How often do you watch a foreign film?
I probably watch one foreign film per 20 Hollywood movies I see. I’ve wondered why that is and concluded it’s partly a language preference, location thing, and how I consume films, Netflix or cinema. When I see a foreign film it’s usually because I decided to look for one. I go to them far more often than they come to me.
Each time I watch a foreign film that I really love, I want to see more. But really good foreign films are harder to find because I’m less familiar with the directors, the actors, and the movie trends there. So finding an amazing one often feels more like an accident, like stumbling over a secret.
As I write this from an air-conditioned hotel room in India, I wanted to share a few of my favourite foreign film finds from this part of the world, starting with some Bollywood classics! As well as a list of 15 non-Asian world cinema movies I recommend.
Around two years ago when I watched Chennai Express (2013) with George, I didn’t imagine that one day I’d be writing a blog from here! But here I am. Chennai Express is a Bollywood romantic comedy starring Shah Rukh Khan (aka The King of Bollywood) and it’s about a man who falls in love with the daughter of a local don. Khan also plays in the fantastic movie My Name is Khan (2010), a drama about a Muslim man with Asperger’s Syndrome in America after 9/11. And a personal favourite is The Lunchbox (2013) about, well, a lunchbox. Just watch it! I love Bollywood films for their romantic stories, humour and stunning bright-coloured visuals. For another comedy, check out 3 Idiots (2009) about two college buddies looking to reunite with their friend.
South Korea has produced some incredible movies, the most famous of which is Oldboy (2003) directed by Park Chan-wook. It’s so good, you have probably seen it already. And if you haven’t, you absolutely must. That being said, it’s not for everyone. Generally, I’m a big fan of Korean films and Park Chan-wook in particular. Other movies of his include Lady Vengeance (2005) and Thirst (2009). Horror and violence are never a deterrent for me, quite the contrary. Another really good one from a different director is The Chaser (2008) about a pimp and former police detective whose prostitutes go missing.
Battle Royale (2000) is on every best world movies list. It had a huge impact on me when I first saw it. At that time, the concept of children fighting to the death blew my mind. It’s an epic Japanese film, although the sequel, Battle Royale II (2003) fell far short of the critical acclaim received by the first film. I’ve watched it but can’t seem to remember it. Battle Royale is one of the few Japanese films to have received worldwide fame. They are much more famous for their novels and anime, which is a different kind of film genre. For example, The Wind Rises (2013) and Ghost in the Shell (1995), which recently got a Hollywood remake starring Scarlett Johansson, are incredible animated movies.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) is probably the most famous Chinese film. It’s also one of the most beautiful ever made and a masterpiece in every sense of the word. A number of famous films have come out of the big country that is China, and actors like Bruce Lee! It’s not all kung fu, although the kung fu is awesome!! Too many to mention, such as anything with Bruce Lee, but also Kung Fu Hustle (2004) and the Ip Man (2008) saga. Other great ones are The House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). I’ll also mention The Last Emperor (1987) here, an amazing historical film about the life of the last emperor of China, although it’s not a Chinese-made movie.
Thailand and Indonesia are also making their name in the movie industry, Ong Bak (2003) from Thailand and The Raid (2011) from Indonesia are two epic movies featuring some of the best martial arts scenes ever. I realise that I haven’t watched many if any Malaysian, Vietnamese or Philippine movies, which is probably a combination of the fact that I live in the west, so there is little exposure, as well as budget constraints on the film-making industries within these countries. But I have a feeling that this region is going to be one to watch!
15 Must-See International Films
Listed in order of release…
- Leon (1994) France
- April Captains (2000) Portugal
- Amelie (2001) France
- Headhunters (2001) Norway
- City of God (2002) Brazil
- Tsotsi (2005) South Africa
- Volver (2006) Spain
- The Wave (2008) Germany
- Wadjda (2012) Saudi Arabia
- We are the Best (2013) Sweden
- Trash (2014) Brazil
- Two Days, One Night (2014) Belgium
- Tetarti 4:45 (2015) Greece
- A Perfect Day (2015) Spain
- The Hunt (2012) Denmark