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18 critically acclaimed movies highlighting Asian-American voices

Submitted by Tech Insider on May 27, 2022 - 5:17pm

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3x4 asian american films to watch for aapi heritage month including yellow rose, minari, and the big sick


  • May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.
  • To mark the occasion, we rounded up some of the best Asian-American movies you can stream right now.
  • Our selection covers a variety of genres and cultures, with picks ranging from "Minari" to "The Big Sick."

With every passing year, it's becoming more common to see Asian-American stories in movies — and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is a great time to watch them.

Though you may have already heard of "Crazy Rich Asians" and "The Joy Luck Club," there are many other highly rated movies out there featuring prominent Asian-American voices. Regardless of what month it is, these films are all worth streaming.

Our selection represents movies that feature Asian-American artists either in front of or behind the camera. This list doesn't get anywhere close to covering all of the worthwhile entries out there, but it's a great place to start. 

When choosing films for our roundup, we limited our selection to moves that satisfy this criteria:

  • Movies must feature AAPI actors and/or filmmakers
  • Movies must be rated "fresh" on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes

We also ensured that our picks include a variety of genres; not every film needs to be about the emotional and financial baggage that comes with immigration (though we love those, too). Keep scrolling to find feel-good comedies, tear-jerking dramas, martial arts action flicks, and more, all featuring Asian American Pacific Islanders. 

Check out these 18 AAPI movies to stream now

'Always Be My Maybe'
always be my maybe
Co-writersRandall Park and Ali Wong star in "Always Be My Maybe."

Watch "Always Be My Maybe" on Netflix.

Ali Wong and Randall Park co-wrote and star in "Always Be My Maybe," a romantic comedy about two adults who dated as teens trying to reconnect despite their vastly different lives. It's a refreshing entry in the genre with a diverse cast and Asian-American leads — without playing into stereotypes. 

"Always Be My Maybe" is directed by Nahnatchka Khan, and features James Saito, Michelle Buteau, Vivian Bang, Daniel Dae Kim, and Keanu Reeves. It's rated "90% Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes.

'Better Luck Tomorrow'
better luck tomorrow stars lined up in a row with their arms crossed

Watch "Better Luck Tomorrow" on Starz.

A crime drama directed by Justin Lin ("Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift"), "Better Luck Tomorrow" follows a group of Asian American A-students who turn to lives of crime out of boredom. The film illustrates the mentality of upper-middle-class youth, and what pressure causes them to take for granted. 

The cast includes Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, Sung Kang, Roger Fan, John Cho, and Karin Anna Cheung. The movie is rated "81% Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes.

'Crazy Rich Asians'
crazy rich asians

Watch "Crazy Rich Asians" on HBO Max

Though the events of "Crazy Rich Asians" largely take place overseas, Rachel, the main character, is an Asian-American professor residing in New York. When she travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend's ridiculously wealthy family, she finds that they don't approve of her, putting her relationship on the rocks. 

The film is one of the first American movies to feature a majority Chinese cast in a modern setting since "The Joy Luck Club" — it holds a "91% Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

'Everything Everywhere All At Once'
Stephanie Hsu, Michelle Yeoh, and Ke Huy Quan in "Everything Everywhere All at Once."
Stephanie Hsu, Michelle Yeoh, and Ke Huy Quan in "Everything Everywhere All at Once."

Preorder "Everything Everywhere All at Once" from Amazon, Apple TV, or Vudu

Hong Kong acting legend Michelle Yeoh stars as Evelyn Wang, a Chinese immigrant running a failing laundromat in California with her husband. From there, things get wild. 

"Everything Everywhere All At Once" illustrates the struggles of immigrant families, both financially and in terms of their personal relationships, through wild multiversal travel and fight scenes. It's directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, and stars a majority AAPI cast. The film holds a "95% Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of writing. 

'Gook'
justin chon and simone baker in Gook (2017)

Watch "Gook" on Amazon Prime Video.

