Opinion: Taking the “foreign” out of foreign films


Kurosawa’s 1954 film “Seven Samurai” was a major inspiration for Lucas’ “Star Wars.” Likewise, Kar-wai’s 1994 film “Chunking Express” inspired the cinematography in Jenkins’ 2016 film “Moonlight.” Graphic by: Katie Rundle

Jocelyn Wood and Katie Rundle

Foreign cinema is finally dominating, rather than only influencing, the U.S. film climate

When Bong Joon Ho’s 2019 film “Parasite” became the first foreign movie to win best picture at the 92nd Oscars, many knew that a pivotal point in Hollywood had come. The film, which grossed $263 million worldwide, was an introduction for many to the world of Korean cinema. Its commentary on social classes made it fitting to be the film that appealed to the masses rather than solely the arthouse fanatics that foreign movies had interested previously, paving the way for French film “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” to become a hit in the U.S. It also encouraged diversity in American filmmaking, as seen with “Everything Everywhere all at Once,” where some of the dialogue is in Mandarin or Cantonese.

Emily Sehati ‘24 said, “I think foreign films are one of the few ways that we can learn about a culture, its values and way of life in an intimate way. We are able to expose ourselves to different art forms that we wouldn’t typically see in America.”

The groundbreaking success of “Parasite” was almost inevitable, given its careful attention to detail and universal subject matter. Ho, the film’s director, meticulously storyboarded every scene from the movie and leaped between genres when writing the dialogue, a practice South Korean films have been doing for years, but Hollywood films refuse to adopt. South Korean films have also been praised for their originality, with “Train to Busan” or “The Host” proving that horror and morality can coexist, while most Hollywood hits are adaptations or part of a franchise and don’t provide any substance beyond being entertaining.

Ho’s 2019 film “Parasite,” tells the story of a poor family tricking and infiltrating a rich family’s home. Graphic by: Jocelyn Wood

Although “Parasite” has greatly influenced the culture of cinema in the U.S. in more recent years, foreign films, most notably Asian films, have influenced Western movies for decades. Akira Kurosawa, a Japanese filmmaker, was cited by George Lucas as being a major inspiration for Star Wars, with his samurai iconography inspiring the lightsaber and Jedi garb and his wipe transitions becoming a defining feature of the saga. Kurosawa’s film “Seven Samurai” was also a direct influence on the 1960 spaghetti western “The Magnificent Seven.”  Wong Kar Wai, a Chinese filmmaker, inspired Quentin Tarantino’s bold, comic- book like color palettes with his vibrant and saturated colors that he is renowned for in addition to inspiring the framing of numerous scenes in Barry Jenkins’ film “Moonlight.” 

The main reason for the success and originality of foreign films over the decades has been the lack of Hollywood commercial constraints, which has allowed foreign directors to express themselves more freely than American directors. When it comes to Korean cinema, however, filmmaker Park Chan Wook points to Squid Game creators Hwang Dong-hyuk and Ho, both in college during South Korea’s struggle for democracy in the 1980s. He emphasizes this as a factor behind the nation’s reputation for producing works that are highly attuned to issues of social class and political struggle.

Faith Cherry ‘24 said, “I’ve seen [‘Squid Game’ and ‘Parasite’] and they’re pretty baller, so they made me want to watch more films like them.”

“Squid Game” and “Parasite” are two pieces of Korean cinema that crossed the barrier of subtitles with modern American audiences and became major hits. They are evidence that if a topic can relate to people on a human level rather than merely a cultural level, then the true language of successful cinema is not a spoken language but instead a language of relatability.