In the Mood for Love
Janet Yang: My Favorite Sensuous Asian Films
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Janet Yang
Producer

Many associate Asian films with the action genre and with horror. Since I'm not a huge fan of either, I'd like to go in a different direction. What about... shall we say, sizzly movies that smash stereotypes with a distinctly sensuous side of Asians. Check these out. Some are erotic, some are romantic, but all are steamy.

(I'm not including the mostly clean Joy Luck Club in this list, although there is one very hot scene where Russell Wong's character pushes his date up against a wall. And then there's his attack of the watermelon, as part of the initial seduction. Those could both count as sizzly, too.)

This article was originally published on May 1, 2020.

1
In the Realm of the Senses
1976
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Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel

Directed and written by: Nagisa Ôshima

A very controversial film that many critics hailed as artistic genius, but those made uncomfortable by the graphic scenes called porn. It is not porn, in my mind. But you be the judge.

2
The Lover
1992
The Lover
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Where to watch

Directed by: Jean-Jacques Annaud | Written by: Jean-Jacques Annaud and Gérard Brach

Based on the novel by Marguerite Duras. It's a little Lolita-ish, but it became quite the sensation in France (of course!) where it was set, and for me and many others, seeing an Asian male — Tony Leung Ka-Fai — in a sizzling lead role was an absolute first!

3
In the Mood for Love
2000
In the Mood for Love

Directed and written by: Wong Kar-wai

This has become a noir classic, and a far cry from the earlier, edgier films of Wong Kar-wai. The irresistible star-crossed couple is played to perfection by Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. (Not the Tony Leung from The Lover — how confusing!)

4
Untold Scandal
2003
Untold Scandal
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Where to watch

Directed and written by: E J-yong

This is very much the story of Les Liaison Dangereuses, but set in 17th century Korea. And it really sizzles— more so, in my opinion, than both Les Liaison Dangereuses, directed by Stephen Frears, and Valmont, directed by Milos Forman. But the latter two, which weirdly both came out in 1989, are worth watching again too.

5
Lust, Caution
2007
Lust, Caution
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Where to watch

Directed by: Ang Lee | Written by: James Schamus and Hui-Ling Wang

Ang has conquered so many genres in the course of his career. This is a spy thriller with definite sizzle moments. It stars again Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Tang Wei, with secondary roles played by Joan Chen and Wang Leehom.

6
The Handmaiden
2016
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Where to watch

Directed by: Park Chan-wook | Written by: Seo-kyeong Jeong and Park Chan-wook

Like other Korean directors, Park Chan-Wook is not shy! Some of his previous films are replete with violence, but this movie definitely shows a very sensuous side of him.

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