The Fear Of Subtitles

Today we have a guest post about the fear of foreign cinema by upcoming writer Chris Aguiar. This is the first in a new series of guest blogs, which I’ll be showcasing every other week.

I’ll still be posting new writing advice/inspiration every Monday, but these guest slots will cover a variety of subjects from writing to cinema to serial killing elephants and one-legged parrots. If you’d like to write one and end up on the site, email me here to discuss it further. And if you’d like to see more (or less) posts like these, just let me know in the comments (or email me).  


The Fear

Of Subtitles

by Chris Aguiar

Foreign cinema has long been an inspiration for its Western counterpart so it’s disappointing to see how the average viewer reacts to a subtitled film — there’s a complete disengagement from the opening scene until the final frame (if they last that long), and then they ignorantly lambast the picture and label it “boring”. But what many fail to realise is the impact foreign cinema has had on what they now regularly consume via Westernised film.

For example, some are quick to label The Departed as their favourite Martin Scorsese film, but how many of these same people know it’s a Western remake of Hong Kong classic Mou Gaan Dou (also known as Infernal Affairs)? Many will argue that the original is better, as it showed more realistic grit without suffering from the slight goofiness that The Departed exhibited. However, assuming a person has not watched either and is made aware of the US remake, they’re likelier to gravitate toward the Western incarnation. This is understandable due to the star-studded cast and visionary director, but is watching an inferior Western film worth it if you know that the original foreign film is also available? Quite simply, there would be no Departed if not for Mou Gaan Dou.

A phobia of subtitles seems to be the tipping point for many mainstream audiences. “I’m watching a film, not reading a book,” is something often spouted, but how many of these people will gladly watch a Western film that’s feeding them piles of manure just because it’s presented in their own language? That’s like throwing away a croissant because you can’t quite understand its origins and replacing it with a pot of boiling urine instead. Shunning foreign films means they rarely take in the revenue deserved, and are thus restricted to their own country. Meanwhile, generic action films like Transformers are breaking box office records.

Movies are increasingly similar and devoid of any creativity, and that’s because many people refuse to immerse themselves in another country’s rich, qualitative cinema. Foreign films are bolder than Hollywood’s platter, take bigger risks, and introduce beautifully intriguing plot lines that have yet to wash onto Western shores. Cult horror classic The Ring is a fine example of an abstract and fresh idea reaching mainstream cinema screens, but not everyone knows it’s a remake of the Japanese movie Ringu, which is a far superior and creepier movie. In part, this is because it eschews the typical Hollywood horror tropes and isn’t constrained by Western clichés.

Even Pixar paid tribute to Japan’s Studio Ghibli by including a toy Totoro (from revered animated film My Neighbour Totoro) in the third Toy Story film. Studio Ghibli produce animated films that teach children life lessons through dark, emotional and beautiful tales, never once treating them as though they lack intelligence. There is Grave of the Fireflies — a tale of two orphaned siblings who lost their parents to World War II bombings. There’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which is about a princess who discovers a toxic forest and strives to keep the peace between two warring factions (and released ten years before the very similar FernGully: The Last Rainforest).

The females in Japanese animated films are not like the typical Western incarnations; they do not require a prince or king/father to aid them — a strong message worth sending out to any young girl that Western animation rarely strives to match. John Lasseter — principal creative advisor at Disney (as well as director and writer) — said, “Whenever we get stuck at Pixar or Disney, I put on a Ghibli film sequence or two, just to get us inspired again.” Without Ghibli, would Pixar films be half as good as they are now?

Of the three facets of foreign cinema discussed, all of them have pertained to the Oriental/Asian scene — gory horror, intense cop-action, and beautifully emotional animation. That’s just a mere fragment of one culture’s style of cinema. Latin American countries succeed in delivering dark and morbid comedies as well as gritty, no-holds-barred gang dramas. The Scandinavian scene focuses heavily on human, day-to-day drama, and the issues that can inhibit the average person’s life. Additionally, the Middle-East (Iran in particular) mixes an amateur, yet masterful, style of filmmaking to depict conflict induced by war and family. Lastly, everybody knows the South Asian ‘Bollywood’ where powerful dramas are embroiled within a musical to create lengthy family films accessible for all ages.

Every single nation, continent and culture adds something refreshing to cinema that is portrayed in a more truthful and believable manner than your typical Hollywood cash-grab movie or Oscar bait.

The argument, though, is not about which is better. It is about enlightening oblivious audiences to the cinematic world around them that exists beyond English-speaking moving pictures. There is a particular style of film associated with every nation that anyone in the world can identify with. It’s just about finding what suits you most and taking a leap of faith into whichever foreign section appeals to you.

If, upon reading this, you realise that you have completely alienated foreign cinema from your watchlist, then here are a list of ten films that could help you discover a new sector of cinema:

1.) The Hunt: A Danish drama about a man who works at a nursery and is falsely accused of paedophilia.


2.) The Raid 1 & 2: An Indonesian soon to be action-trilogy about a cop gone rogue that displays incredible hand-to-hand martial arts choreography.

The-Raid-Redemption-movie-posterThe-Raid-2-Berandal3.) Oldboy: A Korean action/drama/romance about a man who is mysteriously kidnapped and locked in prison for 15 years and then released with a task of finding his captor within five days.


4.) Wild Tales: An amalgamation of five Argentinian short stories that contain dark tales riddled with humour.


5.) The Devil’s Backbone: A Guillermo Del Toro ghost story set to the backdrop of the Spanish civil war — a true, chilling, yet emotional tale about friendship and unity.


6.) A Separation: An Iranian drama about a man who is accused of causing a woman’s miscarriage and how those accusations tear his family apart.


7.) Spirited Away: Arguably Ghibli’s best film, this animation is about how far a little girl will go to bring her parents back to life. Touching, hilarious and adorable.


8.) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: A Japanese sci-fi animation about a girl who discovers she can time travel, but rather than getting lost in the science of it all, this film delivers a poignant message about attempting to correct the past.


9.) Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham: A Bollywood family drama that centres around a son’s prohibited love, and his subsequent expulsion from his family. A moving tale that follows the lengths a family will go to in order to repair estranged relationships.


10.) City of God: A Brazilian film about an aspiring photographer who finds success in taking pictures of gangsters in his favela. As he rises into mainstream media, those he grew up with turn to a life of crime.


BDSpYunDChris Aguiar is an amateur screenwriter (still learning the ropes) and incredibly passionate about film and TV. He identifies with Latin-American cinema and ranks The Matrix as his all-time favourite film (he is prepared to fight anybody — dead or alive — that questions this).

Find more of his work here: RCDAguiar and follow him on Twitter here: RCD.

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  1. Pingback: Weekly Clickables: September 14th, 2015

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