referring to the popular Chinese microblogging site – Female Directors is a strong display of the young filmmaker’s innate grasp on the effects of living under self-imposed hyper-surveillance. Eschewing other characters in favor of focusing exclusively on its free-spirited leads, the short film stands as a commentary on Chinese patriarchy, interconnectedness and cinema without feeling pedantic.
Since editing Yang Chao’s Crosscurrent (2016), which went on to win the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, Yang has been preparing her first feature, Tender Histories, with partial funding from Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Project.
A second-generation Korean born in Japan, Yang Yong-Hi was led to filmmaking by the rage and confusion she felt towards the geopolitical issues that strained her family relationships. Previously a DJ and news commentator, she first picked up a camera to document her visit to Pyongyang, where her father had sent her brothers decades before in a misguided attempt at repatriation. A searing look into a family’s differing ideologies, livelihoods and outlooks, Dear Pyongyang (2005) won awards at the Berlin International and Sundance Film Festivals and established Yang as a driving cinematic force against North Korea’s dire situation.
Her second feature, Our Homeland (2012), continued her focus on the Zainichi (Korean-bred Japanese residents) experience. Aware that the sensitive issue would discourage family members from discussing it on-camera, Yang chose a narrative format that dramatized their history, explaining that “making fiction means putting the camera inside of the body, the mind, or the brain.”
Though fearful for her North Korea-bound family due to the notoriety gained by her films, Yang vowed to continue documenting her struggles as a way of fighting the social discrimination she encounters as a Zainichi.
Yim Soon-rye (b. 1961)
One of the first woman filmmakers in Korean cinema, Yim-Soon Rye’s empathetic storytelling and explorations of marginalized social issues have turned her into a leading figure of the Korean New Wave. After receiving her master’s degree in Film Studies from Paris 8 University, she worked as an assistant director in Korea before releasing her first feature, Three Friends (1996), which gained recognition after being honored at the Busan International Film Festival.
Her second feature and best-known work, Waikiki Brothers (2001), which she wrote and directed, earned her Best Director distinction from the Korean Association of Film Critics Awards and, again, won at Busan. The grim drama about a struggling band in decline was later adapted into a musical, “GO! Waikiki Brothers!” which has been performed around Korea and in Los Angeles.
A strong advocate of women filmmakers, Yim acknowledges there is still room for improvement despite the advancements made in what she perceives as a persistently sexist society. In 2003, she contributed a satirical short about female body image to an omnibus film commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, If You Were Me. The prolific auteur continues writing, directing and producing, and was named Woman Filmmaker of the Year at the 2008 Women in Film Korea Awards.