In lieu of an audio Top 10 this weekend, I decided why not craft an article exploring the Top 10 Best Non-English Language Movies and TV Shows. In my opinion. As an American, we’re used to our movies and television shows being in English. And thus, we become hesitant in watching movies that are not in English and have subtitles. This, however; really restricts us. I believe Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar win in 2019 for Parasite showed that there’s so much more to enjoy in movies and TV shows, if we can just get past the subtitles.
Personally, I’ve never minded subtitles. I began watching this in subtitles to hear what people are saying in shows, as it seems many shows (and movies) have lots of dialogue that’s barely a whisper. So, on average, everything I watch, English language or not, has subtitles. Plus, if you were an anime watcher, you’re already used to subtitles. So, let’s go through some of my favorite Non-English movies and TV shows.
All About My Mother (Todo sobre mi madre)
All About My Mother was the first Non-English Language Film I had ever seen. I had watched it in a college class and it was really amazing to see art from another country. All About My Mother came out in 1999 and starred Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Candela Peña, Antonia San Juan, Penélope Cruz, and Rosa Maria Sardà. The film is a story about a woman traveling and finding meaning after the death of her son. It’s also about finding the father to her son, to tell the person that they had a son. The movie deals with transgenderism, the AIDS crisis, and more. It’s an emotionally packed film and actually won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Even though ZeroZeroZero has sections spoken in English, a lot of the show is spoken in Italian and Spanish. ZeroZeroZero was probably meant to be Amazon Prime’s version of Netflix’s Narcos – as it also deals with the International Drug Business. However, instead of focusing on one country, the show hops around. And shows the side of the broker who is in charge of getting the drugs from one country to another. ZeroZeroZero was like The Godfather met Narcos and had a lot of great performances – particularly with Dane DeHaan.
Speaking of Narcos, let’s talk about one of the most successful Netflix show to date. For many people who grew up in Hispanic households, the story of Pablo Escobar is not a new one. For those who didn’t, Pablo Escobar was like Scarface. A fictional character who did some outrageous stuff. The thing is, though; Pablo Escobar was real and the things he did exceed fiction. Narcos took the story of the two DEA agents – Steve Murphy and Javier Pena – who took down Escobar and built a franchise out of it. What makes Narcos different from other shows is that it relied heavily on real-life experiences from the DEA agents and real-life footage. Narcos didn’t shy away from showing everyone the dangerous man that was Pablo Escobar. And Wagner Moura gave one of the most memorable performances as Escobar.
This is a little bit of cheating here, but Narcos: Mexico is a different show than Narcos. Sure, they share the same continuity and Narcos: Mexico started as a prequel show, but it’s good on its own. Narcos: Mexico shared the heartbreaking tale of Kiki’s death that was briefly mentioned in Narcos. Michael Pena did a great job as Kiki and Diego Luna brought a calm and scary presence to Felix Gallardo. Season two kicked it up a notch with Scoot McNairy coming in as DEA Walt Breslin. And luckily he’s coming back for season three. Narcos: Mexico has a fantastic ensemble cast and is a must watch.
Sacred Games is a show that I took too long watching and I’m glad I did. Sacred Games is on Netflix and has great production value. Taking place in India, Sacred Games is a detective show that has an almost Narcos feel to it. The show follows Saif Ali Khan as Inspector Sartaj Singh, who must crack the code of a very dangerous druglord who has been missing for 16 years. There’s two seasons that are worth the watch. And watch it with the subtitles, not the dub – it takes away from the show.
Wolf Warrior 2
Wolf Warrior 2 is on Hulu right now and if you’re looking for a non-stop action film in the vein of 80s action movies, you’re in luck. This Chinese movie was released in 2017 and became the highest-grossing Chinese film ever. You don’t need to have watched the first one, but you can if you want to. Wolf Warrior 2 follows Wu Jing as Leng Feng, a former Chinese special forces soldier. Leng Feng must stop the evil arms dealer Big Daddy, played by Frank Grillo. It has a lot in it, but the biggest takeaway from the film is how badass the action scenes are.
Before Joel Kinnaman was in American films, he starred in a lot of Swedish projects. Such as the film series Johan Falk. Which, primarily follows Jakob Eklund as Johan Falk. There’s roughly around twenty films, but my favorite are the ones with Kinnaman, who plays an informant for the police department who is eventually screwed over by the police department and becomes a wanted man. It’s a police procedural series that, at times; can feel a bit like a soap opera, but I nevertheless enjoyed them because I really do enjoy international, police/drug stories. You can find a lot of the Johan Falk series on Amazon Prime.
Parasite is the movie that got everyone talking. Directed by Bong Joon-ho, it’s just another successful film by a very talented man. I’m glad if this was your first Joon-ho film, but you really need to also see Snowpiercer, Mother, The Host, and all of his movies (except Okja, wasn’t a big fan of that one). Joon-ho’s films always have a symbolic message behind them, such as with Parasite. What may have just seemed like a film about one family living in a richer family’s home, was really a commentary on classism. Every little thing had a meaning to it and it was really beautifully shot. I understand why it won an Oscar and I hope Parasite gets people more used to non-English Language Films.
Move over, Hunger Games, here is the better and bloodier film that came out before everyone went crazy for Hunger Games. Battle Royale is a Japanese film from 2000 that takes place on an island where a class of high school students are sent. The reason? Apparently, in the context of the film; Japan is tired of its rebellious and disrespectful youth. To teach them a lesson, a class is sent to an island each year and it’s a fight to the death. They’re all strapped with a detonator around their necks and one weapon in their backpacks. The final person standing gets to live. It’s a blood drenched, heart-pounding film about survival, betrayal, and is just better done than what we saw in Hunger Games.
I recently did a review for Lupin, but I want to talk about it again. Having just hit Netflix in the beginning of January, Lupin stars Omar Sy as the main character Assane Diop. Assane based much of his life and personality on the fictional character Arsene Lupin – dubbed the “gentleman thief”. Lupin follows Assane as he looks to finally unearth the truth surrounding his father’s death and to clear his name. It’s a smart, well-paced show that kept me hooked. This French series has a second part that’s coming out this summer, so you have plenty of time to catch up.
What is one of your favorite Non-English Language Film or TV Show?
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A girl with too many fandoms to count.