Streaming now: must-see foreign language films, TV


Via @cablegirlsnet | Twitter

“Cable Girls” is a 2017 Spanish Netflix original series that takes place In 1928, as a modern telecommunications company begins to operate in Madrid, Spain.

This post was made possible in part by a grant from Year of Pitt Global.

This year we have made several different watchlists of great, enjoyable TV shows and movies. Considering this school year is the Year of Pitt Global, it only stands to reason that you should take some time to celebrate foreign-language media too. This list is by no means a comprehensive one, but it can serve as a starting point to explore more diverse global content.

“Cable Girls” // Spanish

Netflix // Created by Ramon Campos and Gema R. Neira // Rating: B+

One ridiculously early morning, I stumbled across this Spanish-language period drama on Netflix and watched the first episode, captivated. Soon after, I forgot what it was called and at one point that it even existed. In the past year, however, it came across my Netflix recommended feed and surged back into my life.

“Cable Girls” is a 2017 Netflix original series that takes place in 1928 as a modern telecommunications company begins to operate in Madrid. The series follows four young women — Lidia (Blanca Suarez), Carlota (Ana Fernandez), Angeles (Maggie Civantos) and Maria (Nadia de Santiago) — and the turns their lives take when they start working for this telecommunications company. The four of them feel attached in different ways to their families, their partners or their memories. The drama centers around the changes in their lives affecting these connections.

The main focus in the show is the hardships working women faced in the 1920s, and serves as great representation with its hard working female cast. If you’re into cool period dramas featuring capable female characters, “Cable Girls” is one you shouldn’t miss.

“Hero” // Chinese

Netflix // Directed by Zhang Yimou // Rating: A

This movie was only recently recommended to me, but I’ve quickly come to admire it. The film’s storytelling techniques are incredibly beautiful with breathtaking visuals and dynamic cinematography. I’m still finishing the movie, actually, but that is a task I am readily completing in my moments of free time.

The 2002 Chinese film is based on the story of Jing Ke’s assassination attempt on the King of Qin in 227 B.C. during the Warring States period. It follows a nameless protagonist (Jet Li) as he recounts to the king (Chen Daoming) the story of facing against and killing the three assassins who attempted to kill the king. “Hero” was first released in China in October 2002 and Miramax bought the American distribution rights, but didn’t release the film until August 2004.

For those of you holding out for a hero, consider checking out this one.  

“Joyeux Noel” // French, German, English

Amazon Prime // Directed by Christian Carion // Rating: A

When I was in high school, we had four languages that had level 5 classes: Spanish, German, French and Latin. In a special Christmas event for the Language Clubs, we got to eat a potluck lunch and watch “Joyeux Noel” because it featured primarily French and German dialogue with bits of Latin from church-related scenes. “Joyeux Noel” was the first World War-related film I’d ever seen that wasn’t just in English with occasional German accents to denote the bad guys.

“Joyeux Noel” — French for “Merry Christmas” — is a 2005 epic war drama based on the historical Christmas truce of 1914 during World War I. The story is told through the eyes of French, Scottish and German soldiers. The sentimentality of the movie is both touching and heartbreaking, as the small moment of peace and unity the soldiers on all sides of the battlefield experience is short lived. Many characters’ fates are unknown at the end of the movie, but it explores the possibility that many didn’t return. Maybe they weren’t even noticeably changed by the moment of multi-national solidarity if they did survive.

The acting in “Joyeux Noel” feels very raw and real, which only amplifies the nature of the story. While not as grand or cinematic as some of the more memorable war dramas, “Joyeux Noel” is well written and works on its smaller scale. The story depicted is one well worth watching, even if we’re far from the Christmas season.

“Kingdom” // Korean

Netflix // Directed by Kim Seong-hun // Rating: B+

I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t like horror or gore, and usually actively stay away from it. But when exploring the depths of Netflix I stumbled upon “Kingdom,” which Netflix has labeled with “zombies,” “period” and “gory.” The last descriptor alone should have made me run far from this show, but I was intrigued by the period setting and non-American zombie series.

“Kingdom” is a 2019 South Korean Netflix original series that focuses on the story of Crown Prince Yi-Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) during the medieval Joseon period as he becomes entrenched in a political conspiracy. He’s forced to investigate the spread of an undead plague that has affected the current emperor as well as the southern provinces. Accompanied by the physician Seo-Bi (Bae Doo-na), the enigmatic warrior Yeong-Shin (Kim Sung-gyu) and his personal guard Moo-Young (Kim Sang-ho), Yi-Chang must stop the plague spreading toward his home capital of Hanyang while addressing the sinister coup orchestrated by Minister Cho Hak-ju (Ryu Seung-ryong) and his family aimed toward Yi-Chang’s displacement from the throne.

“Kingdom” is pleasantly different, as it’s more of a period political thriller that happens to feature zombie and horror elements. Consider giving “Kingdom” a try if you’re hankering for a zombie story that’s not just “The Walking Dead.”

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” // Chinese

Netflix // Directed by Ang Lee // Rating: A+

What is more iconic as a martial arts film than “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”? It’s won more than 40 awards and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards in 2001, including Best Picture. I had seen bits and pieces of it growing up, but I got the chance to watch it in full early on in my college career and it is cool. It’s easy to see how this film inspired future martial arts films with its direction, cinematography and fighting sequences.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is a 2000 film based on the novel by Wang Dulu. It’s set in the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty in China. The story follows close friends Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat), a Wudang swordsman, and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) who heads a private security company. Mu Bai entrusts Shu Lien with his sword, Green Destiny, to deliver for safekeeping. But it’s stolen in the night by a masked thief, and the two must go on the chase to recover the sword.

This film is intricately put together, full of twists and turns, and it always manages to keep you on your toes. The underlying love story between Mu Bai and Shu Lien is well done because while it’s an important part of the movie, it never really feels overbearing to the rest of the plot. It would be a shame to let this movie stay hidden from your view.