I’ve always loved non-English films. I grew up with them almost as much as Hollywood pictures. There’s something utterly captivating about watching a film in a language you’re unfamiliar with and being transported into a “foreign” world with its own unique set of cultures. Which is why Bong Joon-Ho’s speech at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards put a smile on my face. The Parasite director said “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” He’s right.
We often tend to only watch English language films because that’s what we’re comfortable with, because we’re conditioned to think that only Hollywood produces great films. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Every year, great films/series of various languages are being born in all corners of the world — India, China, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Mexico, heck even here in Malaysia. I previously wrote a list on the best non-English content available on Netflix Malaysia (it’s an active list that still gets updated weekly). This week, I figured I’d start a list on the best non-English movies available on Astro Go/Astro on Demand.
Note: This article will be updated on a weekly basis. So do check back in every week for new recommendations.
Also, in a case where a film/series mentioned here is dropped from Astro Go, it will be removed from this list.
1. Parasite (Korean)
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Writer: Bong Joon Ho
Cast: Song Kang Ho, Lee Sun Kyun, Cho Yeo Jeong, Choi Woo Shik, Park So Dam, Lee Jung Eun, Chang Hyae Jin.
The brilliance of this Bong Joon-Ho film is that it can be enjoyed on two levels. On the surface, it’s a fun, funny and exciting film about a poor family scamming a rich one. But behind the funny lines, exciting tone and suspenseful beats lie a chilling and dark commentary about the way our society is built. And for Bong Joon-Ho fans who were disappointed in his previous film, Okja, this is the master once again in form. Parasite is pure unadulterated Bong from start to finish — funny, suspenseful, unabashedly weird, bloody, manic and powerful.
2. Peranbu (Tamil)
Cast: Mammootty, Sadhana
Peranbu doesn’t just address a female teen’s very natural sexual awakening, it explicitly addresses sexual awakening of a female teen with spastic cerebral palsy… through a non-judgemental lens. And how a father, single after his wife left him for another man, processes the goings-on and does what he thinks is best to take care of his less abled daughter. This is a bold film that deserves to be applauded, admired and dissected.
Director Ram has said that his films are always built on a thesis. Or more accurately, he stands on top of a thesis which helps him find his story. In Peranbu, his thesis is nature and it’s divided into many chapters. It starts off with nature is hateful, ends with nature is compassionate and explores everything in between.
3. Vada Chennai (Tamil)
Cast: Dhanush, Andrea Jeremiah, Ameer, Radha Ravi, Daniel Balaji, Kishore, Samuthirakani, Aishwarya Rajesh.
Vetrimaaran’s sprawling gangster epic is just as smart as it is utterly intoxicating. The film is directed with such vigour and oozes so much detail that you can literally smell the blood-soaked sickles through the screen and feel the dust and sweat stick to your skin. The screenplay is intricate with many interwoven threads that span two generations and encompasses a plethora of fabulously fleshed out and performed characters. At the centre of it is the electrifying Dhanush who plays Anbu, a talented carrom player from the slums of North Chennai who wishes to play professionally and one day land a government job. But life has other ideas…
Vada Chennai is violent. Vada Chennai is poetic. Vada Chennai is effing awesome.
4. Burning (Korean)
Director: Chang-dong Lee
Writer: Screenplay by Jungmi Oh & Cang-dong Lee based on ‘Barn Burning’ a short story by Haruki Murakami.
Cast: Ah-In Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jun
I’ll keep this one as short as possible, because the less you know about it the better. Burning is a story about a love triangle, except it’s twisted in the ways that will make your stomach churn, packed with atmospheric thrills that gradually builds and contains a mystery that will keep your eyes peeled from start to finish. At the same time, the film is also a look at doomed relationships and societal imbalances.
5. Paruthiveeran (Tamil)
Paruthiveeran, by Ameer (who plays an integral character in the aforementioned Vada Chennai) may not be a fresh story — it’s pretty much a variation of Romeo & Juliet, set in the rurals of Tamil Nadu. But here, Amer puts on a showcase of fantastic atmospheric filmmaking and fills his frames with characters that have flesh and blood, tissue and bones, and whose heartbeats you can hear the sound of. It’s a commentary on toxic masculinity and identity (the lead character is a thug whose dream is to be in the biggest prison in the country, yet there’s a vulnerability to his character). Paruthiveeran is thrilling, heartbreaking, uncomfortable and a superb piece of cinema.