Bong Joon-ho and his film Parasite opened up an entire vista of cinema — one in which subtitles aren’t intimidating and foreign language films have found their place in contemporary cinema. There are quite a few such hidden gems on Netflix. Some of these names are internationally recognised, some are rather unknown — but all of them, from the lighthearted comedy to the espionage drama, offer a unique film-watching experience.
Tune in for Love (2019)
This is the traditional young-adult romance drama that most are familiar with by now. It’s crafted like one and follows the customary beats — initial attraction, separation, re-attraction, and the general revolutions you see in this genre. This film spans several years and is about a juvenile on probation who falls in love with a writer-editor. The couple’s romance sprouts during their teenage years and later, faces the choppiness and uncertainty of adulthood. But there’s more to it than these over-filmed truisms. It is deeply personal and real. And it’s also cheesy and dramatic enough to revel in its escapism.
Train to Busan (2016)
The universe of zombie thrillers has now evolved enough to not be called a niche subset of cinema. And one of the truly heart-thumping films in this genre, easily, is Train to Busan and hopefully, its upcoming sequel, Peninsula. Equal parts horrific and emotional, the passengers on a train from Seoul to Busan try to fight off a zombie epidemic that seems to have plagued South Korea. Most of the story is chambered in this quite literal gravy train, one of the few obstacles between the humans and the bloodthirsty, cannibalistic corpses. Unlike the locomotives we see in this film, the story never derails — it remains brisk, keeping up with the speed and momentum of the apocalypse.
Steel Rain (2017)
I’ve always had a soft spot for spy, espionage thrillers. They’re elegantly charming, the action is gallant, and oftentimes, they feature silver-tongued characters. Steel Rain is no exception. This film is seductively suave and turns ugly political conflicts, like coups in North Korea and international skirmishes, into stylish action set pieces. A soldier, sent on a mission to prevent the overthrowing of North Korea’s “Supreme Leader,” gets caught in the geopolitical crossfire. The film is choreographed to be a fast-paced, enthralling thriller, and as it manages to do that, it doesn’t topple over onto the good-looking-but-unintelligent action flick.
The President’s Barber (2004)
This film’s format has been prominently seen before in Forrest Gump — chronicling one titular character, the story goes through different decades of Korean history as the political landscape of the country changes. Films on these subjects are often expected to be either documentaries, biographies or historical dramas. But director Lim Chang-sang mixes goofiness with drama. The first half of the film is perhaps the best comic relief on this list. Song Kang-ho, whom you may know from Parasite and Snowpiercer, puts on a naïve and amicable persona. But as the politics of Seoul and their Blue House take a morbid (and scatological) turn, so does this film (not in the melodramatic way you’d think). With the swathes of sarcasm and humour it initially presents, this makes for a much-needed light watch about some heavy topics.
There’s much fun to be had in outrageously wacky thriller-horror films. And by wacky, I don’t mean absurdly funny or odd, I mean the kind that knows it’s elaborately far-fetched and still relishes in that preposterousness. This film is gratuitous in its mind-boggling psychological plots — we see a twenty-something-year-old on anxiety medication, who later seems to be having bouts of paranoia around his family. You don’t know what is true and what isn’t, whom to trust and whom not to. This always keeps you on the edge.