My friends are always telling me they want to start watching more foreign films, but that they don’t really know where to begin and that’s entirely understandable. Trying to dive into an art form is difficult, and tackling decades upon decades of films from all over the world can seem very overwhelming. Whether or not we want to admit it, we are all fairly lazy, which means that we probably don’t want to dedicate two, sometimes three, and in rare cases four hours, to a film that we didn’t enjoy and also had to read the entire time. So, to help you get started on your foreign film journey, I have composed a small list of foreign films that I have recently seen and thoroughly enjoyed. I will try to do another one of these lists every other week or so. I hope these lead you on your way to obsessive consumption. You can find all of these amazing films on FilmStruck.
1. A Brighter Summer Day (1991)
5/5 | Drama| Crime| Mandarin| Shanghainese| Taiwanese| 3hr 57m
Director: Edward Yang
Screenplay: Edward Yang, Alex Yang, Hung Hung, Mingtang Lai
Cinematography: Longyu Zhang, Huigong Li
Edward Yang’s undisputed masterpiece A Brighter Summer Day spans nearly four hours and has over 100 characters. While it’s kind of hard to find, this film is worth every minute. In an array of carefully orchestrated shots, we follow a young boy, Xiao S’ir, as he experiences his first love, rocky friendships, and all of life’s injustices while growing up in 1960’s Taipei, Taiwan. This sprawling teenage rebellion-coming-of-age-family epic checks all the boxes, and while we have seen the story of a good kid corrupted by his environment many times over, there is something about the running time and Yang’s direction that sets this film apart. I was lucky enough to come across this film on FilmStruck one rainy night and was completely mesmerized by Yang’s attention to detail and his love of doorway shots. I highly recommend it.
2. Yi Yi (2000)
5/5| Drama| Romance| Mandarin| Taiwanese| Japanese| 2hr 53m
Director: Edward Yang
Screenplay: Edward Yang
Cinematography: Wei-han Yang
Almost a decade after the masterpiece that is A Brighter Summer Day, Edward Yang is back with another immersive tearjerker, Yi Yi (A One and A Two). I first heard of this film a couple of months ago when I read about it on The New York Times “25 Best Movies of the 21st Century So Far.” I have seen it three times since then, and now consider it to be one of my favorite films of all time. For 3 hours, that pass like nothing, we follow this affluent Taiwanese family put to the test when the grandmother suffers a stroke and falls comatose. Told from the alternating perspectives of the father, daughter and young son, Yi Yi is a transformative experience that will leave you questioning all of life’s truths, or at least what you believe them to be.
3. In the Mood for Love (2000)
5/5| Drama| Romance| Cantonese| Mandarin| 1hr 38m
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Screenplay: Wong Kar-wai
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle, Mark Lee Ping-bing, Kwan Pun Leung
I became a huge Wong Kar-wai fan the moment I watched In the Mood for Love, which stars the immensely talented Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung Man-yuk as neighbors who become extremely close after coming to the realization that their spouses are cheating on them with each other. Ultimately, our two leads end up falling in love, but they refuse to act on their urges because they both feel so betrayed by their respective partners’ adultery and don’t want to stoop to their level. This film explores that age old idea of right person-wrong time, but does it in such a beautifully crafted way that I was completely immersed in the yearning and heartache of our leads. It also has a killer soundtrack that I downloaded to my phone the moment the credits rolled. This film is a must watch.
4. Dogtooth (2009)
4/5| Drama| Thriller| Greek| 1hr 37m
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Cinematography: Thimios Bakatakis
Honestly, I don’t even remember how I first heard of this film, but I can’t get it out of my head because its just so weird. Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth takes helicopter parenting to a whole new level, as a mother and father manipulate their children into perpetual childhood. This bizarre film will churn your insides and have you contemplating the complexities of power parents hold over their offspring. Lanthinos and Efthymis Filippou are one twisted pair of writers. With each parental lie and each “child’s” undermining action, the suspense is raised to palm sweating heights. Sounds great right? Well, there is kind of a catch. Even though I highly enjoyed this film, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you its a slow burn and you feel every single one of those 97 minutes, but there is a Flashdance dance number in the final act so cringe and hilarious that it all seems worth it.
5. Chungking Express (1994)
3.8/5| Drama| Romance| Cantonese| Mandarin| 1hr 42m
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Screenwriter: Wong Kar-wai
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle, Lau Wai-Keung
Definitely one of Wong Kar-wai’s most popular films, Chungking Express consists of two separate stories about policemen fretting over their failed relationships. The first story stars Takeshi Kaneshiro as a cop who can’t get over his breakup with his girlfriend May, until he meets a mysterious woman who just so happens to be a drug smuggler. The second story stars the great Tony Leung as a cop who gets over his broken-hearted misery after meeting a hipster snack bar employee who desperately wishes to go to California. In fact, she spends all of her free time listening to The Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’.” The stories are in no way connected and while this threw me into slight confusion on first watch, I got over it once I realized that this is a thoroughly entertaining movie shot in an impressively inventive style. Wong Kar-wai’s style has inspired many European and American directors, including one of my favorites, Barry Jenkins.