(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)
Another month, another set of international movies to watch as you take shelter from the summer heat. This month, we have a hidden Indian gem on Netflix, a classic South Korean revenge thriller, the return of Sailor Moon, and — in honor of Pride Month — one of many Pedro Almodóvar movies streaming on HBO Max.
Fire up those subtitles, and let’s get streaming.
Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! – HBO Max
Genre: Dark romantic-comedy
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Victoria Abril, Antonio Banderas, Loles León, María Barranco.
Arriving alongside his exquisite English-language short film The Human Voice are eight Pedro Almodóvar movies on HBO Max — possibly the largest number of movies from the Spanish auteur’s catalogue on one streaming service. But I’m going to highlight one for this column, and that’s his 1989 kink comedy, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! A deliciously dark rom-com that stars Antonio Banderas as a recently-released patient of a mental institution who kidnaps an actress (Victoria Abril) to make her fall in love with him, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is deeply funny and surprisingly quirky for such a dark psychosexual premise. As one character notes of a film that they’re shooting within the film, “It’s more of a love story than a horror story,” alluding to the twisted Beauty and the Beast parallels of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Throw in a light screwball dynamic between Banderas and Abril and some light kink, and you’ve got another masterpiece from the queer auteur.
Fun fact about its cultural history: Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! was instrumental in the MPAA’s transition from the X rating to NC-17, receiving the latter rating thanks to the backing of distributor Miramax.
Watch This If You Like: Secretary, Y tu mamá también, Stockholm Syndrome.
The Disciple – Netflix
Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
Cast: Chaitanya Tamhane, Aditya Modak, Arun Dravid, Sumitra Bhave, Deepika Bhide Bhagwat.
What makes the difference between a protégé and a prodigy? That’s what Sharad Nerulkar, the title character of The Disciple played by first-time actor Aditya Modak, struggles to overcome in Chaitanya Tamhane’s delicate exploration of spirituality and devotion to one’s craft. A trance-like drama that follows Sharad over the years as he aspires to become a great musician of classical Indian music — unlike his failed father and guru before him — while seeking the purity of spirit that he thinks is essential to mastering the art. But as the years trudge on by, and his peers enjoy more success than him, he starts to question his puritanical approach to music.
Watch This If You Like: Curiously enough, Soul.
The Man From Nowhere – Hulu
Country: South Korea
Genre: Revenge thriller
Director: Lee Jeong-beom
Cast: Won Bin, Sae-ron Kim, Kim Tae-hoon, Hee-won Kim.
Lee Jeong-beom directs the sleek South Korean revenge thriller classic, which hit right at the beginning of the Korean wave currently taking over the world. Won Bin stars as Cha Tae-sik, a nondescript pawnshop owner who strikes up a friendship with So-mi (Kim Sae-ron), the daughter of his next-door neighbor, a go-go dancer and heroin addict. When So-mi’s mother falls in with a dangerous crime lord, So-mi is kidnapped and Tae-sik cuts a bloody swath through Seoul trying to rescue her. The DNA of The Man From Nowhere‘s brutal, blood-soaked action and contained quest for revenge can be seen in today’s hit revenge thrillers like John Wick and Nobody, but even more than a decade later, the 2010 South Korean movie still rips.
Watch This If You Like: John Wick, Nobody, The Bourne Identity, revenge served with bloody eyeballs on top.
Sailor Moon Eternal The Movie – Netflix
Genre: Magical girl fantasy anime
Director: Chiaki Kon
Cast: Kotono Mitsuishi, Hisako Kanemoto, Rina Sato, Ami Koshimizu, Shizuka Ito, Misato Fukuen, Kenji Nojima, Junko Minagawa, Sayaka Ohara, Ai Maeda, Yukiyo Fujii, Ryo Hirohashi, Taishi Murata, Shoko Nakagawa, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Naomi Watanabe, Nanao.
Though it’s saddled with a mouthful of a title – Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal The Movie – this two-movie adaptation of Sailor Moon‘s “Dream” arc has unsurprisingly tapped into the nostalgia of many a ’90s baby. But don’t be surprised if it’s very different from how you remember the classic ’90s anime, as this is a continuation of the reboot anime Sailor Moon Crystal, which debuted in 2014 as a more accurate adaptation of Naoko Takeuchi’s seminal manga. I honestly tapped out of Crystal after a few episodes on account of the more delicate animation design — which I know is meant to emulate Takeuchi’s drawing style — but couldn’t resist checking out the Sailor Moon Eternal films on Netflix. The slapstick comedy and outright camp sometimes clashes with that delicate character design, but Eternal is a reminder that the power of the magical girl anime is, well, eternal.
Watch This If You Like: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Powerpuff Girls, boys who turn into Pegasus.
Uri and Ella – HBO Max
Genre: Romantic comedy-drama series
Creator: Dina Senderson, Ofer Seker, Yuval Shafferman
Cast: Shlomo Baraba, Dina Senderson.
Uri and Ella debuted in Israel to great acclaim in 2016, so much so that there was even chatter about turning the Israeli dramedy into an American pilot. HBO Max stepped in to pick up the rights instead, albeit four and a half years later. But watching the first few episodes, it looks like was worth the wait. Uri and Ella is a charming romantic comedy meets family drama that follows a close father and daughter duo (the titular Uri and Ella) as they heal from the death of Uri’s wife. The grief has drawn them closer together. But they’re, like, weirdly close. Close as in codependent — Uri depending on Ella as he navigates his newfound widowerhood, while Ella leans on her dad too much when it comes to her own romantic and work life. The result is a disarmingly sweet and funny series that takes a little to settle into a groove, but is an enjoyable little gem.
Watch This If You Like: Gilmore Girls, This is Us, codependency.
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