When people think of Valentine’s Day, thoughts of fresh bouquets, chocolates, and confessions of love are usually what comes to mind, but for many people this one day in February is just another ordinary day. As such, I thought it would be nice to compile a list of films where love is expressed and experienced in all its complexities, because love means different things to different people.
In this list you’ll find films where love is a principle and foundation for different types of relationships between lovers, family members, friends, and even complete strangers. Many times the connections formed with others over time grows into love, and it’s that love that offers support through difficult times. But it can also be what makes the difficult times harder to get through because we often lie to ourselves and loved ones when revealing a painful truth may either strain or break that connection.
Have no fear, while there are films that may turn you into a weeping ball of emotions as Coming Homes Again did for me—don’t worry, it was a very cathartic cry—there are films that will fill you with the warm fuzzies, and make you laugh at the absurdities of life and relationships.
Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda is known as a filmmaker who explores the dynamics of families in their varied and unpredictable forms. In his first Korean film starring Song Kang-ho, Gong Dang-won and Bae Doona, he shows that what makes a family is people willing to come together to protect the most vulnerable members and the willingness to accept people as they are, where they are in life because getting to choose who we see as family is a gift.
Monsoon Wedding (2001)
Written by Sabrina Dhawan and directed by multi-award-winning director Mira Nair, this drama about a family coming together for a traditional Indian wedding, is considered to be one of the greatest romance films ever. Filled with as much drama and emotion as there are characters and colors, Monsoon Wedding is a classic where there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Goodbye Mother/Thua Me Con Di (2019)
In director Trinh Dinh Le Minh’s family drama, fear of not being accepted by his mother has Nau Van (Lan Thanh) caught in a tense limbo with his boyfriend Ian (Vo Dien Gia Huy), when they travel to Van’s family home in Vietnam for a memorial service to honor his deceased father. Being Vietnamese himself, Ian understands Van’s hesitation, but with each denial, dismissal and lie every time the family brings up marriage, Ian pulls further away. Eventually he has a choice to make about what love means to him.
37 Seconds (2019)
At some point in our lives, embracing our sexuality and loving our bodies is a process that every human being has to go through, and in this Japanese drama by writer-director Hikari, this process is at times painful for mangaka artist Yuma Takada, played beautifully by Mai Kayama, whose disability as a woman with Cerebral Palsy poses specific challengers for her. 37 Seconds is a film that shows how exploring one’s physical desires can lead to liberation and acceptance.
As We Like It/揭大歡喜 (2021)
Directing partners Hung-i Chen and Muni Wei, together with their co-writer Remmy Sung, reimagines Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” as an energetic world where gender and sexuality aren’t strictly bound to society’s standards. This gender-bent adaptation is a fun and original take on the classic tale of love, deception and the choices one has to make when it comes to love and it all takes place in colorfully decorated urban and upper class Taiwanese locations.
Family is complicated, messy, difficult to understand, and what matters most in this fantastic multiverse psychedelic drama that at this point needs little introduction. Starring film icon Michelle Yeoh as the Wang family matriarch, Ke Huy Quan as her shy optimistic husband with a hidden side, and Stephanie Hsu as their daughter struggling to be seen and understood by her mother, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a film that will be many things to many people, but most of all it will be a reminder to have faith in yourself, and Michelle Yeoh.
Coming Home Again (2019)
Sometimes the celebration of family and cultural traditions can be the most somber event in a person’s life, and in director Wayne Wang’s 2019 film the Korean tradition of Chuseok becomes a time for reflection for Chang-rae (Justin Chon). After years of watching his mother go through the many steps to plan and prepare a flawless Chuseok feast, Chang-rae takes on the responsibility when his mother’s ailing health prevents her from doing what she loved. As he follows in her steps, Chang-rae reflects on just how much his mother, and their heritage, means to them.
In The Mood for Love/ 花樣年華 (2000)
Set in early 1960s Hong Kong and France, this is a tale of two people brought together by betrayal and secrets, and whose lives swirl around each other like the ebb and flow of the changing tides. Known as a classic, Wong Kar-wai’s romantic drama is a stunning cinematic example of how cinematography, lighting and the spellbinding chemistry of leads Maggie Chung and Tony Leung captures the joys and frustrations of life.
Published on February 9, 2023
Words by Carolyn Hinds
Carolyn is a Tomatometer-Approved Critic, Journalist, Podcaster and YouTube. Her published work can be found on Observer, ButWhyTho?, Shondaland, Salon and many other. She’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), co-hosts So Here’s What Happened Podcast! and is the host of Carolyn Talks…, and Beyond The Romance Podcasts. You can find her regularly live tweeting her current Asian drama watches using #DramasWithCarrie, and the weekly Sci-Fi watch along with #SaturdayNightSciFi.