Influential Storytellers of Our Time

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Text: Joycelyn Lau and Lucien Low

Source: Shutterstock

Apichatpong Weerasethakul (b.1970), film director and producer
Thailand

The independent director, nicknamed Joe, has directed many features and short films. His award-winning works, such as Blissfully Yours, reflect themes of dreams, sexuality and Western perceptions of Asia.

Source: Shutterstock

Wong Kar-wai (b.1958), film director
Hong Kong

Having produced 10 films in 30 years, the Internationally-renowned director known for some of the finest Chinese-language films, including The Grandmaster, In the Mood for Life and As Tears Go By.

Source: Shutterstock

Ang Lee (b.1954), film director
Taiwan

Lee is a director and screenwriter with a string of acclaimed films to his name, including Eat Drink Man Woman and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. His work on Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi won him Academy Awards for Best Director. His films are significant in their ability to transcend cultural barriers and achieving international recognition.

Source: meetthefilmmakers.com

Im Kwon-taek (b.1941), film director
South Korea

Im is recognised as one of the founding figures of the “New Korean Cinema”, a movement that saw Korean cinema gaining international critical recognition and acclaim. His films have won many domestic and international film festival awards, including Chihwaseon (2002), for which he earned Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Source: Shutterstock

Hou Hsiao-hsien (b.1947), film director, screenwriter & actor Taiwan

The Taiwanese film director is widely regarded as an influential figure both in world cinema as well as in the country’s “New Wave” cinema movement. Among his highly-regarded productions are the award-winning A City of Sadness and
The Assassin.

Hayao Miyazaki (b.1941), co-founder of Studio Ghibli
Japan 

The co-founder of the film and animation company Studio Ghibil is an influential animation director. His works, which include My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, are known for their depth and artistry, as well as for recurrent themes such as the balance between natural and traditional patterns of living. Spirited Away is the highest-grossing film in Japanese history.

Source: Shutterstock

Jia Zhangke (b.1970), film director and screenwriter
China

Generally considered as a leading force of Chinese cinema’s “Sixth Generation” movement, Jia captured China’s rapid social transformation from a backward country under Mao to a modern, prosperous nation in his movies such as Still Life.

Yuen Woo-ping (b.1945), film director & martial arts choreographer

Hong Kong

One of the most influential figures in Hong Kong action cinema, Yuen is known for his innovative choreography of action and combat sequences, such as in The Fist of Legend, The Matrix trilogy, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yuen also worked in two South Indian films Enthiran and I.

Source: Shutterstock

Cao Wenxuan (b.1954), children’s literature writer
China

Best known for his children’s writing, which explores “the complex lives of children facing great challenges”, Cao was the first Chinese national to win the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2016. He often draws from his childhood experiences in writing his books. One well-known work is Bronze and Sunflower, set during the Cultural Revolution, about a young girl who accompanies her father to the countryside where he is forced to labour among peasants.

Source: The Daily Beast

Mo Yan (b.1955), novelist & short-story writer
China

The very prolific novelist & short story writer was the first mainland Chinese resident to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012. Swedish historian Peter Englund refers to Mo Yan’s style as “damn unique”.

Clarissa Goenawan (b.1988), novelist & short story writer
Indonesia

This special mention is for Goenawan’s runaway debut mystery fiction, Rainbirds, which won the prestigious Bath Novel Award (2015). It was first published by New York City’s Soho Press in 2018 and is being translated into nearly 10 languages. Goenawan also writes award-winning short-stories, many of which have been published in literary magazines and anthologies.

Source: IMDb

Haruki Murakami (b.1949), novelist & short-story writer
Japan

Murakami has produced books and stories that are bestsellers around the world  books and stories, bestsellers both in Japan and globally; millions of copies are sold outside Japan and have been translated into 50 languages. His best-known works include The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore. He has received several awards including the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award in 2016.

Source: Mudd Up

Yan Lianke (b.1958), novelist & short-story writer
China

Yan is a prolific and vocal writer of satirical 20th-century Chinese literature, some of which is banned by the Chinese government, such as the novel Serve the People. Many of his works have been translated into more than 30 languages and are distributed globally. Yan sometimes features as a character in his novels.

Source: Shutterstock

Arundhati Roy (b.1961), fiction & non-fiction writer
India

Roy catapulted to international fame with her debut novel The God of Small Things, which won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction (1997). The rights to her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, were sold in more than 20 countries. Roy is also a political activist for human rights and environmental issues.

Source: Mindy Tan

Felicia Low-Jimenez (b.1978), children’s writer
Singapore

Another special mention, this time for Sherlock Sam children’s fiction series, which caught the attention of Andrews McNeel Publishing, the US publisher that puts out Calvin and Hobbes and the Big Nate series. Co-written by Low’s American husband, the series revolves around an ever-hungry 10-year-old detective, his robot sidekick and a group of friends.

Source: Alchetron

Nahoko Uehashi (b.1962), fantasy writer
Japan

The award-winning author of fantasy and children’s stories is best known for her 12-volume series of Japanese fantasy novels, Moribito. For her lasting contribution as a children’s writer, Uehashi won the world-renowned Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2014, the “Nobel Prize” for children’s literature.

Source: Shutterstock

Tsugumi Ohba (pen name), manga writer
Japan

Ohba is famous for creating the wildly popular Death Note and Bakuman manga series, which were illustrated by Takeshi Obata, though the writer remains anonymous. The two series, which have 30 million and 15 million volumes in circulation respectively, provide a fascinating insight into Japan’s manga publishing industry.

See all 100 Asians in our list in issue 132 of Asian Geographic Magazine.

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