Monday, July 18, 2011

The 10 Most Badass Foreign Films of the Past Decade

Talking so much about what’s been going on with an Americanized remake of “Oldboy” the last time around got me thinking about the differences between most American and foreign films. Mainstream American cinema is more often than not way too watered down for my tastes. Also more often than not, the mainstream American film industry is pretty much used as an expensive method to market product and behavior to the populace, and is just too soft to really digest as anything other than boring, unimaginative bullshit…but enough about American cinema. This blog is devoted to my favorite ten foreign films of the past decade that are the absolute definition of badass. Note that these films are listed here in no particular order, as its just way too hard for me to really rank them all in a true top ten list. With all that being said, here we are with my ten most badass foreign flicks of the past decade:

Director: Kinji Fukasaku

Okay, technically “Battle Royale” shouldn’t fall under the criteria for this list (considering that it’s eleven years old), but “Battle Royale” is so fucking badass that it makes this list anyway. Based on the popular manga of the same name, “Battle Royale” asks the question “could you kill your best friend?” The story takes place in the near future of Japan, as a large group of Japanese students is placed on an island with weapons and rations and are forced to kill each other for the entertainment of the TV audience. A hardcore-ish take on “Lord of the Flies”, “Battle Royale” is shocking, graphic, brutal, and stunningly gripping and emotional to boot. All that being said, “Battle Royale”, like most of the films on this list, is definitely not for everyone and certainly not for the faint of heart either. A massive hit in its native Japan, the film was followed by a lesser-well received sequel, but that aside, the original “Battle Royale” is a classic.

Director: Tom Shankland

I had mentioned “The Children” before in my multi-part 50 Best Horror Films You’ve Never Seen series last Halloween, and it certainly is as well as being one badass British horror film. The story revolves around a group of friends and families that gather together for a relaxing Christmas vacation, only for some unknown virus to affect the young children and make them turn into murderous psychos. In terms of horror, “The Children” is fucking terrifying. It has genuine shocks, scares, and surprises that build up to a violent and chilling climax that will stay with you long after the credits roll. Released as part of Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Underground series, “The Children” is certainly the best film to ever be featured on that direct-to-DVD line.

THE HOST (2006)
Director: Joon-ho Bong

A Korean monster smash, “The Host” revolves around a bickering family that unites to save the young daughter of the immature and incompetent eldest son when a blood-thirsty beast emerges from the Han River. “The Host” isn’t a gore-fest in the least, but it does feature some impressive monster effects and healthy doses of action sequences, as well as being a very gripping film in itself as well. It did get a theatrical state-side release and has garnered a cult following over here as well, and remains one of the best monster movies to see the light of day in quite some time.

Director: Jee-woon Kim

How far would you go to get your revenge? In “I Saw the Devil”, a Korean secret agent finds himself on the trail of the psychopathic serial killer that murdered his fiancé, but his agenda is a little more complex than simply tracking the cocksucker down and whacking him. Instead, he proceeds to play a very dangerous game in physical and psychological torture with the killer, so much so that it soon begins to blur the line of whether he’s a hero, or a monster himself. You won’t find many films like “I Saw the Devil” in any country, for this is flat out just plain ballsy filmmaking. The questions of morality and the line between what’s good and what’s evil are only heightened by the ultra violent action scenes, which are a sight to behold in themselves. Be warned though, this is one film that definitely isn’t for everyone, and definitely not for the faint of heart.

Director: Takashi Miike

Wow…this is some fucked up shit right here. That was generally my first reaction the first time I saw “Ichi the Killer”, which is one of the bloodiest, goriest, most ridiculous splatter-fests in the history of film. I’m not even kidding, shit happens in “Ichi the Killer” that you just have to see to believe. What happens when two masochistic killers come across one another? Nothing good, but there is a never-ending assload of blood, guts, and torture…and it’s so memorably ridiculous that I’m really having a hard time putting it into words. One of Takashi Miike’s best and most infamous films, “Ichi the Killer” is something that you will NEVER be able to forget.