The 1992 Los Angeles Riots famously resulted in the destruction of Koreatown at the expense of many immigrant business owners residing there. Set during these events, "Gook" follows two South Korean-American brothers who befriend a young Black girl in the midst of the chaos. 

Justin Chon directed and stars in "Gook" alongside Simone Baker, David So, Sang Chon, Curtiss Cook Jr. and Ben Munoz. The film holds a "94% Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

'Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle'
harold and kumar
"Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle."

Watch "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" on Netflix.

A buddy-comedy starring John Cho and Kal Penn, "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" is about two friends who go on a bumpy adventure to satisfy their munchies for White Castle. The film balances stoner humor and hijinks with nods to the pressures Asian Americans face, from workplace stress to heavy parental expectations. 

More than anything, this movie makes the list because it's a rarity to find two Asian leads in a stoner comedy film that subverts racial stereotypes, especially during the time of its release. It holds a "74% Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

'Minari'
minari cast lined up in a grass field with steven yeun center

Watch "Minari" on Showtime.

"Minari" details the struggles of the Yi family, a Korean immigrant family trying to succeed in rural Arkansas in the 1980s. Steven Yeun stars as Jacob Yi, a married father of two who tirelessly works alongside his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) to make a living for their family by growing produce. 

The film is semi-autobiographical, written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung based on his own rural upbringing. "Minari" holds a "98% Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

'Moana'
maui and moana in disney's moana

Watch "Moana" on Disney Plus.

Set in the fictional island of Motunui, "Moana" is an animated Disney film based on the culture and myths of various Polynesian islands. We follow Moana, the free-spirited daughter of the village chief, who embarks on a journey to restore balance to the decaying nature around her. 

The film stars a majority Polynesian cast including Auli'i Cravalho (Hawaiian), Dwayne Johnson (Samoan), Rachel House (Maori), Temuera Morrison (Maori), and Jermaine Clement (Maori). "Moana" is rated "95% Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes.

'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings'
shang-chi
"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" will be available to stream November 12 on Disney Plus.

Watch "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" on Disney Plus.

The first Asian-American Marvel hero to enter the cinematic universe, Shang-Chi is a gifted martial artist and son of Xu Wenwu, the owner of the all-powerful 10 rings. The movie follows Shang-Chi, known as Shaun by his American friends, as he's forced to confront his tumultuous past while protecting those he loves. 

Simu Liu stars as our charismatic hero, along with Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang, and Hong Kong acting legend Tony Leung. The movie is rated "91% Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes.

'The Big Sick'
the big sick starring kumail nanjiani and zoe kazan

Watch "The Big Sick" on Amazon Prime Video.

Co-written by and starring Kumail Nanjiani, "The Big Sick" follows an interethnic couple who must tackle their cultural differences when illness threatens one of their lives. The romantic comedy follows Kumail, a Pakistani-American comedian, who kindles a relationship with Emily, a white psychology student, despite his parents' plans for arranging his marriage. 

The movie explores the dilemma of Asian Americans like Kumail who must balance personal wants with parental expectations, while hoping to achieve a middle ground. "The Big Sick" holds a "98% Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

'The Farewell'
A still from the movie "The Farewell" with Awkwafina in the center surrounded by her family.

Watch "The Farewell" on Showtime.

"The Farewell" is a tear-jerking drama that follows Billi, a Chinese-American New Yorker who travels to China with her family to say goodbye to her terminal grandmother — who does not know she's dying. The film illustrates the East versus West dilemma that Asian Americans are often forced to face: Billi desperately wants to tell her grandmother the truth, while the rest of her family adheres to the collectivist mentality that they should bear the burden without inconveniencing her. 

"The Farewell" stars Awkwafina, Tzi Mai, Diana Lin, and Zhao Shu-Zhen; it holds a "97% Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

'The Joy Luck Club'
the joy luck club
"The Joy Luck Club."

