Opinion Piece: My View on Foreign Films

Media Asia Distribution: Richie Ren in "Punished"For my first official edition of the Opinion Piece on The Movie Picture Show, I’m going to talk about something that I love in film. Although I’ve been into foreign films for the last several years, my love and appreciation for them have grown exponentially since I started reviewing movies. Although I do enjoy American made films, there’s something about films from other countries that catch my attention.

There’s a style mixed with several unique qualities in a large amount of the films from across foreign shores, and it’s hard for that to go unnoticed to anyone with an eye that’s even close to being keen and observant. In many instances, they seem to lack the moral compass or the desire to have an outcome that’s built to satisfy their audiences. Even in a film where it’s “good vs evil” that sees good prevail, endings aren’t always exactly what we as Americans may want to see.

The creators of these films usually like to go hard in some of these instances, so it’s difficult to know how they’re going to finish the stories that they come up with. I think that unpredictability makes these pictures more engaging at times, even when we do get the predictable endings that we’re accustomed to. The character(s) that you’re rooting for may walk away in a blaze of glory or he may fail in his quest to be a hero leaving the world a scary place for those he couldn’t save.

I started getting into films from other nations when I sat down to check out B Monkey, a British film starring Italian actress Asia Argento as the titular character. To be completely honest, that movie is terrible and I could barely make it all the way through. If I’m being completely honest with you, the only reason why I chose to watch it in the first place was because Asia Argento was in it, and I thought she was kind of hot back in the old days of 2002.

As bad as I thought the movie was, there was something about it that I liked. The feel of the film and the characters were different from what I was used to seeing in the American films that I grew up watching. Even to this day, I can’t ultimately say what it is that sucked me in, but whatever it was, I knew that it had to do with the film being from another country. After coming to that conclusion, it was obvious to me that there had to be more movies from other countries that had some of these same qualities. Not only could they have some of these qualities, but they might actually be good.

So, I started looking around to see what else was being created from countries outside of my own. Since then, I have found several films that I liked, loved and even helped me to broaden my cinematic horizons. Some of these films are action films, some are dramas, others are horror films and a few have been documentaries. And they’re not from one place either; places like England, France, Japan and Brazil all found a way to make films that made want to watch as much as I could.

One of those films that I found is City of God, a Brazilian crime drama that received quite a bit of attention upon its release back in 2002. What I like about this film that’s based on actual events is the brutality behind it all. They don’t try to sugar coat any of it and that’s the best way that this could have been brought to the masses. In many ways, this allows for viewers to feel the pain from all the violence and anguish that’s taking place on-screen.

On average, how many people outside of Brazil actually knew about any of this stuff? I think that for several people, this film is more than a film. From my perspective, it opened my eyes and gave me a way to understand what goes on in parts of the world that I’ve never traveled to. Because of City of God, I actually took the time to learn about Brazil, the favelas and how life is lived in and around them. Due to my research, I’ve learned about many of the controversies, the flaws and what ‘s being done to change things for the better.

Another foreign film that has to be considered graphic would be a South Korean flick entitled Oldboy that was released in 2003. I found this beauty when I was wandering around the virtual world of Netflix. I decided to give it a chance, not knowing what I was about to see. After watching the trailer, I thought I was going to be in for an aggressive and brutal action flick. What I actually got was something that even I couldn’t imagine at first.

Using Oldboy as a way to show the unpredictability of foreign films is an easy thing to do. The story was something that I had never heard of before. You have some guy who gets locked up for 15 years without understanding why. Once he’s finally released, he vows to get his revenge on the people who have wronged him. The description alone sounds like an all out brawl is about to ensue, but the movie runs deeper than that. There’s a whole psychological element to it when the layers begin to come off.

With the violence that’s in the film and the violence that I thought was going to be in it, I was actually caught off guard the most by what would be considered disturbing for a large amount of viewers. Most of the Oldboy consist of trying to find out what’s going on, but the ending and what leads up to it is memorable for anyone who decides to actually watch it.

I just remember sitting there at first, wondering what was going to happen. As the film progressed, it started getting weirder as it eventually started coming together for me. As I was viewing it, I ended up figuring out what was going on while hoping that I was wrong. Unfortunately, I was right, but it got even worse from there. The closer it got to the end the more freaky it became. After viewing it, I said that this was something that you’d never see in a movie produced and distributed out of Hollywood.

