Have you always wanted to give foreign films a try but don’t know where to start?
There’s something for everyone in the ‘world cinema’ section of any shop – you just need to know what to look for. Foreign films aren’t all 4 hour-long arthouse softcore snooze-fests; although there are some… The only advice I would give to first-timers is to avoid dub-tracks at all costs and go straight for the subtitles (voice acting is generally stale, lips are out of sync, you lose the performance, and famous voices can distract you)
Below is a list of ‘Entry Level’ movies to get you started. There’s nothing too heavy on dialogue or ideas. These are ‘gateway’ movies to show that there’s an alternative to Hollywood’s churn-and-burn franchises. Some of the choices may seem obvious, but this list is aimed at absolute beginners. Most similar lists I’ve seen seem to stop at around 1970 listing ‘classic after ‘classic’; which aren’t necessarily the most accessible movies for novices.
The Raid (‘Serbuan Maut‘ – Indonesia): imagine an action film where pretty much the entire runtime is nothing but bone-breaking, innovative, and mesmerising fight sequences! An action film that delivers on real, physical stunts and traditional fighting & filming techniques! An action film that says no to overblown and unnecessarily cheap-looking CGI, and gratuitous back story of 1D characters. The Raid (and The Raid 2) are movies that don’t disappoint. TRAILER
Run Lola, Run (‘Lola Rennt‘ – Germany): A simple concept played out three times, in a variety of frenetic, stylish, and a adrenaline-pumping ways. The plot follows a girlfriend’s attempts to bail out her debt-ridden boyfriend before his lenders send him to sleep with the fishes. You could watch this and think about free will, chance, the butterfly effect etc – or you can sit back, switch off, and let it hypnotise you. Bright, poppy, and with a pounding dance soundtrack, this plays out like an elongated music video. TRAILER
Hard Boiled (‘辣手神探‘ – Hong Kong): So you love the iconic gun fights from films like Face/Off, The Matrix, and Shoot ‘Em Up – awww, that’s cute. How about some genre-defining gunplay complete with doves, explosions-ahoy, and slow-motion bodies flying in all directions – delivered by the master of infinite-ammo action, John Woo. This is the peak of the ‘Heroic Bloodshed’ genre of action; basically kung fu but with guns. The final hospital shootout is among the best action scenes ever filmed. TRAILER
Love me if You Dare (‘Jeux d’enfants‘ – France): Love stories, meh, I’m not usually a fan – but here’s one that’s quirky, cool and doesn’t star Zooey Deschenel (WTF, France?!?). It follows two best friends from children to pensioners as they struggle to be in the right place at the right time for their life-long love to truly work out. Any film this poetic, stylish and charming – to the point of warming your heart – could only be French! TRAILER
The Good, The Bad, The Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 – Korea): one of Korea’s best directors, and a handful of the country’s biggest stars in a story about three outlaws trying to find ancient treasure before the Japanese Army and other bandits. This is a fun historical romp that entertains for the duration, like an Indiana Jones film. It’s an Italian-style spaghetti western, with Hollywood sensibilities, but still remains a very ‘Korean’ feeling movie; combining some of the best aspects of 50 years of ‘world cinema’ together perfectly. TRAILER
Timecrimes (Spain): Whilst on vacation with his wife everyman Hector sees a lady undressing at the edge of his property, which sets off an elaborate chain of events. Here’s to the high–concept, low-budget time–travel film with no SFX! It’s hard to say more without ruining the film, but this one stands out for being completely rooted in the real world; the characters feel human, the baddie fumbles around, the settings are banal but creepy. Simple, clever, and effective. TRAILER (contains spoilers)
The Street Fighter (激突！殺人拳 – Japan): when he refuses to kidnap a billionaire heir for the Yakuza, they try to kill the street fighter – which turns out to be a terrible decision for all involved. This is the first movie to get an R rating for violence alone, a major influence of a Mr Tarantino, and while it’s not as shocking as it would have been 40 years ago, it’s still a brilliant Martial Arts movie. It’s also been deemed important enough to be made available for free on the public domain (LINK) TRAILER
Trollhunter (‘Trolljegeren‘ – Norway): mock–documentary following an old school troll-hunter (mythical ones, not internet trolls) as he helps keep these magnificent beasts hidden from the unsuspecting public. This one’s a dead-pan slow-burner that packed with loads of tiny details about trolls and their mythology. The central character is played superbly, taking his job very seriously, which engages the viewer. Great black comedy / fantasy satire. TRAILER
Ring (Ringu – Japan): You know the drill; after watching a cursed VHS you get a phone call saying “you gonna die lol”, and you spend your last week in a pants-shittingly terrifying nightmare scenario. A victim of its own success, having being parodied everywhere, it’s easy to forget how scary this film is; it’s broody, atmospheric, restrained, and genuinely terrifying. The haunted mother of the J-Horror genre, which kick-started the trend of (usually botched) Asian horror remakes. TRAILER
MicMacs (‘MicMacs à tire-larigot‘ – France): after losing his dad to a landmine, and being hit by a stray bullet Brazil sets out to take his revenge on the two weapons manufacturers responsible. Despite being a sharp commentary on the arms industry the title translates as “non-stop shenanigans”, and that exactly what this is. A fun take on the classic ‘revenge’ story, this is from French visionary Jean-Pierre Jeunet; who somehow manages to capture surreal and dream-like worlds perfectly – and manages to make this modern film look and feel like a Golden Age classic. TRAILER
Which foreign film would you recommend for a beginner and why?
Please leave your film suggestions and reasons in the comments.
I’ll hopefully have enough to create a follow-up post – which would credit your entry and link back to your website.
Remember though, these are NOT the best foreign films per se, but the best ones for introducing people to world cinema.