Pop Culture Imports: ‘Pulse,’ ‘I Saw the Devil,’ ‘Quo vadis, Aida?’ and More

Pop Culture Imports: ‘Pulse,’ ‘I Saw the Devil,’ ‘Quo vadis, Aida?’ and More

(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)

It’s time for another Pop Culture Imports, and we’ve got an eclectic bunch of subtitled fare this week — from a techno-horror classic, to an Oscar-nominated war drama, and an absurd comedic anime.

Fire up those subtitles and let’s get streaming.

Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now

Pulse – Amazon Prime

Country: Japan

Genre: Horror

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Cast: Kumiko Aso, Haruhiko Kato, Koyuki, Kurume Arisaka.

An early Japanese techno-horror film (it came out in 2001, when the internet was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is now), Pulse is still perhaps the best depiction of the isolating terror of the internet. The Kiyoshi Kurosawa film follows several people — mainly plant shop worker Kudo Michi (Kumiko Aso) and economics student Ryosuke Kawashima (Haruhiko Kato) — who are beset upon by ghosts invading the world of the living via the internet. The first half of the film is full of genuinely unnerving and spooky imagery, which fills the movie with a creeping dread, before Pulse takes a hard left turn for apocalyptic in a strange but ambitious latter half that has something to say about how the internet, as global and connective as it can be, may bring the end of us all.

Watch This If You Like: One Missed Call, Ringu, Host, knowing that the internet is evil.

Quo vadis, Aida? – Hulu

Country: Bosnia

Genre: War drama

Director: Jasmila Žbanic

Cast: Jasna Duricic, Izudin Bajrovic, Boris Isakovic, Johan Heldenbergh, Raymond Thiry, Emir Hadžihafizbegovic.

This year’s Bosnian Oscar nominee for Best International Feature is a clear-eyed and compassionate look at the tolls of war, which interestingly approaches a sadly well-trod genre through bureaucracy. Because main villain of Quo vadis, Aida? aren’t the ruthless Serbian forces or faceless soldiers, it’s red tape. Taking place in the days before the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which a small Bosnian town is invaded by aggressing Serbian forces, Quo vadis, Aida? follows UN translator and former schoolteacher Aida Selmanagic (Jasna Duricic) as she tries to save her family from the approaching forces, which have caused thousands of refugees from the town to crowd in and around UN headquarters. There’s a helplessness to Quo vadis, Aida? which seeps into every frantic frame, as Aida scrambles to protect her family while learning that the UN’s hands are tied. It’s awful and devastating, less for the violence (of which there’s little) depicted onscreen, but for how easy it is for everything to go so horribly wrong.

Watch This If You Like: Being devastated.

I Saw the Devil – Amazon Prime

Country: South Korea

Genre: Action thriller

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik.

Revenge movies don’t get more brutal than in I Saw the Devil, an unflinchingly violent thriller directed by Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters) and starring Oldboy‘s Choi Min-sik at his most terrifying. I Saw the Devil follows intelligence agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byeongheon) who goes on a vicious mission of vengeance after his fiancée is murdered by a psychopathic serial killer (Choi). The two embark on a bloody cat-and-mouse game as Kim stalks and hunts the killer, and threatens to turn into an even worse monster than his prey.

Watch This If You Like: Oldboy, Death Wish, revenge served on a bloody, bloody platter.

Le Bureau  – Sundance Now

Country: France

Genre: Political thriller series

Creator: Éric Rochant

Cast: Mathieu Kassovitz, Sara Giraudeau, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Florence Loiret Caille, Léa Drucker, Zineb Triki.

An espionage series that takes the romance out of espionage sounds like it could make for a dull watch, but the French spy series Le Bureau is anything but. Centering around Guillaume Debailly aka Malotru, a former undercover spy who returns to DGSE, France’s equivalent of the CIA, after a six-year mission in Syria, where he’s pulled into a case in which one of their agents in Algeria has gone missing. Malotru is torn between his job and the beautiful Syrian history professor with whom he had an affair with while on mission, breaking protocol to meet her again and setting into motion dangerous events that could threaten the bureau. The ongoing drama debuted in 2015 to critical acclaim overseas, but barely a whimper in the states — Le Figaro called it the best French show ever and The New York Times named it the third-best international series of the last decade. But don’t let this taut, compelling espionage series pass you by.

Watch This If You Like: Homeland, The Americans, The Little Drummer Girl, spy movies but very French.

The Way of the Househusband – Netflix

Country: Japan

Genre: Comedy anime series

Director: Chiaki Kon

Cast: Kenjiro Tsuda.

Tatsu is everything you would expect in a feared yakuza boss who goes by the name “the Immortal Dragon”: aggressive, covered in tattoos, prone to flying into fits of rage, and….really upset over missing the department store’s latest sale? The premise of The Way of the Househusband is inherently funny — a yakuza who retires from a life of crime to become a househusband so that he can support his career-driven wife — but the anime series based on the manga by Kousuke Oono manages to make a meal out of a one-line gag. Every episode (blessedly less than 15 minutes long), Tatsu gets into some kind of absurd comedic scenario, usually having to do with banal domestic work, only for former yakuza rivals to pop up and wonder what the hell he’s doing. The anime plays out like a comic strip, aided by the choice to use slideshow-style animation (aka zero movement, with the enthusiastic voice actors doing all the work) to imitate the manga. It’s kind of weird, but it’s a fast and entertaining watch.

Watch This If You Like: Gintama, One Punch Man, episodes that you can watch in less than 15 minutes.

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