When people think about foreign films, there seems to be a lot of derision towards them: “I don’t like subtitles,” “Dubbing sounds weird,” “Only pretentious hipsters would watch them,” etc. While there is some truth to some of that, it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a foreign film. Everyone should give foreign films a chance.
Now, people who regularly read this column (all two of you) know that I mainly have a populist view on media, especially concerning film. I have championed the likes of action movies and gross-out comedies as forms of art — whether low or pulp — but as art nonetheless. I’ve also given rave reviews to films that are known more for their bloodshed and explosions then their coherent plots or treatises on the human condition. However, that doesn’t mean that’s all I enjoy as a film viewer, and I think that people should be open to all kinds of media from different times and places. If you only watch movies that have come out since the 90s, and only from major studios in Hollywood, you’re missing out on a lot of great films that have come out since films’ inception.
Ahem. You see, one of the greatest things about art, and especially film, is its universal appeal. For the most part, we can enjoy a beautiful painting, a well-written novel, a mesmerizing song or a great film no matter where it came from. Sure, you might need the aforementioned subtitles for foreign films, but that’s a small price to pay to enjoy great art. And while it’s true some things will be lost in the translation, a good story is still a good story, no matter what. Also, films have the universal appeal of gorgeous cinematography, catchy scores and memorable performances to look forward to.
And it’s not just pretentious bullshit either, although those films are great as well. While I myself enjoy foreign films of that mold, like Jean-Luc Godard’s “Pierrot le Fue” and Francois Truffaut’s “400 Blows,” or Federico Fellini’s “8 ½” and Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves,” that’s not all that’s out there in the world of foreign films. You shouldn’t just watch movies from other countries because you want to be cultured (although that should be a part of it), but rather because there are some bad ass movies that exist around the world. In France, there’s the awesome period/kung fu action flick “Brotherhood of the Wolf” and the parkour epic “District B13.” Both of these films are balls-to-the-walls action flicks that kick ass and are worth seeing if you’re into martial arts, bloodshed and explosions.
We also owe a lot of our modern action movie conventions to Hong Kong films — such as John Woo’s “Hard Boiled” and “The Killer” — where the wire fu, slow motion, balletic action scenes we’re used to seeing came from. In fact, during the 90s and 2000s, Hollywood actually hired directors (such as Woo) and stars (such as Jackie Chan and Jet Li) to come down to L.A. and shoot action movies differently from the way they were shot and filmed at the time. Even “The Matrix” hired the esteemed Hong Kong fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping for their film, and we know how that turned out (awesome … at least for the first film).
As well, many popular films are actually originally foreign films, just remade with American (read: white) actors and English, because America is apparently illiterate. This includes “The Departed” (originally the Hong Kong “Internal Affairs”), “The Ring” (originally “Ringu” from Japan) and the recent “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (from the Swedish original of the same name). Many of these remakes are pointless, even if well-made, and few top or even equal their foreign originals. Now that’s a subjective opinion, but the objective fact remains that we owe a lot of our film culture to foreign films. Whether it’s from stealing certain styles and techniques, such as film noir and Tim Burton films drawing heavily from German Expressionism in the ‘30s, Martin Scorsese and modern crime thrillers taking cues from the French New Wave movement in the ‘60s, and the aforementioned Hong Kong influence on action cinema, we cannot escape the fact that what we enjoy in films many times didn’t originate here. In fact, film began with transnationalism in its infancy, with many directors from Europe working in Hollywood and vice versa. This still exists today, if a bit less so.
Now, I’m not saying foreign films are inherently better than Hollywood or mainstream films. Like many people, I love “Star Wars,” “The Matrix,” “The Terminator” and am looking forward to “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” So I’m not saying how cultured you will be after watching these films, or that you should ever pat yourself on the back for doing so. That’s not the point. The point is that good movies exist everywhere, and you’re missing out if you don’t look out for them. That’s all. Because, seriously, “Brotherhood of the Wolf” has a kickboxing Native American fighting a lion! In slow motion!