Greetings, Glancers! I wasn’t originally going to write this post. In fact, the last time I made any changes to my first Foreign Cinema Intro post was January 2018 and that was followed up with my run through of each Country alphabetically. I haven’t posted those yet, and I haven’t finished writing them. The point is, that when I envisioned the series as a whole, this specific post wasn’t part of it. While reading the initial post back though, I felt like something was missing among all the begging and moaning – my journey. Maybe you don’t care about this, maybe you do. I thought I’d write it anyway as it may be helpful if you decide to begin watching foreign films or if you’re one of those strange people who simply wants to know more about me. I’ll keep it brief, as I did cover the basics in how I first started watching non-Hollywood fare in my first post. The other thing which is lacking is in my upcoming A-Z posts – I didn’t feel there was enough of a stepping stone between the Intro and those posts, so maybe this will help.
It was Bruce Lee. I don’t remember why or how I started watching his movies, but I was around six years old. From there I would watch any film I could get my hands on which had ‘Dragon’ or ‘Fists’ or ‘Ninja’ in the title or which featured box art with a guy wielding a sword or performing a fly kick off or onto a helicopter. What could be more simple? I don’t even think I understood the concept of ‘foreign’ back then – all I knew was that I liked these films and that I wanted to be able to kick the crap out of people too. By the time I understood that people could be actors and that actors appeared in different films, my favourite actors were foreign – Arnie and Bruce Lee. It made no difference to me that they may have spoken a different language or been dubbed or had a weird accent or were made in Hong Kong or LA. To a kid from Northern Ireland whose day usually began watching my dad checking under our car for bombs before letting us go to school, everything was foreign. This may be one of the biggest leaps for US viewers. You guys have everything you could ever want on your doorstep and centuries of breeding and culture to make you believe you are the best at everything. We’ve existed centuries longer and we’ve come to understand truths which you have avoided or not yet been faced with. But to me, everything was foreign and everything was mine no matter when or where or how it was made.
Later, once I began talking about movies with friends I would branch out to other martial arts and action stars – typically also foreign – Van Damme, Jackie Chan, Dolph, and into the older Hong Kong staples. Then I started to get into horror movies, thanks to Salem’s Lot and my love of gruesome myths and legends. Those myths and legends? Foreign. Horror was a different matter entirely and while I was generally allowed to watch movies where guys killed each other by jumping on their spines or beheading them with swords, horror movies were more off limits. While perusing the video store I would inevitably be drawn to the horror alcove to stare at the box art for Freddy movies, Fright Night, zombies, killers in masks, pictures of hands coming out of the ground, hands grabbing throats or clutching knives, houses perched ominously on hills with weird lights and shadows coming from within. While my first horror experiences were Hollywood based, I knew that the really scary stuff – the banned stuff – came from overseas. Once I began to understand what movies were and started to make lists – of things I had seen in magazines, on shelves, by recommendations, or advertised on TV or Radio by the few people who actually talked about these things, I began seeking them out. Not because they were foreign, but because they were supposed to be good. They were meant to be ‘must-sees’.
Eventually, in my teen years as your typical jaded youngster disillusioned by the populist stuff, I would fall a little more in line with the ‘seeking things out because no-one else knew about them’ cliche. I never fully embraced this as I’ve always been a single-minded person not swayed by the opinions of, well, anyone. Which makes this post ironic as I try to convince others to watch things, but we’ll ignore that. The point is that while I watched some films that I knew none of my peers had heard of, I soon saw no benefit or got no pleasure from the process. I wanted to watch movies I knew I would like and I wanted others to know about them. Cue many unwarranted one-way discussions on ‘this guy from New Zealand called Peter Jackson’ or ‘if you hate that America doesn’t make movies like Die Hard anymore, then check out Hard-Boiled’ and ‘you think that’s bloody/scary/weird, try Suspiria/Ring/Hausu’. I wasn’t bragging or trying to score points – I wanted my friends to see the movies I had seen and get the same kicks out of them that I did. I still want those kicks today, and I always will, and I want people to know that it isn’t all Marvel/DC/Disney/Blumhouse/insert favourite US studio.
So what do you like? My favourite countries for movies outside of the US have always been Hong Kong and Japan. While I appreciate that some people are simply never going to want to watch a Kurosawa movie, or a martial arts movie, both of those industries have a lot to offer. I loved J-Horror while it lasted, before it choked on its own tropes. Hong Kong action remains breathless and you can get everything from war epics to balletic gunplay to treetop sword-fights and jaw-dropping stunts. In recent years, the South Korean, Indonesian, and Thai markets have been stepping up their game when it comes to action and horror. Japan meanwhile continues to make both the weird and wonderful – experiences I guarantee you won’t get anywhere else on the planet, but also the most perfect character driven dramas of the moment.
As I’ll mention more in my A-Z posts, Australia is a great starting point. They have a rich and varied history, although the output is much smaller than the US and UK. Everyone loves Fury Road, right? Go back and watch the early Mad Max movies and the copycats. Elsewhere, France had a wave of horror movies which we are currently seeing either the tail-end of or the beginnings of what comes next. These are not for the faint of heart, but if you’re a horror fan you’ll find something to love. My history with French Cinema is more closely aligned to looking at critic’s lists of best films and best directors, although on a personal level it has been my love of certain performers or directors which has drawn me in more – I have a thing for pretty ladies so Virginie Ledoyan, Audrey Tautou, Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Eva Green have all led me down some interesting paths. I also have a thing for cool anti-heroes and action movies, which France is full of. Italy was always more distant than France for me, until I discovered Dario Argento, Mario and Lamberto Bava, and Spaghetti Westerns, and with Spain I was taken more by the sexy stuff before learning more about the whole Franco/anti-Franco influence.
What I would recommend, before embarking on your journey, is to look at your favourite movies as they stand currently. You will have something directed by someone who worked outside of the US before making it in Hollywood. If not, I guarantee there will be an actor who fits that criteria. Go watch their non-Hollywood movies. In doing so, you might find another actor or director you like, and you can go watch those too. Suddenly, your world has opened up. Read my upcoming posts in which I’ll talk about my limited experiences of each country and I’ll talk a little about what I consider to be gateway films – films which are from the particular country, but also universal enough that the majority of film fans should get something out of them. I’ll list some of the most well-known performers and directors in the hope that you say ‘oh, I’ve heard of that guy/I liked that one thing they did/maybe I should give one of their other movies a try’.
Well, that was more of a P.S post than I intended, but I am typing this on the fly. My simple hope is for anyone reading this who is skeptical about foreign cinema to watch a single foreign movie – just one. Give one a chance. If one person comments to say that they’re going to try a foreign movie, I’ll be happy. If only one person comments to say that they did take the plunge, watched, and loved one, I’ll be ecstatic.
It’s over to you – let me know in the comments if you’re willing to give it a go and how you got on.