(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)
From the harrowing, to the hopeful, the plain old awesome, this week’s Pop Culture Imports will have you covered on all the bases. The best foreign movies and TV streaming now include Neill Blomkamp’s modern sci-fi classic District 9, the harrowing one-child policy documentary One Child Nation, an unexpectedly awesome Ip Man spin-off, a lovely slice-of-life Japanese anthology series, and a slow burning Korean romantic-comedy.
Fire up those subtitles and let’s get streaming.
Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now
District 9 – Netflix
Country: South Africa
Genre: Sci-fi action
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James.
Neill Blomkamp made one of the best directorial debuts of the past decade with District 9, and unfortunately hasn’t really been able to live up to it since. But to be fair, this thrilling and brutally relevant sci-fi film set a high bar. District 9 is set in South Africa 30 years after aliens have landed there. Shuttled off to an isolated camp and left to wallow in poverty, the aliens are treated like vermin — their derogatory nickname of “Prawn” a reference to the invasive crickets that spread across South Africa — by locals who blame them for wasting the government’s resources. District 9 is a very transparent apartheid allegory, with its depictions of dilapidated shantytowns and social unrest setting the backdrop for a genuinely thrilling genre film. The shaky faux-documentary style of the first half hour, cribbed straight from Blomkamp’s original short film, gives way to a breathtaking action film that follows Sharlto Copley’s bumbling bureaucratic as he undergoes a very literal identity crisis. District 9 boasts a simple combination of a socially charged metaphor with a dark and grimy action narrative, that simplicity is key to cementing Blomkamp’s film as a modern-day sci-fi classic.
Watch This If You Like: Avatar, Arrival, Alien, Edge of Tomorrow, remembering when you thought Sharlto Copley was kind of attractive.
One Child Nation – Amazon Prime Video
Director: Nanfu Wang, Lynn Zhang
Cast: Nanfu Wang
Remarkably even-handed in its approach even as its filmmakers shake with rage at the atrocities done in the name of economic prosperity, One Child Nation lets the horrors of the one-child policy in China, which lasted from 1979 to 2015, speak for themselves. And at times it can feel like a nonstop barrage of horrors, as directors Nanfu Wang and Lynn Zhang, both Chinese-born filmmakers born under the one-child policy, interrogate the generational effects of the policy both political and personal. Wang in particular takes center stage as a new mom, heading back to the village where she was raised to speak to the doctors and government officials who had to implement the policy through forced sterilizations and abortions, and her own family members who abandoned their daughters in hopes of having a son. One Child Nation is an angry, eye-opening, and absolutely essential documentary to watch and one of the best of the year.
Watch This If You Like: 13th, An Inconvenient Truth, feeling bad about knowing a little more about the world.
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy – Netflix
Genre: Martial arts action
Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Cast: Max Zhang, Dave Bautista, Liu Yan, Xing Yu, Michelle Yeoh.
The Ip Man movies are just one flying kick away from being full-fledged superhero movies, but are often held back by their devotion to the real-life man who Donnie Yen plays with a noble stoicism. So it’s on the spin-off film Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy to become the superhero movie that the Ip Man films always aspired to be. And it does that in a bold, vibrant, creatively exciting way that even manages to supersede a few of the Ip Man movies. The movie’s secret weapon lies in star Max Zhang, who is the perfect brooding, tortured protagonist to play out the film’s weird western/noir fusion that plays out on the seedy gang-controlled streets of Hong Kong. Introduced in Ip Man 3 in a subplot that took way too long, Zhang makes up for his anti-hero’s irritating introduction with a classic crime tale of a beaten-down single father who finds himself embroiled in a drug war between local gangs and a corrupt police force. Director Yuen Woo-ping approaches Master Z with a clear-cut creative vision worlds away from the somber agit prop of the Ip Man movies, allowing for some spectacularly big and inventive fight sequences. The film’s supporting cast is no joke either: Michelle Yeoh has chilling swagger for days, and Dave Bautista is putting way more effort into lending depth into his role as the requisite Western fighter than his stunt-cast predecessors. Master Z doesn’t change the game by any means, but it’s energy and vivacity make it a blast to watch.
Watch This If You Like: Ip Man, Police Story, Kung Fu Hustle, a good adrenaline-packed fight sequence on a colorfully-lit set.
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories – Netflix
Genre: Anthology drama series
Producer: Takeshi Moriya
Cast: Kaoru Kobayashi
The second season of Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories quietly dropped on Netflix a few months ago, but that’s probably the best way to enjoy this gem of a slice-of-life series: quietly, serenely, stumbling upon it at 2 a.m. in the depths of your recommended list. I stumbled upon it in a similar way — researching a trip to Japan, I was searching for food shows that could give me a taste of Japanese culture, and instead discovered a lovely little anthology series about the hidden fringes of Tokyo life. Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories takes place in a tiny, tucked-away diner in Tokyo that opens only between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m., thus attracting all manner of quirky guests, each with a favorite dish and a melancholic backstory that they unload on the unnamed Master (Kaoru Kobayashi) of the restaurant. A taciturn and mysterious man, he serves any food that his patrons request, as well as a couple nuggets of wisdom to his struggling regulars. Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories is a lovely, whimsical anthology series that feels like sitting down with a home-cooked meal for several hours.
Watch This If You Like: Master of None, Chef, Cheers, Chocolat, suddenly getting inspired to get into Japanese home-cooking.
Tune in for Love – Netflix
Country: South Korea
Genre: Romantic drama
Director: Jung Ji-woo
Cast: Kim Go-eun, Jung Hae-in
A sleepy, slow-burning romance that revolves around a pretty cheesy conceit — two young people fall in and out of love as their lives intersect through a popular radio station program — Tune in for Love mostly succeeds on the strength of its stars Kim Go-eun and Jung Hae-in. The two rising stars who both previously appeared together in Goblin, the massively popular K-drama that launched Kim to stardom, are beautiful and charming enough to power Tune in for Love through some of its lulls. The film follows Kim’s bright student who, while working at a bakery, meets Jung’s delinquent drop-out. The two fall in love but can never get the timing right, stretching out their “might’ve been” relationship over the course of a decade. Set amid the IMF crisis in South Korea, Tune in for Love is jam-packed with ’90s nostalgia and the sweet sepia tones that come with that kind of mumblecore-aspiring aesthetic.
Watch This If You Like: You’ve Got Mail, Serendipity, One Day, watching beautiful people falling in love.
The post Pop Culture Imports: ‘District 9,’ ‘Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy,’ ‘One Child Nation,’ And More appeared first on /Film.