Skip to content

Top 5 foreign language films

 Top 5 Foreign Language Films

By Kyle Sutherland, Entertainment Editor

As a film fan I have a very serious problem whenever trying to introduce many of my friends to an awesome piece of cinema. I’ll describe a film, the characters, plot, everything about it which makes it a joy to watch and they’ll be all pumped up to give it a watch, that is until I mention that this particular film is not in English.
“Oh never mind then I don’t like subtitles”… I seriously will never understand why so many people seem so averse to a bit of light reading but each to their own.
But there are many great pieces of cinema which go overlooked by a large portion of the population simply because the film is not in English, and I feel that they deserve a bit of recognition.
So here is a sample of my own favourites, my top five foreign language films.

5- Oldboy, 2003
This 2003 South Korean flick is one not for the faint of heart, with scenes of extreme violence, torture and the eating of a live octopus (seriously when I first watch it on tv that line was in the disclaimer, any wonder why I had to watch it?) the film follows protagonist Oh Dae-Su, locked away in a room by an unknown person for fifteen years.
The first act follows Dae-Sus’ time in captivity as he slowly loses his mind due to isolation, spending his time watching tv, exercising and planning his revenge.
The second act pulls a complete 180, with our hero awaking outside of captivity with new clothes, some money and a taunting call from his mystery captor, with Dae-Su swearing to find out why he was imprisoned and kill the person responsible, cue campaign of excessive violence.
This isn’t a highly choreographed martial arts film, our heroes’ weapon of choice being a hammer, but the way the fight scenes are filmed makes you feel totally part of the action, particularly watch out for a scene where Dae-Su makes his hammer wielding way through a swarm of enemies, most of the scene being filmed in one unbroken shot, it’s amazing.
The films’ plot also serves as an intriguing, captivating mystery which is slowly unravelled to the characters and audience, but it really would be a shame to go into too much detail of it as the only way to explain it would serve to spoil the film, you’ll just have to check it out for yourself.
Ps, some may be aware of the 2013 American remake of this film, don’t bother, it sucks by comparison, frankly the only people who can pull off a strange ultra-violent South Korean thriller are not the Americans.

4- Micmacs, 2009
Ok making a switch here from South Korean ultra-violence to French ultra-whimsy with Micmacs, the 2009 film directed by the same man who directed Amelie Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
The story here follows Bazil a Parisian whos’ father died 30 years earlier defusing a landmine, and is himself later left with a bullet lodged in his brain after being caught in the line of fire in a shoot out. The result being that although outwardly healthy the bullet in his brain could kill him at any moment.
Knowing this our hero decides, along with the assistance of a troupe of other social outcasts to take revenge on the arms trade, specifically the 2 companies which made the landmine that killed his father and the bullet stuck in his own head.
Now I’m not going to lie, this is a weird film, greatly acted, scripted and beautifully shot, but still really, really weird.
All I can really say is that if you love beautiful cinema, especially if you liked Amelie whilst thinking it could have gone for even more weirdness and whimsy, this is a film you should definitely check out.

3- Battle Royale, 2000
Well look at that, right away we’re back to Asian ultra-violence, my taste may be a bit of a worry.
Battle Royale, based off the best selling yet highly controversial 1999 novel by Koushun Takami is the story of a world wherein Japan, as well as much of Asia is ruled by a military dictatorship unable to control an unruly youthful population. The solution to this problem being “the programme” wherein a class of high school student is randomly selected each year, dumped on an isolated island and forced to fight to the death until only one winner is left.
Sound familiar?
Yes this is highly similar to the plot of The Hunger Games but when you really compare the two series the similarities really end quite quickly.
The film really follows 3 primary protagonists, the hero Shuya Nanahara, the girl Noriko Nakagawa and the badass Shogo Kawada as they desperately try to survive and escape, all the while being stalked by seriously 2 of the greatest antagonists in film in this writers’ opinion, the damaged and psychotic Mitsuke Souma and the silent and sadistic Kazuo Kiriyama (my personal favourite bad guy ever).
Now the film is graphically violent, I’m not going to lie, probably even more so due to the fact that these are meant to be 15 year old kids.
But the film is so much more than violence, it’s a study of human instinct and psychology, what would really be your reaction to being armed and told to kill all your classmates in order to survive?
We see the full gambit of reactions in this film, with some choosing to kill themselves, some banding together, some like Shuya holding on to the hope that people are basically good deep down and some killing for the shear thrill of it like Kazuo.
This film nearly fell into the same trap as Oldboy with planning for an American version of the film beginning in 2006, although these plans were halted after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. By the time interest in a remake was re-kindled The Hunger Games was already out and the moment had past, for the better of the series in my opinion.
This is a trifecta of a series, read the book, read the manga, watch the film, you’ll love them all, skip the sequel though it’s a massive balls up.

2- Princess Mononoke, 1997
Now I couldn’t really write a list of best foreign language films without any Miyazaki, that would just be stupid (also I’m aware this film is widely available in a dub but as an anime fan I have to say that’s for noobs sorry).
What can I really say about this flick? It’s Miyazaki! Of course it’s going to be awesome!
This is a film defined by beautiful artwork, music and a great message as we follow a struggle between the gods of the forest and the humans who wish to exploit its’ resources.
Now on face value that seems like a pretty clean cut humans are bad environment is good message, but Ferngully this film is not.
The film goes deeper, the humans aren’t portrayed as simply raping the forest of its’ resources and destroying its’ beauty for selfish reasons, but rather to help and protect their own community, this is a more complex story of the inability of man and nature to compromise with each other’s needs and that truly brings a more fulfilling story and message to this film.
Really explaining why this film is such a must watch is an impossible task, I mean why is Spirited Away brilliant? Why is Arietti beautiful? What’s so special about Howls’ Moving Castle?
It’s something which is really difficult to describe, simply put these are films which need to be experienced to truly understand.

1 City of God, 2002
This triumph of a film is not only my favourite foreign language film but may be my favourite film of all time (yeah Citizen Kane can go suck eggs) covering the rise of organised crime within the favelas of Brazil we see the corrupting influence of power, money, drugs and violence.
The main character and narrator of the film is Rocket who describes the realities of life in the City of God through a series of stories, following small times “hoods” such as the Robin Hood style Tender Trio and the rise to power of the films’ primary antagonist, the sadistic and psychotic Lil Ze, all while Rocket dreams of simply getting out and becoming a photographer.
We’re exposed not only to the power games and violence which sadly has plagued Brazils’ favelas for so many years, but the corruption and apathy on the part of police officers which allows it to continue.
The film has a contrasting message however, at times suggesting that the presence of crime in an area is not really a negative thing, rather the presence of competing criminal organisations is what leads to violence.
Ultimately this is a story of survival against the odds and the temptation of the criminal life, as Rocket ponders why bother working a rubbish job for low pay, when others make a fortune off crime.
But the story also shows the great risks for a criminal who rises too high, there’s always someone willing to push you off, as Rocket himself says “In the City of God if you run they catch you and if you stay they catch you to”.

Well there you have it my top five foreign language films, let us know your own favourites below in the comments and as always thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: