(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)
The Western has long evolved out of its uniquely American trappings, and we get to see two shining examples of that in this week’s Pop Culture Imports. The first is Sholay, a genre-mixing ’70s “Curry Western” classic widely considered the best Bollywood movie of all time, and the second is a 2018 Belgian film comprised of even more genre influences, with spaghetti westerns, hard-boiled Italian cop dramas, and Tarantino all bumping uglies in Let the Corpses Tan. Joining them isthe 2016 K-drama police procedural sensation Signal; Japanese provocateur Sion Sono‘s latest thriller; and a spectacularly badly titled Netflix crime drama.
Switch off Netflix’s default dub versions (please stop that), fire up those subtitles, and let’s get streaming.
Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now
Sholay – Amazon Prime
Genre: Dacoit Western
Director: Ramesh Sippy
Cast: Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri, Amjad Khan.
Widely considered one of the best Indian films of all time, the 1975 genre-mixing Western Sholay was a landmark film that helped define everything that would become modern Bollywood. The film follows petty criminals Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra), who spend their time in and out of prison, and executing failed escapes. But their noble natures impress retired police chief Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar), who enlists them to bring down the notorious bandit Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan). On this mission, they must defend a rural village from an attacking Gabbar and avenge the crippled Thakur. Sholay hops genres with ease, combining Indian dacoit (bandit) films with Spaghetti Westerns and a dash of samurai cinema. An epic Western that juggles jaunty musical sequences with slapstick comedic interludes and pure swashbuckling thrills, Sholay is a grandiose masterwork that flies through its three and a half hours.
Watch This If You Like: Seven Samurai, Once Upon a Time in the West, the whiplash of watching a thrilling train sequence immediately followed by a cartoonish Hitler impression.
Signal, Season 1 – Netflix
Country: South Korea
Genre: Sci-fi police procedural
Creator: Choi Jin-hee, Park Ji-young
Cast: Lee Je-hoon, Kim Hye-soo, Cho Jin-woong.
One of the biggest K-drama hits of 2016, Signal was a minor phenomenon in South Korea, racking up acclaim and awards, and becoming one of the highest rated dramas in Korean cable television history. And it’s partly on account of its unique premise: A cold case procedural with a time travel twist, Signal follows a cold case profiler (Lee Je-hoon) in 2015 who stumbles on a walkie talkie that allows him to communicate with a detective (Cho Jin-woong) in the year 2000. As the two communicate, they find that they are not only able to solve long-cold crimes, but change the past. The cases from the series are inspired by real-life criminal incidents in Korea, including the recently solved Hwaseong serial murders (the Korean equivalent of the Zodiac killer), which was the subject of Bong Joon-Ho’s Memories of Murder. Sophisticatedly directed, tightly constructed, and featuring a stellar ensemble led by a tough-as-nails Cha Soo-hyun, Signal is a step above most procedurals and marks a more mature, confident shift for the K-drama landscape.
Watch This If You Like: Person of Interest, Frequency, Cold Case, Mindhunter, seeing the imagery from Memories of Murder get repurposed for a procedural series.
The Forest of Love – Netflix
Genre: Psychosexual thriller
Director: Sion Sono
Cast: Kippei Shiina, Kyoko Hinami, Shinnosuke Mitsushima.
The Japanese provocateur has done it again with The Forest of Love, a psychosexual crime thriller that has all the Sion Sono hallmarks: schoolgirls, serial killers, and perverse displays of sadism. The film follows a a sociopathic con man (a relentlessly depraved Kippei Shîna) who may or may not be a serial killer and a young group of filmmakers who fall into his charismatic orbit and end up becoming both victims and perpetrators of his misogynistic abuse. Told through several “chapters” that leap through time, The Forest of Love is a disjointed, deranged horrorfest that attempts to unpack sexual trauma by gleefully engaging in said trauma. A disturbing and warped thriller, The Forest of Love is a grueling two and a half hour watch that has something interesting to say about the toxic codependency of an artistic genius and his collaborators — or perhaps nothing to say at all.
Watch This If You Like: Blue Velvet, Audition, really only if you like Sion Sono movies.
Let the Corpses Tan – Amazon Prime
Director: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Cast: Elina Löwensohn, Stephane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin, Herve Sogne.
Let the Corpses Tan might be accused of being all style over substance, and for the most part, those criticisms are valid. A stylish and garish Western that is a little too fixated on the Spaghetti Westerns that inspired it, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s third feature film is still a gripping watch. The film follows a gang of criminals who steal a cache of gold and discover the perfect hideout in a remote Mediterranean hamlet. However, a woman has already commandeered the hamlet for her artistic inspiration, and the group is interrupted by even more surprise guests and two cops, which leads to a gruesome bloodbath, and for some reason, a lot of orgies. Very loosely based on the novel of the same name by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid, Let the Corpses Tan is mostly an excuse for Cattet and Forzani to go wild with their Sam Peckinpah homage with a Eurotrash twist. But it’s hypnotic to watch.
Watch This If You Like: The Hateful Eight, Free Fire, spaghetti westerns having a drugged-up baby with ’70s Italian cop movies, the sensual sounds of leather.
Street Flow – Netflix
Director: Leïla Sy, Kery James
Cast: Jammeh Diangana, Bakary Diombera, Kery James.
Netflix continues its practice of misrepresenting its foreign film gems with terrible titles with the French drama Street Flow, originally titled Banlieusards which translates to “commuters.” The debut film from prolific hip-hop artist Kery James, who writes, co-directs, and stars, Street Flow is an intimate family drama about a young boy at a crossroads. Growing up in the crime-ridden suburbs of Paris, the youngest son of an Malian immigrant family, Noumouke (Bakary Diombera), is a high schooler who idolizes his drug-dealing oldest brother (James) and scorns his studious law student middle brother (Jammeh Diangana). After Noumouke gets expelled from high school for accidentally hitting a teacher, the three brothers are forced to come to terms with their life choices and the lot that life has dealt them in their impoverished neighborhood. An earnest family drama that somewhat obviously spells out its sociopolitical themes, Street Flow is nonetheless a much more layered drama than its bad rap-battling title would suggest.
Watch This If You Like: La Haine, The Wire, Do the Right Thing, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse without the superhero stuff.
The post Pop Culture Imports: An Iconic Bollywood Western, A K-Drama Procedural With a Time Travel Twist, Sion Sono’s Latest, and More appeared first on /Film.