INTACTO (2001)
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

One of the most interesting (and confusing) films I’ve seen in the past few years, the Spanish thriller “Intacto” revolves around a group of four people who all have one thing in common: they all share an incredible degree of luck. One of which is a thief and the lone survivor of a horrible plane crash, one is the survivor of a horrific earthquake and has the power to rob one’s luck with just a touch, one is a casino owner and Holocaust survivor, and the last is a female police officer who survived the car crash that claimed her family. Their stories intertwine as questions are raised regarding luck, fate, and destiny; and the stakes that people can go in which to control all these seemingly uncontrollable aspects. If anything, “Intacto” has the vibe of a “Twilight Zone” episode going for it, with some incredibly taut and thrilling scenes, the most notable of which being blindfolded and bound people running through a huge forest in an effort to test their own luck. Mind-boggling to a degree, but wonderfully captivating as well.

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Remade here in America as the surprisingly good “Let Me In” (yes, I’m still living down blasting it before actually seeing it), the Swedish horror tale “Let the Right One In” revolves around young pre-teen Oskar, who is frequently bullied and yearns to take revenge on his abusers. His new next door neighbor is a 12-year old girl named Eli, and shortly after making herself known, a series of grisly murders takes place in the neighborhood, leading Oskar to realize that Eli is a vampire. Otherwise known as “Twilight” with balls, the original “Let the Right One In” is a brilliant and intelligent horror love story that became an international smash. Its shocking imagery and grim undercurrents combined with the surprising amount of thoughtfulness to the story elements without it going into a full-blown horror gore-fest make the film something of a unique piece. Needless to say, if you haven’t seen the original “Let the Right One In” and you’re a fan of the vampire genre, you are really missing out here. “Twilight” and even “True Blood” die-hards need not apply.

OLDBOY (2003)
Director: Chan-wook Park

I've spoken so much about "Oldboy" that it's practically ad nauseum at this point, and there really isn't much else I can say about it at that. Still though, everything that is featured in "Oldboy" is strikingly original, incredibly shocking, and even occasionally appalling. Like I said before, this film may be one of the absolute ballsiest films I've ever seen in my entire life. The fact that this is getting an American remake from Spike Lee just dumbfounds me, but then again I said the same thing about "Let Me In", so I could be completely wrong too. Regardless, this is a shocking, thought provoking, gut churning film that deserves your attention.

[REC] (2007)
Director: Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza

Remade here in America as “Quarantine”, “[REC]” takes the whole handheld camera horror genre to new degrees of creepy and terrifying. A young TV reporter and her cameraman are covering the overnight shift at a local firehouse, and caught in the action when they are dispatched to an apartment complex upon receiving a call of a woman trapped there and in trouble. Upon entering, they encounter the tenants, who have undergone a bizarre, almost zombie-esque transformation…and there’s no way out. I personally have never been much of a fan of the whole handheld camera horror sub-genre, but the way that “[REC]” does it adds some fresh ideas and some hardcore shocks to boot. Its grim denouement sets up a surprisingly good sequel (that was finally released on our shores just recently) as well as promises that there is more to come as the franchise has been a big hit in its native Spain. The “Quarantine” remake was practically a shot-by-shot remake of the original, only with crappy actors and watered down shocks; see “[REC]” instead.

Director: Edgar Wright

No matter what your favorite film genre is, no matter what nationality you may be, you know this movie one way or another. Director Edgar Wright re-united with his a good chunk of his crew from his classic BBC series “Spaced” and proceeded to create one of the best horror comedies in recent memory. “Shaun of the Dead” finds lifelong British slackers Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost) in the middle of a zombie outbreak as they rush to survive, while Shaun seeks to win back his long-suffering girlfriend in the process. With tons of odes, tributes, and acknowledgements to the zombie genre and its various creators (most notably George Romero), “Shaun of the Dead” was a smash international hit, and has become one of the most beloved and revered horror comedies…well, maybe ever. If you haven’t seen it, you must have been living under a rock for the past seven years.

Well, that’s all for now folks, so if you’ve become as tired of the dull American cinema as I have, do yourself a favor and check these films out if you can. And, just for shits and giggles, here are some other badass foreign flicks from the past decade that didn’t make the final cut, but are more than worth checking out regardless:

The Alien Girl
Cold Prey
Pan’s Labyrinth
The Orphanage
Them (Ils)
The Substitute
The Horseman
Red Hill
New Police Story
[REC] 2

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