As it turns out, I’m actually kind of wrong about that, because I found out that Spike Lee would be directing a remake of this same movie starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen. We’ll see how much they change and how much they keep. If it’s from one of the larger studios, we may get a toned down version. However, if it’s somewhat of an independent film, we could get the full force behind the original film. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how it turns out.

Speaking of brutality and subjects that American filmmakers more than likely never touch, I’m quickly reminded of 2012’s French film Polisse. This film is a police drama based on real cases involving child abuse, molestation and rape. The Child Protection Unit (CPU) of Paris, France have to deal with these sensitive cases as well as the day-to-day struggles in their daily lives. They don’t gives us any of the graphic stuff visually, but just hearing it being described is more than enough to get an idea of what is happening.

Polisse features some hard-hitting stuff and it’s another one of those types of films that gives you a look inside of a world that most of us will never be a part of. The realism is once again an imperative part of the overall storytelling. From that standpoint, it never lets up once it kicks off, and it starts all the way at the very beginning in its opening scene.

The French being able to make a film predicated on drama like Polisse doesn’t really come as a surprise to me. I did however tend to ignore their action movies until I saw Point Blank. In an unexpected turn, they built a fast paced action movie around a male nurse who’s running around the city to save himself and his pregnant wife. This film is one of the most fun and exciting action films that I’ve seen in the last few years. There’s nothing groundbreaking included in this short and fast film, but I’ll simply say that Point Blank is just unpredictable and entertaining.

Now, I’ll go back east and talk about Punished, an action film out of the movie studios of Hong Kong. On the surface, it looks like your typical kidnapping story with some action that you know is going to breakout sooner or later. One of the things that I like about this movie is the fact that nearly everyone in it is dirty in some way, shape or form. The plot is built around the kidnapping of a rich business man’s daughter, but you’ll quickly realize that she’s not your average damsel in distress. Instead of that begin the case, she’s a party girl who does more than her fair share of illegal narcotics.

Once she’s taken, action ensues and people get “punished” along the way. As it turns out, the film is more of a character study than an all out action movie. Focusing on how things like greed, ego, desperation and anger can get into your way and blind you from seeing your own mistakes, we’re able to watch somewhat of a morality tale that contains one of the greatest endings that I’ve ever seen in a film. I was thinking about skipping over this movie when I first tried to watch it, because the first half hour or so is pretty boring. I did however, force myself to go past it and I’m glad that I did.

Out of all of the points that I’ve looked at while using the movies above to show my appreciation for films from outside of the States, I feel the need to use a drama that was released in 2012. It’s a French language Canadian film called Monsieur Lazhar. Upon first observation, it looked as if it was going to be one of those cheap knockoffs of the zillions of movies we’ve seen in America about a teacher saving a bunch of school kids from lives of complete and utter despair. Since I’m not really into movies about saviours posing as teachers, I had every intention of skipping right over this foreign affair.

Since I needed a movie to review, I elected to go ahead and give Monsieur Lazhar a chance. The very first scene let me know that I wasn’t in for the usual movie about a teacher saving students. This Canadian feature film really relies on emotion to tell the stories behind it. I point this out due to the fact that the kids in this movie play a pivotal role in displaying much of it. They’re asked to put on performances that are rarely handled by anyone under the age of twenty-five over here, and they do it extremely well. I left the theater that day impressed while also knowing that I had just seen one of the best films of 2012.

Obviously I’m not saying that I love every foreign film, or that they’re all entertaining to watch. Some of them feel incomplete, some are bad and others are void of anything having to do with personality or emotion. I don’t like these movies, because they’re always good; I just like the fact that they’re different from what we see on many occasions. In America, our films always seem to be concerned with morality to the point where everything is straight down the middle or “black and white” so to speak. That’s not the case with films from other countries.

With foreign films, sometimes we get the great endings and characters that the average person would want, but sometimes we get something that’s the direct opposite or somewhere in between. Much like the independent films in the United States, the creators of these movies appear to have more freedom to do whatever they want. The lack of restrictions and the ability to think “outside the box” allows us as viewers to open our minds and remain mentally stimulated throughout a film if it’s good and/or intriguing.

There are other films like The Salt of Life (Italy), The Man From Nowhere (South Korea) or the wonderful horror film Shiver (Spain) that I can look at to show you more of what I like about movies from various countries around the world, but I think you get the point. In the end, I’ll always be able to enjoy the movies that large American movie studios create when ever they make something worth watching, but I’ll always be open to watching movies from other countries. Where else would I be able to find a movie about the dangers of being in the meat trading business?