I’m not suggesting you pack up and fly off to a foreign country just to see a movie. But you should. There’s just something to be said for cultural understanding through cinematic experience (and no, watching Free Willy 6 on an airplane seatback doesn’t count). Some political philosophers go so far as to say that movies could save us all from nuclear war. Clearly they haven’t been following Eddie Murphy’s career. Yet it’s certainly true that big-budget Hollywood blockbusters couldn’t survive without international ticket sales from people who can’t afford to go, can’t really stand us, and can’t understand a word Sylvester Stallone is saying.
World peace aside, there are plenty of self-serving motives for seeing foreign films in the land from whence they came (self-serving motives being our biggest export behind Baywatch re-runs and eating disorders):
You just haven’t seen a Bollywood movie until you’ve see it in Bombay—a bold statement given that few people have actually seen an entire Bollywood movie and that Bombay, technically, no longer exists. The reason you should strive to overcome these two facts is the same reason I’m grateful for having seen Independence Day in Utah. Big Hollywood movies are meant to be watched in a theatre full of cheering patriots eating popcorn underwritten by Lipitor. And big Bollywood movies are meant to be watched after 1) getting into a rickshaw accident on the way to the theatre, 2) getting incorrect information about the start time (twice); and 3) being handed someone’s baby over a seatback for no other reason than that it was crying and you’re an adult. Try to see something modern and sexy like Dhoom II—which naturally has neither the same writer, director, characters, plot, or setting as Dhoom I. It does, however, have the oft-cast Aishwarya Rai (whom Julia Roberts once called the most beautiful woman in the world) and the oft-hot Hrithik Roshan (whom I still call the most beautiful man). The point is that—when you watch five minutes of a Bollywood movie in your living room—everyone looks silly. When you see one in India—everyone looks silly. And healthy. And happy. And contemporary and traditional all at once. You won’t get it ‘til you go.
We owe a lot to Hong Kong. Not only did it endlessly confuse us by being Chinese then British then Chinese again, it also gave us Bruce Lee, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan (whom we’ve since given back). Without the Hong Kong action movie, we wouldn’t have quite the same Quentin Tarantino (or basic-cable cage fighting) and we certainly wouldn’t know that black belts can fly (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Talent). Yet the main reason to see Hong Kong movies in Hong Kong is that we may be under threat of losing them. Turns out the entire Hong Kong film industry is on the verge of financial collapse due to fierce competition from…American movies influenced by Bruce Lee. It’s one of those crazy globalization catch-22s, like Hello Kitty being so American that she became Japanese. (Although it turns out she was born in Tokyo, used up by Hasbro, then traded back to Japan for a Prius).
If you can’t manage to get all the way to Hong Kong to see the next great wûxiá masterpiece, at least support the cause by ordering one online. And please bear in mind that Uma Thurman cannot, in fact, beat Jet Li in hand-to-hand combat.
Nollywood scares me. The Nigerian film industry not only makes the most movies per year by far (2,500 compared to Hollywood’s 450), it’s also the fastest growing film industry in the world (somehow without the help ofEntertainment Tonight) and most of what it produces is overtly Evangelical (somewhat like the U.S. Air Force Academy). I once heard a Nigerian film director instruct his cast and crew to “function to capacity in the name of Jesus Christ.” So…it’s a fun film industry. Nearly all the movies are made for under $10,000, most are in English, and every single one goes straight to video. Also they all seem to involve two people looking pained while having conversations on pastel-colored sofas. (Picture reality show contestants trying to make a Mexican soap opera.)
The issue of real importance when it comes to this expanding beast of an industry is this: At a rate of 200 movies per month, how have they not run out of story lines? Getting your hands on a Nollywood movie is a little tough, but a sampling of recent titles includes (and please look these up to confirm): Baby Police, Broken Plate, Buried Emotion, Agony in the Family, Black Bra, Back from America, Accidental Discharge, Born 2 Suffer, Blood on the Altar, and April Fúùlù. I am, therefore, formally requesting that someone reading this please go to Nigeria, pick up a few dozen of these DVDs, and bring them back so we can all know what’s going on. My imagination is worse than most anything you could get through Customs.
Otherwise, when Netflixing your next foreign film (so you don’t ever have to leave your house again), just remember: No one cool calls it Mumbai, and Jet Li is so legit that he once broke a foot saving his daughter from the tsunami in Thailand. Try getting Brad Pitt to do that without accidentally slipping into a remake of Sophie’s Choice. Plus we’ve never seen him do line kicks in a sequined kurta. And unless we show a little support for the movies made by the other 6 billion people on the planet, we’ll end up living in a world where our Sherpas are surprised we’re not 10 feet tall and blue (the Avatarization of globalization). We have adventure tours, bike tours, wine tours—why not movie tours? The alternative could be a bland, uniform, nuclear future in which Ashton Kutcher is considered art and Nigerians have lost all sense of self-worth through repeat viewings of District 9.
Turn off your satphones, enjoy the show, and travel hard my friends.