Netflix premieres original Hindi thriller series Sacred Games: 5 other Asian Netflix Originals to check out

Indian commuters walk below a poster of Sacred Games, the upcoming Indian series on Netflix, in Mumbai.
Indian commuters walk below a poster of Sacred Games, the upcoming Indian series on Netflix, in Mumbai.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Netflix released Sacred Games, its first Hindi-language original series on Wednesday (July 6), the latest of its efforts to court viewers in Asia.

The streaming giant has been licencing Bollywood films and Korean dramas in recent years to expand its global audience.

Co-produced with Indian film company Phantom Films, Sacred Games is set in Mumbai, and stars Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan as Inspector Sartaj Singh.

Inspector Singh's past involvement with a crime lord leads him on a quest to save Mumbai from a terrorist threat.

The first season of Sacred Games has met with positive reception and holds an impressive 91 per cent approval on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. It is expected to be renewed for a second season.

Here are five other Netflix Originals from Asia to check out.

1. Aggretsuko (Japan, 2018): 10 episodes, about 15min each.

The Netflix catalogue features a sizable roster of Japanese animation (anime), including popular shonen anime (targeted at a young male audience) such as Bleach, Fullmetal Alchemist and One Punch Man.

Among its original programmes, one surprise stand-out is Aggretsuko, a 10-episode net animation series featuring the eponymous Retsuko, an anthropomorphic red panda.

Retsuko is a 25-year-old "office lady" with a meaningless corporate job in the accounting department of a Japanese company in Tokyo. Her boss (a literal male chauvinist pig) and annoying co-workers frustrate her daily.

By day, she maintains a mild-mannered persona at work, but by night, she retreats to the privacy of a karaoke booth to let out her pent-up rage by singing death metal.

Aggretsuko is a darkly funny and honest portrayal of corporate Japanese culture and the difficulties facing young Japanese women especially.

Its approach to social issues like sexism in the workplace and social pressures facing unmarried Japanese women has been well received and gives the comedy anime a genuine sense of gravitas.

2. Amo (Philippines, 2017): 13 episodes, about 24min each.

Set against the backdrop of President Rodrigo Duterte's ongoing war on drugs in modern day Phillipines, Amo (Tagalog for boss) is the first Filipino series to be picked up as a Netflix Original.

Amo follows Joseph, a high school student who works as a runner in the underground drug trade, and his uncle Camilo, a corrupt policeman, who is also part of a gang.

It has been compared to another more mainstream Netflix Original, Narcos, which is about the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his smuggling operations.

Netflix's involvement has raised the profile of Amo, which has met with controversy. Director and Cannes award winner Brillante Mendoza, who is a proud supporter of Duterte's policies, has been accused of creating propaganda.

He has also been labelled an apologist for extrajudicial killings. Thousands accused of involvement in the drug trade have been killed in police crackdowns since President Duterte took office in 2016.

Its portrayal of women has also been criticised, although its technical merits such as Medoza's handheld style of camera work have been praised.

Despite its mixed reception - the series currently holds 6.2 stars on the Internet Movie Database - viewers might find Amo's portrayal of the Philippine drug war interesting.

3. Okja (South Korea, 2017): 2hr 1min.

South Korean director Bong Joon-ho's film, Okja, debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and was met with a four-minute standing ovation.

Bong directs child actor Ahn Seo-hyun alongside Hollywood stars such as Tilda Swinton, Steven Yuen and Jake Gyllenhaal in this film set in rural South Korea, Seoul, and the streets of New York City. Characters speak in both Korean and English.

Ahn plays Mija, a young girl who has been taking care of a massive genetically-modified "super pig" named Okja for 10 years.The company responsible for breeding Okja arrives to take her away, and Mija is forced to traverse the world to save her.

The action-adventure film holds an approval rating of 86 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for Best Television Presentation at the Saturn Awards in California.

Its underlying commentary on animal rights and the impersonal nature of the food industry balanced with high production values and enjoyable action sequences has been praised by critics.

4. First They Killed My Father (Cambodia and the United States, 2017): 2hr 16min.

Based on the memoir of the same name by Cambodian author Loung Ung, First They Killed My Father is historical thriller set in 1975 during the regime of dictator Pol Pot.

Ung (played by nine-year-old actress Sareum Srey Moch), who is just seven years old at the time, is recruited as a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge army while her siblings are sent to forced labour camps.

In the course of the film, Ung is forced to fight against the Vietnamese in the Cambodian-Vietnamese War. The film also tackles the US bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

Director Angelina Jolie worked closely with Ung to tell the latter's tragic story.

Intended for a Cambodian audience, the film features a Cambodian cast and is mostly filmed in the Cambodian language of Khmer, with occasional sequences in English and French.

First They Killed My Father has received a mostly positive reception, with an 88 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Jolie, who holds citizenship in both the US and Cambodia, was praised for her nuanced and and empathetic portrayal of the sensitive subject matter. She was also credited as a producer and writer on the film.

5. Shirkers (Singapore, to be released later this year): 1hr 36min.

Singapore-born director Sandi Tan's film won her the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Much of the footage featured in the indie documentary was shot on 16mm film in 1992, when Tan was 19 years old. She had been making a quirky road movie about an assassin, also titled Shirkers, together with her friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique.

Their American teacher Georges Cardona served as their director and mentor. For reasons unknown, Cardona stole the footage and vanished, leading Tan to believe that the film was lost forever.

When Cardona died a few years ago, his widow sent boxes of his belongings to Tan's home in Pasadena, California, where she currently lives.

She discovered the old film reels and decided to cut them together into a new meta documentary about the making of the original Shirkers film. The documentary incorporates interview footage of Ng and Siddique filmed in 2015. Although it is not yet available on Netflix - it is due to be released by the end of the year - it promises to be one to look out for, especially for Singaporean audiences.