1. To Live
The first film that immediately popped into my mind was "To Live." In my sophomore year of college, I took a course titled, "Masterpieces of East Asian Literature" (for my East Asian Studies minor). The book "To Live" by Yu Hua was the last book we read in the class and the one that impacted me most profoundly. It tells the story of Xu Fugui, who gambles away his family's fortune. He is then drafted to join the army during the Chinese Civil War. The movie recounts Fugui's struggles through the war and life under the People's Republic of China. The movie and the book do differ on some important aspects, but the overall message is the same: it's difficult to live. Life causes much pain to individuals, but at the same time, it brings great joy. If you can come to terms that living goes beyond simply breathing, you will live a long life, even if it may not always twist and turn in your favor. I truly believe both the book and the film to be masterpieces and would strongly recommend both.
2. Turtles Can Fly
I stumbled on this movie after reading a list of "Movies Recommended for International Relations Majors", circulated by a professor at my university. I wanted to watch all the movies on the list, but was only able to watch a couple before I lost it. Turtles Can Fly was a film that made me understand the situation in the Middle East much better by providing me with an entirely new perspective. The film follows "Satellite" (a nickname) who arranges work for other orphans to enter fields and detonate mines. The work is extremely dangerous and more than a couple of kids have lost a limb. Through his work, he meets Agrin and her brother Hengrov who travel with a blind child. He falls for Agrin and is curious about Hengrov's gift for seeing the future. His experiences with the siblings cause him to become disillusioned with any change the American invasion may bring to Iraq.
Kokuhaku will always stand out in my mind as one of the most twisted and mind-bending films I have ever watched. The film follows a jr. high teacher whose daughter has just died. The opening scene in the movie, which lasts approximately 30 minutes sets the dark tone for the rest of the film. During her monologue, the teacher (named Yoko Moriguchi) calmly tells her students that it's her last day at the school and that her daughter has recently passed away. Upon hearing this news, the class quiets down. The teacher then proceeds to let them know that her daughter was murdered and that she knows who the murderers are - two students from that very class. Of course, the students think she has gone insane, but at the same time, are creeped out and begin to question weather she speaks the truth. The rest of the film unravels what truly happened to Ms. Moriguchi's daughter as well as how she exacts her revenge on the two students using indirect methods that eventually cause the students to go insane.
4. Voces Innocentes
The year is 1986 and El Salvador is embroiled in a Civil War. Chava is a young boy whose father has gone to the United States to escape the fighting, regularly sending money back to his family. The fighting soon reaches his town and his uncle, who fights for the rebellion forces, attempts to recruit him to their side. His mother strongly opposes this however, and Chava is left to wonder what the guerrillas are fighting for and slowly begins to understand. On the other side of the conflict, the Salvadorean Army often raids, searching for young boys to recruit into their ranks. The boys hide on the roofs and in ditches to avoid being taken to fight. Eventually, Chava and his friends join the guerrillas and become child soldiers in the bloody civil war.
5. Joint Security Area (J.S.A)
J.S.A. is actually the movie my sister and I were discussing and the whole reason why I created this list in the first place, so naturally, it would be here. J.S.A. portrays the friendship that blooms between North Korean and a South Korean solider(s) when one accidentally stumbles into the others territory. However, both sides are under investigation when two North Korean soldiers are killed in the DMZ (neutral strip of land between the two Koreas). As Major Sophie from Switzerland attempts to figure out what really happened and resolve the crisis, the viewer is shown how thee friendship between the soldiers developed and the events that led to the deaths of the two North Korean soldiers through flashbacks.
I hope my list was interesting and will encourage you to give these movies a try. Are there any good foreign films you would recommend I watch? :)