There are several very good movies in English on Netflix. You’ve probably seen them all. See, the problem is, it’s very expensive for Netflix to secure the rights to good Hollywood movies. If you’re in the mood for some really good, non-indie films, then you’re going to have to be ready to read some subtitles. It’s a lot cheaper for Netflix to buy the best films from everywhere else in the world. And so Netflix is full of hidden foreign gems with great special effects and amazing acting. I’ve listed some of them below in no particular order.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec: While a pterodactyl terrorizes Paris, the intrepid Adele Blanc-Sec steals a mummified Egyptian doctor in order to resurrect him and save her ill sister. What? Yes. And it is awesome, and fun, and heartwarming. To be clear, this film does not take itself too seriously, it knows how ridiculous that plot description is, but takes it in stride. It was directed by Luc Besson (who directed the Fifth Element) and features Louise Bourgoin, who is possibly the most beautiful woman on earth, plus she’s extremely charming.
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies & OSS 117: Lost in Rio— Before The Artist, Jean Dujardin was Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, codename OSS 117. The first film, which is the better of the two, features de La Bath in Nasser’s Egypt attempting to solve the mystery of his missing fellow agent, Jacques. What follows is a hilarious critique of French late-imperialists. If that sounds too intense, don’t worry, it’s just funny. De La Bath, can’t help but be extremely culturally insensitive, and Dujardin is loveably silly. This features the same director, lead actor, and lead actress as The Artist.
Woochi: It’s a little difficult to explain, but this undisciplined, womanizing Taoist wizard is transported from around the 15th century to present day in order to capture a demon. Sound weird? It is… and it’s hilarious. Kang Dong-won has the cool, arrogant swagger down, but somehow manages to make the wizard lovable. Apparently there’s also a big social critique of South Korean materialism, but, umm, I don’t really know anything about that, so, judge for yourself, I guess. If you’re thinking this movie is going to be too weird or whatever, at least watch through the scene where he dupes the entire royal court into thinking he’s a god.
Norwegian Ninja: Are you high? Really, you didn’t pick Woochi or Adele Blanc-Sec? Ok well then you should definitely watch this one. During the height of the cold war, Arne Treholt, a Norwegian diplomat, was convicted of spying for the Soviets. This film reimagines him as the head of an elite squad of Norwegian ninjas serving the King of Norway. You probably have to be high to enjoy this movie. Not me, because obviously there’s some weird chemical stuff in my brain, but most people probably shouldn’t start with this one.
The Thieves: This is the best, most fun heist movie I’ve seen in years. Basically a bunch of Korean and Chinese thieves all agree to rob a casino in Macau, but everyone has an agenda once they get inside. The film keeps you guessing (sort of), but more than that is just fun and entertaining. Also there’s an incredible aerial shot of Jeon Ji-hiyun scaling a building in Macau that’s super dope. This movie will keep you entertained the whole way through.
Let the Bullets Fly: You have to keep up with the movie, but you’ll be rewarded. While on the surface this is a Chinese Western featuring a hero and a villain, that’s really just the surface. The movie is engaging and genuinely keeps you guessing, its frantic pace and antics keep you energized the whole way through. The dialogue is very witty and smart, and there are many lines that stick out as true gems. Fair warning I’ve never really been bothered by watching films with subtitles (obviously), but I’ll say this film tested my limits. The dialogue is a mile a minute, so be prepared to pay attention and read fast (or just dub it).
Dragon: Have you ever watched BBC’s Sherlock featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and thought, “If only there was something like this, but set in turn of the 20th century China and with more Kung-Fu”? Then you are the weirdest, and luckiest, person on the planet. I really like this movie, it has cool sleuthing special effects like in Sherlock, features Donnie Yen (one of the top kung-fu action stars of this generation), and is overall just a really cool, interesting movie. Also, instead of cocaine like in Sherlock Holmes, this guy uses chi energy. So that’s something.
Headhunters: Easily one of the best films currently on Netflix. A corporate headhunter who moonlights as an art thief finally runs out of luck when he steals some art from an ex-special forces, umm, headhunter. This movie is extremely well-paced, has twists in all the right places, and is remarkably funny, given the genre. Most people will enjoy this movie. It’s relatively violent, so beware of that.
Ip Man: Donnie Yen delivers some of the dopest kung-fu ever. The choreography is brilliant and Yen is at the top of his game. Did you know that China has some bad blood towards the way the Japanese treated them during WWII? Well, you will now. See, you can learn things from movies.
Ip Man 2: Not quite as good as the original, but still awesome. The one thing that I really felt was missing from the original was a plotline for me to be outraged by British imperialists. Thank god for Ip Man 2, which features this terrifying British boxer hanging out in Hong Kong.
Red Cliff: This movie is totally epic featuring some really important battle in Chinese history that I know nothing about. It’s like Kingdom of Heaven’s battle scenes, but also involving an interesting plot with really engaging characters. Highly recommend if you’re looking for a historical military epic.
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within-- This is an extremely well-paced crime drama about taking on Brazilian corruption. It keeps you on your toes with the developments, and while I have no idea whether it accurately reflects problems in Brazil, it certainly feels smart and believable, which is all I really care about.
New World: I don’t really like movies about crime syndicates, it always feels like they largely exist in movies and not in real life, and I don’t find their struggles particularly compelling or relatable. That’s what makes this movie so special. An undercover cop has been buried inside a complex crime organization and wants out, but his police overlords keep needing one more thing from him. I didn’t find the twists to be particularly surprising, but I found the undercover cop’s story gripping, and the characters around him to be very interesting. You can’t help but root for the main character, no matter which decisions he makes.
A Company Man: Korea’s answer to Drive. This is just a modern version of Le Samourai (see my other post on best movies you probably haven’t seen--coming soon), but it’s done extremely well. There is no doubt about it, you will be rooting for this hitman. I love the stark coloring of the film and the way that So Ji-sub channels Alain Delon. If that review makes this movie sound too pretentious, make no mistake, this is a thoughtful, action-packed movie. Also the fighting is really raw and impressive. Korean cinema does fight scenes really well. Those fight scenes in Bourne are child’s play by comparison.
The Man from Nowhere: A little girl goes missing and one man will stop at nothing… you know the genre. Still, I found this movie to be oddly compelling, far more so than, say, Taken, largely because the lead actor, Won Bin, manages to come off as extremely vulnerable and totally ruthless at the same time. Another film with extremely raw fighting sequences.
Point Blank: This movie starts out pretty conventional— it feels a lot like you’re about to watch the French version of Taken. In fact, the plot is intricate and full of twists, and there’s never a dull moment. Keeps you on the edge of your seat right until the end.
The Suspect: Oh, you just watched Skyfall for the fifth time and want something more like Bourne, and on Netflix? This one. Just a really solid Korean spy drama with some crazy, CRAZY fight scenes and really cool car chases.
City of God: One of the most visually stunning films made in the last 20 years, this Brazilian film tracks the story of a budding photojournalist in the middle of a gang war. It’s a surprisingly funny coming of age tale in a really messed up situation.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Don’t watch it if you’re sleepy. It’s not really a knock against the film that you’ll fall asleep because the movie is purposefully hypnotic. The fighting and costume design are beautiful, as is the set design, but the reason this movie succeeds is the tense and longing chemistry between Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh.
The Intouchables: Everyone will love this movie, so you should all probably watch it. Yeah it looks sappy. Maybe it is a bit. But mostly it's incredibly earnest and uplifting and sincere. Makes you believe there is still good in humanity. Things like that. No, I'm not going to describe the plot. Just watch the movie.