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These Are The Saddest Films Ever

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Over the last few decades, Asian filmmakers have set out to create the truly honorable feat of making us all want to cry until our eyes bleed. For those of us who love to self-torture over a weekend and not speak to anyone for days afterwards, there’s plenty of movies to choose from. I don’t know what it is about these films in particular (The culture of feeling repression? The stark imagery? The repetitive frustration? The children-oh-god-the children?) that combined beautiful storytelling with the kind of emotional pummeling that feels like a train hit you in the gut. Enjoy, friends. Enjoy while you still can…before all the feelings are sucked dry.

Nobody Knows

Starving children, am I right? Well, I shouldn’t be. The movie starts out sad and gets progressively worse until you’re cringing in fear for the next scene. It doesn’t help that the movie is brightly-lit and actually pretty subtle about how much this family of half-siblings abandoned by their mother is struggling…at least, it’s subtle until the soul-crushing end.

It’s a heartbreaking story of the enduring spirit of childhood mixed with the dramatic lengths the eldest son will go to keep them safe and…I can’t talk about it anymore so everybody shut up.

Little Moth

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If hungry kids weren’t bad enough, what if I told you a story about one who also couldn’t walk? Whose dad is an alcoholic? And that he literally sells her to a couple off the street? And that these adoptive parents then use her to beg for money? And that a group of gangsters start threatening to hurt her unless they get the money she’s begging for? Would you turn into an uncontrollable hurricane of tears punching at inanimate objects? Yeah. I thought so.

Secret Sunshine

Don’t worry, this one isn’t about malnourished children. This one is about a mom dealing with a kidnapped son. So, you know, not much better. It all starts off so well, when a young widow and her son move into a small town and start making a life for themselves. Then he disappears and the mother’s life/psyche/soul starts to wither and collapse. Your face will do the same thing while watching. Every second you think is hopeful will ultimately disappoint and then sadden you.

Torture yourself anew by sticking with her all the way to the horrible, horrible end.


Kurosawa has made some seriously enchanting movies, but none quite so full of punch-you-in-the-balls sadness as this one. From the beggared son and father dreaming of a future home to the abusive uncle and niece to the old man visited by a former lover asking for redemption, it’s got an ultimately uplifting sort of message; but somehow you’ll still wonder why your shirt is so wet and why you can’t stop wondering where that little boy thinks he’s going.

In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love

Basically every Wong Kar-Wai movie can fall into this category of soul-punching cinematic expertise. In the Mood for Love, though, is a goddamned masterpiece. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung play neighbors who deal with the realization that their spouses are cheating on them.

Not a ton of dialogue, some funny side characters, and enough sexual tension to choke a cat

lead up to the saddest, most poignant ending I have ever seen. The musical score for this movie alone will set me to weeping for days. Plus, if that isn’t enough for you…it’s the middle sequence of a loose trilogy that begins with Days of Being Wild and ends with 2046.


Maybe you like your misery interspersed with some action? Every time Jet Li’s character retells the story of how he “killed” a famous couple of sword fighters to the king, it gets progressively more beautiful and more gut-wrenching. Watch every facet of the things that keep you sobbing into your pillow at night: seduction, betrayal, jealousy, revenge, war, big reflecting ponds, and more of Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung being miserable. The first time I watched this film, I thought I was just entertained. Then there’s a scene on a mountaintop with a sword that broke me and I let out a real, visceral sob that alarmed my friends.

Last Train Home

It’s a well-known fact that many Chinese leave their homes to work in the factories that supply our, um, everything. My own parents, in fact, worked in factories until we moved to the US. This amazing documentary follows one family as they come to terms with the fact that the daughter they sacrificed everything for is choosing the same path of work instead of school and the harrowing train journey thousands of families take each holiday to see each other. I wanted to make this review funnier, but it’s hard to when this is the reality for billions of people every day. It’s one my family very narrowly avoided, so let’s all strive to be a little less angry at the little old Chinese women who yell at us on the bus.

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Candace Cui - Actual Unicorn

Candace Cui - Actual Unicorn

At age 2, I was getting run over by a bike in an alley in China. At age 8, I was avoiding man-o-wars on Tybee Island. At age 14, I was overdrinking sweet tea while running through the woods barefoot. At age 20, I was learning Art History and how to drop it low. At age 25, I was making fun of drum circles at Dolores. At every age, I am charming the fuck out of you. Just wait, it'll happen.