Growing up as a ’90s kid, I remember enjoying the popular Rush Hour movies starring Jackie Chan. I loved the action, but I also loved seeing someone like me on the big screen.
Unfortunately, finding Asians and Asian Americans in the media was a rare treat, and truly authentic representation was hard to come by. We may still be underrepresented in the media today, but I think we’ve made some real progress — especially within the last few years.
So, to celebrate AAPI Heritage month, I’d like to share a few of my favorite Asian American-led movies that are available to stream now on your favorite platforms.
Crazy Rich Asians
I could not start this list without Crazy Rich Asians which was a global hit and a huge box office success when it was released in 2018.
Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy about a Chinese-American professor who is about to meet her boyfriend’s family in Singapore, only to discover he comes from one of the country’s wealthiest families.
This is a major Hollywood blockbuster with a full cast of actors and actresses of Asian descent, and in the romcom genre no less! The film is delightfully entertaining and fulfilled my rich Prince Charming fantasy. And personally, it was the first time I was star-struck by an Asian male lead that didn’t come from a Korean drama. (Thank you, Henry Golding!)
Always Be My Maybe
Perhaps Crazy Rich Asians started a trend with Asian Americans being romantic leads, and I am totally onboard with that!
Always By My Maybe came out the following year in 2019, starring Ali Wong and Randall Park. And excuse my fangirling, but Keanu Reeves also makes a special appearance and we know just how breathtakingly awesome he can be.
This is a romcom following childhood friends Sasha and Marcus who reconnect after 15 years, but live in vastly different worlds. Sasha is a Vietnamese-American born to an immigrant family and is now a mega-successful celebrity chef, while Marcus is a low achiever and stoner musician.
The film is unpredictable and funny, but also does a great job sharing Asian American stories. Unlike the grandiose fantasy we got in Crazy Rich Asians, this story is much more down-to-earth. We get to see multifaceted characters and how their unique Asian American culture and childhood experiences have influenced their identity and being.
This year’s Turning Red film struck a chord with me, and even made me tear up with how relatable it is!
Disney and Pixar’s Turning Red is a family film about a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl, Mei Lee, who has always been the perfect, obedient daughter. However, chaos ensues when she starts turning into a red panda and rebels against her strict Asian American mother.
Her story is a common and relatable one in Asian American communities. Our parents are often strict and tough on us because they want us to have a better life than they did. They may mean well, but the weight of their high expectations can also come with much pain.
This story conveys the difficulty of these experiences while coming across as lighthearted and entertaining; a true accomplishment. I seriously cannot recommend it enough.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Marvel’s first Asian American-led superhero movie is a must watch, and that’s coming from someone who’s not usually into superhero films.
The film follows Shang-Chi as he embarks on a journey with his best friend Katy to confront his father and the dangerous Ten Rings organization.
I love the film’s beautifully choreographed fights and stunning visual effects that pay homage to Chinese martial arts culture. Simu Liu (Shang-Chi) and Awkwafina (Katy) were also fantastic cast choices for this feature film, and made Asian Americans look seriously cool on the big screen.
Honestly, I’m jealous that Shang-Chi wasn’t a superhero option for my generation growing up, but I’m still super proud of Marvel for leaning into a uniquely Asian American origin story.
While Parasite is technically not a Korean American film, the core culture depicted in the story is the origin of Korean American identity. It’s also simply a masterpiece; Parasite is my favorite thriller movie, hands down.
Not only did Parasite make history for being the first foreign language film with an entirely Asian cast to win an Oscar, they did so while dominating four major award categories, including Best Picture! This was real Asian representation and talent that Hollywood finally recognized and awarded.
The South Korean film was directed by Bong Joon Ho, who also created the popular sci-fi film Snowpiercer. On the surface, the movie is about the Kim family tricking their way into working for the wealthy Park family, but things are not quite as they seem.
The film is so much more symbolic and deep than is initially apparent, with its exploration of social class inequality and discrimination. I’d love to share more but this film deserves no spoilers. It’s definitely a movie you have to watch more than once.
And if you’re a foodie like me, you’ll appreciate the film for making ram-don popular. You’ll be itching to make it afterwards (with Nongshim’s Neoguri ramen and Chapagetti udon instant noodles).