(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)
On this week’s Pop Culture Imports, it’s all about a few overlooked gems. First up is Burning one of the best movies of the year — foreign-language or not — which, like the strange Swedish fantasy-horror Border, got passed over by the Oscars for a Best Foreign Language nomination. There’s also the Chinese mega-blockbuster that no one has heard of, The Wandering Earth, as well as Stephen Chow’s classic Shaolin Soccer, and the sweet stop-motion animated series Rilakkuma and Kaoru. Let’s fire up those subtitles and dive into the best foreign movies and TV streaming. now.
Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now
Burning — Netflix
Country: South Korea
Genre: Psychological drama
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo.
If any movie was going to get South Korea its first Foreign Language Oscar nomination, it was Burning. It should’ve been Burning. And yet this beguiling, unnerving psychological drama was ignored, despite being one of the best movies of 2018. Lee Chang-dong paints a mesmerizing portrait of obsession and class hostility in a drama inspired by Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning. The film follows a young working class man Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-In) who becomes obsessed with a former a childhood neighbor Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo). But when she returns from a trip from Africa in the arms of a suave stranger, Ben (a chilling Steven Yeun), Jong-su begins a spiral into paranoia — especially after Ben reveals to him that he enjoys burning down greenhouses in his spare time. Burning is a haunting, hypnotic meditation on the icy depths of paranoia that slowly makes you question your own understanding of reality.
Watch This If You Like: Vertigo, Persona, Mulholland Drive, Black Swan, Shutter Island, dreams about drowning in a sea of ambiguity.
Border — Hulu
Genre: Fantasy drama
Director: Ali Abbasi
Cast: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jorgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén, Sten Ljunggren.
One of the weirdest movies of 2018, Border was Sweden’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar, but also got the shaft — though it comes as no surprise, considering how downright bizarre this fairy tale film can get. Directed by Ali Abbasi, Border tells the story of a lonely customs officer Tina (Eva Melander), a woman gifted with an extraordinary sense of smell and cursed with facial deformities that have made her an outcast. But one day when she meets a man who looks so very similar to herself, Tina begins to discover the truth to her identity is much more fantastical than she could’ve imagined. Evocative and thrilling, Border straddles the line between horror and fairy tale, infusing a surprising warmth to the story of two freaks who find connection amongst themselves. And yes, that sex scene is just as unforgettable as you’ve heard.
Watch This If You Like: Under the Skin, Pan’s Labyrinth, The City of Lost Children, things getting weird.
Shaolin Soccer — Hulu
Genre: Martial arts sports comedy
Director: Stephen Chow
Cast: Stephen Chow, Zhao Wei, Ng Man-tat, Patrick Tse, Danny Chan, Kwok-kwan.
Kung Fu Hustle may be the more universally acclaimed of Stephen Chow’s martial arts comedies, but I have a strong affection for the scrappy, heartfelt sports anime that is Shaolin Soccer. Why do I call it an anime, you ask? Well, Chow has cited Japanese sports anime Captain Tsubasa specifically as the source of inspiration for the over-the-top action of the film, which is as bonkers as its absurd premise: a Shaolin Kung Fu monk (Chow) assembles a super team of martial arts fighters to play soccer against his rival’s team called…Team Evil. Shaolin Soccer is Chow at his peak — young, vigorous, with nothing to lose and everything to prove; prove that martial arts comedies and delightfully low-budget effects can make some of the most gonzo, entertaining films ever.
Watch This If You Like: Dodgeball, Bend It Like Beckham, Kung-Fu Hustle, soccer balls kicked so hard that they burn everyone’s clothes off.
Rilakkuma and Kaoru — Netflix
Genre: Stop-motion animated series
Creator: Aki Kondo
Cast: Mikako Tabe, Takayuki Yamada, Souki Matsumoto, Mai Kanazawa.
Rilakkuma and Kaoru, Netflix’s latest anime endeavor, is probably the closest thing we’ll get to visual ASMR. Soothing and peaceful, Rilakkuma and Kaoru is a gorgeous, pastel-colored stop-motion animated series — a rarity in the anime industry — which brings to life the beloved San-X mascot Rilakkuma, who graces everything from stationery, dishware, backpacks, and stuffed animals. The series is as mundane as the merchandise featuring Rilakkuma, but there’s a whimsical beauty to it; the story follows a sweet-tempered office worker Kaoru, who lives with the sentient stuffed bears Rilakkuma, Korilakkuma and Kiiroitori. The 13-episode season offers slice-of-life peeks into their daily adventures, with an even-handed tone and pace that barely rises above a light jog.
Watch This If You Like: Aggretsuko, The Little Prince, Paddington, nicecore.
The Wandering Earth — Netflix
Genre: Sci-fi action
Director: Frant Gwo
Cast: Qu Chuxiao, Li Guangjie, Ng Man-tat, Zhao Jinmai, Wu Jing, Qu Jingjing.
Based off the novella of the same name by Liu Cixin (whose Hugo Award-winning novel The Three-Body Problem is about to receive its own big-budget adaptation from Amazon), The Wandering Earth was unceremoniously dropped on Netflix despite the film’s history-making box office success in China and despite its glorious sci-fi spectacle that rivals the best Hollywood disaster flicks. But don’t let the lack of fanfare or promotion keep you away from China’s first proper sci-fi blockbuster — the film is fated to be a crossover hit, ambitiously packed full of action and visually stunning setpieces. It’s a little formulaic and takes a few too many cues from ’90s Roland Emmerich blockbusters, but its operatic bombast and sumptuous effects make it easy to get taken along for the ride.
Watch This If You Like: Independence Day, Armaggedon, The Day After Tomorrow, Roland Emmerich being handed piles of cash.
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