It’s sad to me how many movies people miss out on each year because they’re too lazy to read subtitles. I myself am guilty of this. I scroll past the foreign section on Netflix each time I see it.
However, my film theory class listed the Korean film Oldboy (2003) on the syllabus. Not knowing anything about the film, I searched it on Netflix. I was already dreading having to watch it, which is only because of my inexperience and ignorance of foreign films. My viewpoint quickly changed as I watched the film.
In the beginning I was only partly paying attention, getting distracted and not fully reading the subtitles. I kept rewinding to figure out what was happening. My movie-watching brain just isn’t used to watching a film and reading subtitles at the same time. However, halfway through the film I was totally engrossed. Yes, part of it is probably because Oldboy is completely disturbing on a variety of levels. It’s kind of like a car accident. You want to look away but you can’t. But my perspective of foreign films was evolving as I watched.
Oldboy was remade by Spike Lee in 2013 for an American audience. But…isn’t the original already good enough for an American audience? Sure, it’s not in English, but it is translated. It’s not as if you have to be educated about every single aspect of Korean culture to understand it. Think about it in this way—big American films are made for international audiences. They don’t all understand American culture, but they watch American films. The original Oldboy was much better received than the remake, which has been called things such as “unnecessary” and “abhorrent” compared to it’s predecessor.
To me, it was interesting to see a film that isn’t made in traditional American Hollywood fashion. I learned about another culture a bit more and started to comprehend that all Asian cinema shouldn’t be lumped into one category. There are a variety of different genres and styles of American films, which is the same as Korea, China, Japan, etc. It’s not just Kung Fu movies and ridiculous fight sequences. Everything I’m writing should be common knowledge. Sadly, many people remain ignorant about all that movies from other countries have to offer.
There’s a whole world of movies that the majority of mainstream America has yet to experience. I bet we’re missing out on some incredible films, simply because of our ignorance and unwillingness to compromise.
Subtitles are worth it if the film expands your knowledge of cinema.
PS: If you haven’t seen Oldboy, it’s a great place to start your foreign film education (although you may not want to eat while you watch it)