Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” made Golden Globe’s history for being the first Korean film to win Best Motion Picture. During his speech, he encouraged people to watch more foreign films by saying: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” And he’s right.
— Variety (@Variety) January 6, 2020
As a former student, world cinema was my h2o. The first thing film school does is shatter the illusion of Hollywood as the only land of film. Popcorn blockbusters and whatever Netflix original is trending right now are not the only films that are worthy of everyone’s attention.
The language barrier might seem intimidating at first. But as the “Parasite” director mentioned in his Golden Globe’s speech, we only use one language: the cinema. It is a universal language of story-telling. From kooky dramedies to nail-biting thrillers, here are some films you can watch if you want to give foreign cinema a shot.
“Chungking Express” (Hong Kong)
We’re all Wong Kar Wai stans here. But this film seems to be everyone’s gateway film to Wong Kar Wai, or Hong Kong cinema in general. This dramedy, as eloquently described by IMDB, is your classic girl meets guy, girl likes guy, girl breaks into guy’s apartment with stolen key and plays with his possessions film. It’s a fun watch and a handy middle-ground for rom-com suckers and budding film snobs who want a peaceful movie night together.
“Boy” (New Zealand)
Want to know why Taika Waititi is so hot in Hollywood right now? It’s not because of his breakthrough success in “Thor: Ragnarok” or nailing the last episode of Disney+’s “The Mandalorian.” Before he became a wild card in Hollywood, he was New Zealand indie film circuit darling. His film, “Boy,” is a bittersweet multi-layered film about an 11-year-old child meeting his prison-bird father for the first time. Too bad his father is not how he imagines him to be.
“I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK” (South Korea)
This zany, sci-fi rom-com from Park Chan-wook stars K-pop star legend Rain in his most unusual role yet. After the director’s infamous revenge trilogy, he made a love story between a man who thinks he steals people’s souls and a woman who believes she’s a combat cyborg. It all takes place in a mental hospital, threading between reality and the surreal. It’s not your usual Korean rom-com—and that’s okay.
Read more: On heartbreak and everyday life: 4 films from Makoto Shinkai
“La Jetée” (France)
In essence, this inspired Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi classic “12 Monkeys” starring Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis. This short film is constructed almost entirely from still photos, shot in black and white. It’s a story of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel. The film is told in through the subject’s point-of-view as he recalls his past, present, and future while the experiment is being conducted.
“Cinema Paradiso” (Italian)
As writer Desson Howe placed it, “everything you ever loved (or hated) about Italian films can be found in Giuseppe Tornatore’s ‘Cinema Paradiso’.” This film is a nostalgic look into the main character’s love affair with cinema. If you love the art of cinema, whether you’re a staunch cinephile or your friendly neighborhood film buff, “Cinema Paradiso” will easily tug your heartstrings.
“Love Exposure” (Japan)
Want to give long cinema a shot? Go and watch Sion Sono’s “Love Exposure.” It tells a story of a love triangle between a young Catholic upskirt photographer, a misandric girl, and a manipulative cultist. This piece explores the themes of love, family, fanaticism, and even upskirt photography. In other words, it’s a film you approach with an open mind and a bladder of steel.
“Run, Lola, Run” (Germany)
If you love screaming into your film screens and losing your collective shit as a crew, “Run, Lola, Run” is the foreign classic for you. The story of this thriller is quite simple: Lola needs to get 100,000 Deutsche Mark under 20 minutes in order to save her boyfriend’s life. This film plays on different themes such as free will vs. determinism, the role of chance in people’s destiny, and obscure cause-effect relationships. It’s an adrenaline rush of a film—and that’s why you’ll love it.
In “Raw’s” Toronto International Film Festival debut, David Friend of The Canadian Press described its viewers as squirmy and queasy. But keep in mind: he also said that it’s more than a gory film. It’s a story of a vegetarian trying to fit in at her veterinary school. And in order to fit in, she tries meat for the first time, clueless about the dark consequences of her action.
“Y Tu Mama Tambien” (Mexico)
As IndieWire wrote, Alfonso Cuarón’s critically acclaimed coming-of-age film was inspired by the following: Frank Zappa, Jean-Luc Godard, bad teen movies, erotica, and his own experiences in past and present Mexico. It’s a film about two best friends’s on a road trip with a liberated, unhappily married older woman. If you think it’s just another teen drama, then you’re in for a surprise.
“City of God” (Brazil)
If you love crime films, then “City of God” can be your gateway to world cinema. This Brazillian crime thriller is loosely based on a true story, following two boys growing up in a sadistic neighborhood of Rio De Janeiro. One grew up to be a photographer, while the other grew up to be a drug dealer. It’s breathtaking, terrifying, and a must-watch if this genre is your jam.
Still from I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK