(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)
We’re in the swing of holiday season, and while you’re stuck with your families (or stuck on your own), why not pop in an international movie or TV series to pass the time? In this week’s Pop Culture Imports, the best foreign movies and TV streaming now include some time-honored classics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as well as new, tearjerking releases like Sophia Loren’s long-awaited return to film, that is sure to get the whole family crying (or get you crying alone, because you’re being safe).
Let’s fire up those subtitles, and get’s streaming.
The Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Amazon Prime
Genre: Wuxia martial arts
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen.
It’s been almost 20 years since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon took the world by storm and introduced international audiences to the wonders of wuxia, but Ang Lee’s lush masterpiece remains peerless. A swooning epic filled with career-best performances by Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, and Chang Chen, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the kind of visual and visceral martial arts feast that we’ve been craving in light of recent wuxia-light films like Mulan. It’s easy to forget just how much of a whopper Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is — especially that iconic treetop duel — because of the onslaught of wuxia wannabes and knock-offs that followed it, but Lee’s balletic action film is still cinema at its finest.
Watch This If You Like: Hero, House of Flying Daggers, top 10 anime fight scenes.
The Life Ahead – Netflix
Director: Edoardo Ponti
Cast: Sophia Loren, Ibrahima Gueye, Abril Zamora.
Sophia Loren‘s long-awaited return to acting toes the line between trite and genuinely moving, but the legendary actress’ radiant performance manages to tilt The Life Ahead in the latter direction. Based on Romain Gary’s 1975 book The Life Before Us (already adapted before, in 1977’s Madame Rosa, starring Simone Signoret), The Life Ahead is directed by Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti and stars the actress as Madame Rosa, a former prostitute and Holocaust survivor who has become the informal carer of the children of “working women.” But when a 12-year-old Senagalese street kid (tremendous newcomer Ibrahima Gueye), she is reluctant to take him in. But the two of them form a deep bond, which only grows as Madame Rosa starts to show troubling signs of dementia.
Watch This If You Like: Shoplifters, All About My Mother, My Life as a Zucchini, Sophia Loren!
Stranger – Netflix
Country: South Korea
Genre: Crime drama series
Creator: Lee Soo-yeon
Cast: Cho Seung-woo, Bae Doona, Lee Joon-hyuk
The first season of Stranger was met with raves when it debuted in 2017 — now, three years later, the Bae Doona-starring K-drama is back with a second season. A dark crime drama that features a “gifted” prosecutor (Cho Seung-woo), whose corrective surgery to fix a childhood hearing disorder turns him into a super observant Sherlockian detective, Stranger could fall into the pitfalls of the many procedurals that overused this conceit. But instead, Stranger chooses to tackle systemic corruption, as Cho’s prosector Hwang Si-mok teams up with Bae Doona’s perceptive police lieutenant Han Yeo-jin to unveil a far-reaching conspiracy in the aftermath of a suspicious murder. Also, Bae Doona high kicks several suspects.
Watch This If You Like: House, Elementary, The Mentalist, cops doing high kicks.
Haikyu!! – Crunchyroll, Netflix
Genre: Sports anime
Creator: Haruichi Furudate
Cast: Ayumu Murase, Kaito Ishikawa, Yu Hayashi.
There’s nothing that no one likes more than a good underdog story, and Haikyu!! gives one of the best of them. A shining beacon of the underrated sports anime genre, this widely beloved volleyball anime follows a Shoyo Hinata, a high school student who aspires to be the best volleyball player there is, but faces one insurmountable obstacle: he’s very short (5’4″ to be exact). But that doesn’t stop him from going above and beyond as a new player at his high school’s down-on-their-luck volleyball team, where he strikes up a grudging camaraderie with a former rival, Tobio Kageyama. Full of crisp animation provided by animation studio Production I.G. and a colorful cast of characters who are all so damn likable, Haikyu!! is the best that sports anime can offer.
Watch This If You Like: The Mighty Ducks, The Sandlot, boys doing sports and learning the value of friendship!
Ma Ma – Hulu
Director: Julio Medem
Cast: Penelope Cruz, Luis Tosar.
Penelope Cruz, who also produces Ma Ma, elevates this boilerplate tearjerker with a soulful performances as a divorced mother who gets diagnosed with breast cancer. But the diagnosis gives her a new lease on life, of sorts, as she strikes up an unlikely friendship with a man (Luis Tosar) who lost his wife and daughter in a car accident, which slowly blossoms into romance. Ma Ma verges on overwrought and sentimental, and Julio Medem’s direction isn’t anything to write home about, but Cruz’s charismatic, big-hearted performances saves the film from being a total slog.
Watch This If You Like: My Sister’s Keeper, In Her Shoes, getting your tears jerked.
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