Along with learning the history of Asians and Pacific Islanders in America, and recognizing the contributions of accomplished individuals to American society, AAPI Heritage Month is a great time to watch a few movies.
From recent award-winning films made by auteurs, to cinema classics, to family-friendly Disney movies, here are the best movies to watch for AAPI Heritage Month.
“Minari” is the latest film to install itself in the library of great Asian-American cinema. It recently earned an Academy Award for Yuh-Jung Youn, who gives a fantastic performance as the grandmother of a Korean family moving to rural Arkansas, a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, and a host of other awards.
While it may not be as well-known as the Oscar-winning “Minari,” this heartfelt bildungsroman will hit home no matter where you grew up. It follows a teenage boy whose family runs a cheap motel as he navigates puberty, love, and existential philosophy. And it’s pretty funny.
The Joy Luck Club
“The Joy Luck Club,” based on the novel by Amy Tan, brought a lot of Hollywood attention to the potential of cinematic stories centered on the Asian-American experience. It’s a classic worth a watch, but also important as a precursor to later films on this list.
Crazy Rich Asians
Speaking of which, the 2018 romantic comedy, starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, and Awkwafina, was a massive hit with mainstream (white) audiences, and helped propel more Asian-centered stories into the spotlight.
This movie, about a gay Chinese-American woman and her conflicts with her tradition-bound mother, could have been tidy and sappy. It’s definitely sentimental, but filmmaker Alice Wu finds ways to bring out sympathy for nearly every character, even as she investigates generational views on romance in modern society.
Chan Is Missing
Before he directed “The Joy Luck Club,” Wayne Wang started his directorial career on “Chan Is Missing,” a black-and-white indie mock-noir that follows two cabbies in San Francisco. At every turn the film reveals nuances and contradictions between the experiences of individual Chinese immigrants and Chinese-Americans.
“Moana” brought a lot of good press to Disney for centering on an adventure story starring a young Polynesian woman, catchy tunes, and expert comedic voice acting by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson -- but the hype is worth it. The film is an excellent option for any family with small kids, big kids, or adult-sized kids.
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
Bruce Lee left an indelible mark on American cinema. This 1993 biopic traces the American-born actor’s immigration back from Hong Kong, where he was raised, to the U.S., his rise as a martial arts instructor, and his cinematic success -- all with healthy doses of drama and fantasy, inspired by the actor’s own work.
Always Be My Maybe
Combining the comedy prowess of Ali Wong and Randall Park, “Always Be My Maybe” is a great example of an endearing Netflix rom-com that puts a fun new spin on classic romantic tropes.
Catfish In Black Bean Sauce
Stories of international adoption are difficult and sticky, but that’s the territory “Catfish in Black Bean Sauce” takes on. At times funny and gut-wrenching, the movie follows Vietnamese siblings as they work through some tough stuff with their Black, American adopted parents and their birth mother.
The great American pastime becomes a vehicle for conflict, romance, and patriotism in this tale about a group of Japanese prisoners in internment camps during World War II who form a baseball team.
Best known for co-creating “Master of None” with Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang directs this Netflix drama about star-crossed lovers in Taiwan and the hardship of an immigrant experience compounded by lost love, frustrated hopes, and generational misunderstanding.
Better Luck Tomorrow
A group of high school students, bored with their high grades, slowly slide into increasingly dangerous criminal enterprises. The first film acquisition by MTV Films, it’s a perfect image of ‘90s high school rebellion that pokes at more than a few stereotypes.
A 1980s New York take on “Romeo and Juliet” (though it’s closer to “Westside Story”), “China Girl” follows a teenage boy from Little Italy and a teenage girl from Chinatown as they try to survive the conflict between their two communities.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
In this Marvel superhero film, Simu Liu stars as martial-arts master Shang-Chi, who confronts his past after his father, the leader of the Ten Rings organization, draws him into mystical quest.
“Mulan” tripped out of the gate in 2020 while theaters were largely shut down due to the pandemic, but the live action remake of the classic animated feature is worth finding on Amazon.
1994’s “Picture Bride” tells the story of a woman brought to Hawaii to marry a man she has never met, part of a larger practice by East Asian immigrant laborers in the islands. Starring Tamlyn Tomita of “The Joy Luck Club” and Toshiro Mifune, it did well at Sundance and remains a beloved film among fans.