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The best stories about women on Netflix

By THERESE JAMORA-GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 26, 2023 5:00 am

Michelle Yeoh’s Best Actress win at the Oscars inspired the Asian female filmmakers at “Reflections of Me,” Netflix Southeast Asia’s recent hybrid event celebrating storytelling for, by, and about women.

“One of the things that isn't addressed is the ageism that happens to women,” said Eirene Tran Donohue, writer of A Tourist’s Guide To Love, which will be released on Netflix on April 21. “I loved when Michelle Yeoh won the Oscar and she said, ‘This is for all the women who have been told they're past their prime,’ and they're not.”

In recent years, Netflix has increasingly provided a platform for many of these non-English, made-in-Southeast Asia titles to shine on a global stage.

This empowering discussion about women in film included our very own Marla Ancheta, the Pinay director of Doll House, which was No. 1 on Netflix Philippines for two weeks; Anu Chopra, film critic and lead of Netflix’s “Take Ten” program in India; Kamila Andini, Indonesian director of the award-winning Before, Now & Then and the upcoming Cigarette Girl; and Manatsanun “Donut” Phanlerdwongsakul, the actress who played park ranger Pim in Thai Cave Rescue.

Marissa Anita, the Indonesian actress of Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens, moderated this critical conversation about female representation in the industry. “Women deserve to see their lives reflected onscreen,” she said.

Amy Kunrojpanya, Netflix vice president of public relations for APAC, agreed: “In recent years, Netflix has increasingly provided a platform for many of these non-English, made-in-Southeast Asia titles to shine on a global stage. Last month, we announced our support for the indigenous program in the Philippines, which is designed to give young Filipino filmmakers access to resources and encourage those with regional roots and indigenous backgrounds to ensure creative inclusion and diversity.”

Here is our guide to what to watch on Netflix this International Women’s Month and beyond:

Doll House (Philippines)

Director: Marla Ancheta
Starring: Baron Geisler, Althea Ruedas
Story: When his rock-star lifestyle is trailed by regret, a lead singer embarks on a journey to reunite with the young, orphaned daughter who never knew him.

This bittersweet drama was No. 1 on Netflix for weeks. Ancheta says, “I was really surprised but of course grateful with how it was received by the Filipino audience, because we weren't expecting that it will go trending. I guess the one reason why it got that popular is because it's focused on family, and about a father trying to win his daughter back.”

Thai Cave Rescue (Thailand)

In this inspiring, six-episode series, a global rescue effort is undertaken to save a young football team trapped in a cave.

“I feel lucky,” says Donut Phanlerdwongsakul. “I got to play Pim, a strong female character. She's independent, and she's brave. She didn't have any power to give an order to anyone, but she used her emotional intelligence to try to convince people to keep working. And that's our secret weapon.”

A Tourist’s Guide To Love (Vietnam, streaming April 21)

Director: Steven Tsuchida
Starring: Rachael Leigh Cook, Scot Ly, Missi Pyle
Story: Work brings an American travel executive to Vietnam, where a free-spirited tour guide helps open her eyes to a beautifully adventurous way of life.

Writer Eirene Tran Donohue says, “What I really wanted to do was show Vietnam in a way that was not about the war. Vietnam is so much more than that. I wanted to showcase the country and the people and the culture in a way that was celebratory and fun and beautiful. So I'm really proud that this movie will finally show people a side of Vietnam that has not been seen before and also showcase some of the local talent, and it was also really important for me to have a hot Asian male lead. Because again, in the US, Asian men have not typically been represented in those types of roles. So I was like, we are going to objectify him and he will come out of the water — there's a shirtless slow-motion scene with water dripping down the body. It's for all the ladies out there, and the men.”

Finding Agnes (Philippines)

Director: Marla Ancheta
Starring: Jelson Bay, Sue Ramirez, Sandy Andolong
Story: On an emotional journey in Morocco, an entrepreneur pieces together the turbulent life of his estranged mother and meets her adopted daughter.

Ancheta’s first movie has a male protagonist, but she and her writer injected representation of women in the story. “So you're following the journey of the lead guy, but through his journey, there are different women that he encounters,” Ancheta says. “It's really about the women around him. In the end it’s how he's able to have reconciliation.”

Cigarette Girl (Indonesia, coming soon)

Director: Kamila Andini, who won the Indonesian equivalent of the Oscar for her film Before, Now & Then.
Story: Trying to grant his dying father’s wish, a son discovers an epic love story buried in his family’s distant past.

Netflix’s first Indonesian period drama is based on a novel by Ratih Kumala that Andini said she read back in 2011: “I finished it in a day because the story is just amazing. It’s set in the backdrop of the cigarette industry in Indonesia, but more than that, it's an epic romance, the cut between the past and present, following a son who goes into the journey, honoring his father’s dying wish to find a woman who’s a rare talent. In this industry were actually very male-dominated, and she's a very sensitive, very sensual kind of woman. I always love a woman character with a passion.”

My Amanda (Philippines)

Director: Alessandra de Rossi
Starring: Piolo Pascual, Alessandra de Rossi, KC Montero

Story: Two unusually close friends share every aspect of their lives together. As their lives evolve, their bond remains the only constant.

Hunger (Thailand, streaming April 8)

A talented young street-food cook pushes herself to the limit after accepting an invitation to train under an infamous and ruthless chef.

Dear David (Indonesia)

A straight-A high schooler’s life is turned upside down when her risqué fantasy blog about her crush is leaked to everyone at school.

Three Widows Against The World (Malaysia)

Determined to buy concert tickets to see their favorite singer, three widows start a vape juice business — earning the displeasure of local crime bosses.

Paper Rose (Vietnam)

This 40-episode series following a whirlwind romance, two people from opposite worlds get married, only to discover that nothing is what it seems.

Rise (Singapore)

While adapting to life after her release from prison, a woman must battle her demons as she trains to compete in an MMA championship.

Ti Tou Dao (Singapore)

In this 13-episode series, a girl born to a poor family rises up the ranks of Chinese street opera performers to become a wayang star.

The Big 4 (Indonesia)

In this explosive action comedy, four vigilante assassins team up with a cop to take down a ruthless murderer.

M4M4 (Malaysia)

In this dark thriller, a distraught mother seeks revenge following the senseless death of her daughter at the hands of gang rapists.

Furies (Vietnam)

Three furious vigilantes unite to take down a sinister crime syndicate that controls the mean streets of ’90s Saigon in this prequel to Furie.