6 Great ‘Foreign Language’ Movies/TV Series on Netflix You Must Watch

At the 2020 Golden Globe Awards, director Bong Joon-Ho said “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” I agree. So, with that let’s look at the best non-English content available on Netflix Malaysia right now. 

Money Heist (Spanish)

Money Heist follows a gang of robbers who penetrate the Royal Mint of Spain with the intent to carry out the perfect heist and take home 2.4 billion euros. (For the record, this will be the last time I type out “Money Heist” which just took Edge of Tomorrow’s place as the ‘worst title on a highly entertaining series/movie.’ Let’s call it what it really is: La Casa De Papel). 

Look, La Casa De Papel isn’t tour de force television. It isn’t as layered and dense as Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Sopranos or the first seven seasons of Game of Thrones. Here’s the thing: This Netflix series isn’t trying to be that. Imagine the best parts of the Fast & Furious franchise (oh yes, “family” and all), with less cars and more horny people. It’s a magnificent over-the-top melodrama filled with distinct characters who have larger than life personalities. These characters are also mostly hot and wear hot underpants that ride up their butt on a heist — which is highly impractical but wonderfully encapsulates the spirit of the show. But it’s also an engaging cat and mouse game between the robbers and the police, all of whom wallow in the grey area of the moral spectrum, despite the lack of nuance. 

This series isn’t subtle! In fact, it finds it flashes a giant middle finger at subtlety every chance it gets. It’s totally batshit crazy with gloriously absurd and absurdly glorious twists and turns that will not necessarily blow your mind but will definitely make you text your good friend who convinced you to watch the show in the first place, like this: OMG! I WAS JUST ABOUT TO SAY I’M STARTING TO LIKE BERLIN, THEN HE PULLS A GUN OUT ON ADRIANA. DAMMIT. 

Revenge (French)

Revenge Netflix

Revenge is a captivating, beautifully shot film that makes other rape-revenge films look like lame losers. It’s thrilling, violent, haunting and has kickass action scenes (the engrossing final action sequence that takes place in a house is one of the best of the year). It’s also a commentary on this genre, that are often directed by men. Here, the gaze is female (it’s helmed by debutante Coralie Fargeat).

Super Deluxe (Tamil)

Super Deluxe Netflix

Super Deluxe follows a few sets of unrelated characters over the span of a few hours — some of them interlock directly, others don’t — yet the different threads interweave seamlessly to form a magnificent tapestry. What happens to one character dealing with his/her own problems affects another character who’s on a completely separate track. This isn’t just a storytelling gimmick, it’s tied to one of the central themes of the film: Like the millions of microscopic cells that make up our body, we (along with the stars in the sky and the centipedes on the ground) are tiny interconnected specs that make up this vast universe. Vijay Sethupathi’s performance as the transgender named Shilpa alone is worth the watch. 

The Host (Korean)

The Host Netflix

Netflix Malaysia’s Korean content isn’t the best, as of this writing at least. When I think of Korean cinema (and I’m including TV series when I say this), I think of Oldboy, The Handmaiden, The Good The Bad The Weird, Lady Vengeance and perhaps even Train to Busan. But on Netflix Malaysia, we have things like Boys Over Flower, Crash Landing on You and something called My ID is Gangnam Beauty — WTF.  

But among the Korean content that I have absolutely no interest in at all, lies a couple of gems. One of which is Kingdom, a Game of Thrones esque series with zombies that I’m only a few episodes in, hence why it’s not making the list. The other is Bong Joon-Ho’s (yes that’s the guy who made Parasite) third feature film, The Host. The premise is a little bananas — an unidentified alien appears from the Han River in Seoul, kills hundreds and also carries off Hyun-seo. When her family learns that she is being held captive, they resolve to save her — but my God does Master Bong make every single second utterly captivating. The Host is a horror-thriller, political satire, family drama, family comedy all rolled into one. Bong Joon-Ho masterfully balances the various tones to deliver thought-provoking and emotionally engaging brilliance. 

Visaranai / Interrogation (Tamil)

VIsaranai Netflix

There are two parts to this movie, one more interesting than the other, both equally riveting… and equally depressing. The film opens at the break of dawn, with three men sleeping on a grassy patch at a local park. We learn that they’re migrant workers who have left their hometowns of Tamil Nadu and travelled across the country in hopes to make ends meet. When a local big shot’s house is robbed, our protagonists get framed for it. 

The police are desperate for Paandi and his three friends to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. But they’re adamant, as any innocent person would be. So the bastards beat them to a pulp. You hear the sound of thick rattans smacckkking against bare flesh. You see human skin vibrate in slow motion upon impact. You also hear the sound of a man choking while he’s waterboarded. While the sound of torture rings in our ears, we see a senior officer tell a rookie, “all is fair to close a case.” I watched most of the film through the tiniest slits between my fingers of my left hand, my stomach queasy. But the violent here isn’t for violence sake. It isn’t torture porn. It’s real life.

Narcos (Spanish + English)

If you’re intrigued by the underbellies and the world of crime then the Netflix crime-drama Narcos is a must-watch. The first two seasons detail the epic rise of notorious Cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar in the late 80s and the astronomical efforts of American and Columbian law enforcement to take him and his syndicate down. Yes, yes, a lot of what transpires on the show is fictionalised, some would say to a laughable degree. But while it isn’t 100% factual, it always feels earnest. Every single episode, particularly in the first two seasons are utterly engrossing, mostly because the story is so mind-blowing — seriously, you’ll keep wondering “how did any of this happen in real life??” over and over again throughout — and it’s directed in such a way that you’re constantly at the edge of your seat. 

But it’s Wagner Moura’s intoxicating performance as Pablo Escobar that makes this Netflix series oh so addictive! He oozes so much charisma, that you can’t help but feel for him, despite constantly rooting against him. The third season which happens after the death of Pablo and centres around the downfall of the Cali Cartel is equally alluring. 

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