Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month With These 12 Films

Load up any of these classics—from Okja to Rush Hour—and explore all of the different aspects of AAPI identity
Published: 29 May 2023

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, so we invite you to join us in celebrating all of the achievements and the rich history of the AAPI community. With diverse storytelling becoming increasingly abundant, it's never been a better time to honor all the incredible, artful stories that are AAPI-led. Media representation is no longer relegated to supporting roles and stereotypes anymore. We proudly tell our own stories—with the nuance and humanity that we deserve.

No matter what kind of story you're in mood for—wistful, tear-jerking, or knee-slappingly funny—there's an AAPI-led film for you. If you like to celebrate this month by lounging on the couch and vegging out, flip on Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. If you prefer more heart-wrenching movies, grab a Kleenex box and hug your friends while watching The Joy Luck Club. If you're throwing a themed party complete with Tsingtao's and snacks, throw on all the Rush Hour movies and make it a marathon.

There's no easier—or more fun—way to celebrate than to watch one of these classics and remind yourself of the rich tapestry of AAPI culture and history.

1) Minari

In 2021, Minari was nominated for six Academy Awards—with Youn Yuh-Jung winning for Best Supporting Actress, the first Korean actress to do so. Celebrate these historic wins and catch some powerful performances from Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, and Youn Yuh-Jung in this story about an immigrant Korean family trying to make their American dream come true. However, the struggle of starting over in rural America and assimilating to their new life is much more difficult and complex than they ever could've imagined.

2) Better Luck Tomorrow

After his first film release, Shopping For Fangs—which was also John Cho's film debut—director Justin Lin released Better Luck Tomorrow. It features an ensemble Asian male cast that was dubbed by many male and East Asian members of the AAPI community as the first time they truly felt represented on screen. Lin funded the film through his own credit cards and life savings, rather than making the film with an all white cast. His struggle paid off majorly, as Better Luck Tomorrow received critical acclaim and became a mainstay of AAPI film history.

3) The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club is a classic tale about family and love, with a powerhouse cast of AAPI women including Tsai Chin, Kieu Chinh, Lisa Lu, France Nuyen, Rosalind Chao, Lauren Tom, and Ming-Na Wen. Get ready to watch an ensemble performance that is the ultimate examination of mother-daughter relationships. The Joy Luck Club is story about growing up, love and loss, and generational differences—all things most of us can relate to.

4) Okja

Bong Joon-Ho's Okja is a wild science fiction action film about one young Korean girl's love for a genetically enhanced pig that she helps raise. Once her "super pig" wins a competition fronted by a huge corporation, he is taken from her. Okja boasts a remarkably passionate performance from Ahn Seo-Hyun and a memorable supporting role from Steven Yeun. A fantastical story with an important and touching moral, Okja was an instant classic.

5) Bend It Like Beckham

Bend It Like Beckham follows Jess Bhamra, a British Indian Punjabi Sikh young woman who wants to pursue playing soccer—or football, as they call it across the pond—but must face the mounting pressures that her parents place on her to follow their wishes. Jess has to face racist discrimination, the challenge of competing for athletic scholarships, and a blossoming romance with her soccer coach. Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley bring tons of charm to the film as a pair of fiercely competitive, but supportive best friends.

6) Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle

One of the most iconic stoner comedies ever made (that wasn't written by Seth Rogen), Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle was landmark representation for low-achieving Asian Americans who just want to chill, get stoned, and eat White Castle. Absurd and hilarious, it cemented John Cho and Kal Penn's status as comedy stars.

7) Turning Red

Pixar and Disney's Turning Red tracks the coming of age of a young Chinese Canadian teenage girl, Meilin Lee. Mei is stuck between being a loyal daughter who meets her parents' expectations and being true to herself and her own interests. Life gets much more complicated for Mei when she inherits a familial magical ability to transform into a red panda whenever she experiences extreme emotions. Talk about a teenage nightmare! Fun, sweet, and heart-warming, you won't want to pass this one up.

8) Slumdog Millionaire

Another Academy Award-sweeping AAPI-led film, Slumdog Millionaire danced its way into our hearts in 2009. Dev Patel established himself as a heartthrob in the Danny Boyle-directed drama. The film tells heart-racing tale of a young man striving to reunite with a childhood love and climb his way out of devastating poverty.

9) Always Be My Maybe

Always Be My Maybe, which stars Ali Wong and Randall Park, is a true romantic comedy–which we are starving for nowadays. The two show undeniable chemistry as they trade hilarious quips and land in awkward situations that bring them closer. The film also boasts incredible guest stars in Keanu Reeves and Daniel Dae Kim—just in case you needed any extra reasons to enjoy this one.

10) Tigertail

The first feature film from Alan Yang—known for his work directing and writing on Parks & Recreation and Master of NoneTigertail is a multigenerational immigrant tale. It follows a young man who, through his ambitions for a better life, loses sight of his first love and his own identity. Tigertail is a touching, heart-wrenching story about the impact of trauma and the regrets we carry with us.

11) Everything Everywhere All At Once

No list of films celebrating AAPI culture could be complete without naming 2022's Everything Everywhere All At Once, a powerhouse of a film that swept seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture). It even became the top-grossing movie ever released by A24. The film also earned Michelle Yeoh the Oscar for Best Actress, becoming the first AAPI-identifying woman to win the award. But forget all the hype and just watch it for it is: a fun, fantastical, and touching tale about family and the forever struggle of making meaning in life.

12) Rush Hour

What better way to celebrate AAPI heritage than with the groundbreaking buddy cop movie, Rush Hour? For many Asian Americans, this was one of the mainstays of Asian representation in mainstream movies for the '90s and early aughts. Do the jokes hold up? Maybe. But does the action and odd, but somehow irresistible chemistry between Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker hold up? Absolutely.

Originally published on Esquire US

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