Watch "The Joy Luck Club" on Amazon Prime Video.

"The Joy Luck Club" is an instrumental piece of Asian-American cinema, and one of the first films to star a majority Chinese cast in a modern setting. Based on a book, the movie explores the relationships between four Chinese-American women and their immigrant mothers through the regular mahjong meetings they hold. 

Directed by Wayne Wang, "The Joy Luck Club" stars Tsai Chin, France Nuyen, Lisa Lu, Kieu Chinh, Rosalind Chao, Lauren Tom, Tamlyn Tomita, and Ming-Na Wen. It holds an "86% Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

'The Namesake'
the namesake family in the airport

Watch "The Namesake" on Amazon Prime Video.

Based on the novel of the same name by Jhumpa Lahiri, "The Namesake" follows the struggles of East Indian immigrants Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, and their two children. Nikhil "Gogol" Ganguli (Kal Penn) is a young man caught between two cultures, often finding himself in disagreement with his parents' traditions. 

The film illustrates how first-generation Asian Americans can often feel disconnected from their own heritage, while being ostracized by the culture they live in. "The Namesake" is rated "85% Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes.

'The Paper Tigers'
the paper tigers face off in an empty pool

Watch "The Paper Tigers" on Netflix.

"The Paper Tigers" stars Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, and Mykel Shannon Jenkins and three has-been kung fu prodigies who are brought back into the world of martial arts when their master suspiciously dies. Directed by Bao Tran, the film is inspired by his personal experience along with those of the producers. 

It's a fresh take on the martial arts genre with a more diverse cast than other kung fu movies. "The Paper Tigers" is rated "98% Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes.

'The Wedding Banquet'
the wedding banquet may chin and winston chao

Watch "The Wedding Banquet" on Pluto TV

Directed by Ang Lee, "The Wedding Banquet" stars Winston Chao as a bisexual Taiwanese immigrant who marries a Chinese immigrant in need of a green card in order to placate his parents and to hide his gay partner. Things fall apart when his parents fly to the States to plan his extravagant wedding. 

The romantic comedy is not only one of few films to star Asian-American actors in the 1990s, it's also one of the few to handle LGBTQ relationships without playing into stereotypes. "The Wedding Banquet" is rated "97% Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes.

'To Be Takei'
George Takei attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Focus Features' "Blue Bayou" at DGA Theater Complex on September 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
George Takei attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Focus Features' "Blue Bayou" at DGA Theater Complex on September 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Rent or buy "To Be Takei" on Amazon, Apple TV, or Vudu

This documentary details the career and struggles of Japanese-American acting legend and LGBTQ activist, George Takei. The "Star Trek" actor speaks to his upbringing in US internment camps and the upward climb for an Asian-American actor early on in his career. 

"To Be Takei" also explores his works as an activist, and his experience as a gay man in Hollywood. The film is directed by Jennifer M. Kroot and is rated "90% Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes.

'Turning Red'
Turning Red Mei's mom finds sketchbook

Watch "Turning Red" on Disney Plus.

Though the events of "Turning Red" take place in Toronto, Canada, the Pixar film colorfully illustrates the internal conflict a lot of young Asian Americans face. The movie follows Mei Lee, a Chinese-Canadian teenager who must balance pleasing her micromanaging mother (that she loves) with having fun with her friends. Also, she has a habit of turning into a giant red panda when she's emotional. 

The movie stars Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan; it holds a "94% Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

'Yellow Rose'
yellow rose eva noblezada about to perform

Watch "Yellow Rose" on Starz.

"Yellow Rose" is the tumultuous story of a Filipina illegal immigrant in Texas who dreams of being a country music star. Eva Noblezada plays Rose, who yearns to leave her small town to pursue a career in country music, but is held back by love for her family. 

The movie is directed and co-written by Diane Paragas, and stars Princess Punzalan and Lea Salonga alongside Noblezada. "Yellow Rose" is rated "87% Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes.

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