by betun, July 17, 2020

Audiences are generally very perceptive at appreciating good films. Even if they may not always go well with the home audience, they often find fans among international audiences. Sometimes though, some movies just slip quietly into relative oblivion even when they are comparable to very popular productions. They may have been released at the wrong time, or they are just too old, or they are too offbeat, or perhaps they are little known outside their home countries. Well, whatever the reason, I have come today to give them their due. This is the first part of a multipart series of underappreciated gems that merit more watchers (all of them have <1000 watchers). Covering multiple countries, the list of movies has something for everybody: comedy, thrillers, action, romance, psychological, historical, drama... well, you get the drift.

The Chase (2017)

CountryWatchersKey Draw
Korea782Mystery, Thrill of the chase

This is a murder mystery thriller that is unique in quite a few ways. For one, the protagonists are old men who do not give the hero vibe at all. One lead character is an ill-mannered, stingy and seemingly uncaring rent collector while the other is an unsuccessful Alzheimer-hit former detective. However, there is a sense of realism and credibility in the events as they unfold. The plot builds up slowly and then explodes with a bang. The pace in the latter half is incredible even more so because the sequences are so utterly relatable. Even for expert sleuths out there, guessing the killer would not be easy till the end, and the twists and turns along the way make for a very thrilling journey. The movie speaks to the abilities of people, even when they become old, as well as the problems of obscurity and loneliness. It showcases some really brilliant acting.

That's Cunning! Shijo Saidai no Sakusen (1996)

CountryWatchersKey Draw
Japan129Laughter, College antics

Years ago, I watched a viral video with the funniest, most innovative, mindbogglingly outstanding sequence of cheating in exams. I thank those anonymous clip creators on the internet who introduced me to this gem. Don’t judge it as a movie of the 90s, because it has aged well. Some of the tricks and technologies used by the students can still very much be used today, though I am not suggesting anyone to do so ;) The movie setting is a school with corrupt and ultra-competitive administrators wreaking havoc on some not-so-innocent but oh-so-cute students. There is a campy and fun vibe throughout as even the genius scientists join in helping the underdogs play the examination system. All for the right cause. For anyone in school or university or wistfully remembering those days, this is a must-watch.
There is yet another reason why this is a cult classic. This is the only movie that the ‘Teen Queen’ and the ‘Queen of Japanese pop music’, Amuro Namie, has acted in. She is a delight.

Sword Master (2016)

CountryWatchersKey Draw
China434Philosophy, Action, Story

When I started this movie, I was not impressed at all. It had the feel of a clichéd Chinese martial arts sword flick set in the historical times when clans were serious stuff. I am glad I stuck with it because this is a remarkable movie in some ways. The Wuxia action choreography is excellent, but I was most taken in by the philosophical depth of the movie. Going beyond the themes of filial loyalty and betrayal, war and peace, love and duty, the movie explores purpose itself. It is very rare to find a movie that goes into the search for meaning and does it so brilliantly through its lead characters. One champion swordsman is disenchanted with the purpose of wielding a sword and swears off violence and escapes to find peace at a nondescript brothel of all places; however, is he neglecting his duty? Another champion swordsman is distraught when the only person who could challenge him is dead. This man will be overjoyed if the only person who can kill him returns from the dead. It is his quest to either prove himself at the utmost exponent of his craft or die at the hands of the true master. This movie has a different kind of romance.

[email protected] (2003)

CountryWatchersKey Draw
Japan819Mystery, Romance, Thrill

This is a fun ride and is way better than its ratings or reviews on MDL suggest. This movie needs some brainwork to digest because there are crossings and double-crossings and triple crossings and quadruple crossings and it is hard to know who will finally win the game. Nothing can be taken at face value in this film and prepare to be surprised repeatedly. The pacing is well done with the movie slowing down just the right bit when needed. Fujiki Naohito and Nakama Yuki star as the lead couple and make for excellent eye candy; they made me wish that their romance were a little more developed. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of entertainment and suspense and the wittiness of the characters makes for some enthralling viewing.

The Great Hypnotist (2014)

CountryWatchersKey Draw
China415Psychological, Mystery

I was rather surprised that with Karen Mok starring in the lead role, this title is not more popular on MDL. This may have more to do with the genre of psychological thrillers itself because such movies are very cognitively demanding and are not a light watch. If you are a fan of stories that tickle your brain cells, this would be right up your alley. There are no irrelevant details here as everything happens for a reason. This is easily one of the best in the genre in the past few years. The importance of top-notch production values does not always seem obvious in this sort of movie, but a big part of the appeal of The Great Hypnotist is its visuals, and the frames impart depth and prove critical to driving home the story. Art lovers would appreciate the background choices and themes. The story itself moves along very gradually and builds up to the inevitable climax where all is revealed. The catharsis has a melancholic flavour but is satisfying nonetheless.

Unbeatable (2013)

CountryWatchersKey Draw
Hong Kong166Action, Underdog feel

Unbeatable has quite the cast, with Eddie Peng and Nick Cheung, both in action roles. A mixed martial arts sports flick, it has the underdog story that we all root for except that it does even better by having two of them. Don’t think that just because such themes have been done to death by other movies that this one too would follow the same pattern. This tale has some unique elements that leave a freshness and play a major role in the development of the characters. The exploration of mental illness and the complications arising for a smart young child due to a divorce is done really well. It lends the necessary motivation to former world champion boxer Nick Cheung so that he can finally break out of the life of stifling mediocrity that he had sunk into. The action in this movie is beautifully done, and the tournament fight sequences are exceptionally well choreographed. Unbeatable will get your adrenaline going and pump you full of the feel-good factor.

My Boss, My Hero (2001)

CountryWatchersKey Draw
Korea649Comedy, Action, School life

This is a movie that started a trilogy and even inspired a ten-episode Japanese drama remake. Yet, I still can’t wrap my head around the current rating on MDL as well as the pathetically low number of watchers. This movie is a laugh riot. The pretext itself is so hilarious. Jung Joon Ho is being considered for a leadership position in his very hierarchical and professional mafia organisation, but alas, he lacks a high school diploma. His bosses are unimpressed by his lack of knowledge and decide that the only way he can rise through the ranks is by actually attending school again! This gang could put corporate organisations to shame. From then on, the film proceeds through a bunch of scenes of school life that are so rib-tickling that all of them are meme-worthy. In between a bunch of gags and laughs, a few serious themes including bullying, underage solicitation and unwarranted strong-arming of educational institutions are touched upon. Perhaps, this as well as the rather gory and violent fight scenes, which feel a bit too real, are partly responsible for the low score. Yet, this is firstly an out and about funny movie that never takes itself too seriously which helps it deliver a gratifying final product. Watch this for a classic good vs evil fight with some unusual crusaders and a very light essence of romance.

So, would you give some of these titles a look? 

Have you already watched some of these? 

Why do you think that they are under-watched? 

Please share what you think!

Edited by: Yuanwei (1st editor), KimWanHee (2nd editor) 

romance historical thriller comedy sports action wuxia psychological martial arts