Netflix’s invaluable contribution to the increased interest in foreign-language content has grown over the years. Especially in 2021, their South Korean production by Hwang Dong-hyuk, titled Squid Game, made a defining mark with several awards and accolades, essentially fanning the Korean Wave. Following its success, the streamer has altered its business model to invest in foreign-language content and tap various other demographics of users and viewers.
Linguistic barriers have often made many viewers shy away from watching foreign content. To quote the acclaimed South Korean auteur, Bong Joon-ho, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
While the director made history with his film Parasite being the first-ever foreign-language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, his speech reflects how linguistic barriers have often prevented the osmosis of culture.
While Netflix has been consistent with their production of foreign-language content, their marketing team does a pretty crappy job with advertising some hidden gems. While shows like Money Heist, Dark, Squid Game, Hellbound etc., received unbridled attention, some hidden gems got lost in the shadow of PR and grandeur.
Here are some of the five most underrated foreign-language series on Netflix:
Five most underrated foreign-language series on Netflix
5. Giri/Haji (Joe Barton, 2019)
With just eight episodes, this Japanese-language British thriller is a pulpy, witty and exceptionally funny yet violent police thriller that deals with the dangerous yakuza, crime, betrayal and bloodshed. But at the centre of it all is the story of two brothers and the true discovery of one’s selfhood.
A Tokyo detective embarks on the search of his brother, who is presumed dead after being tasked by the police force and a seething yakuza leader who threatens to start a gang war in Tokyo. Soon, the detective becomes acquainted with the nitty-gritty politics of the criminal world and finds himself involved in an unexpectedly dark and violent crime world.
4. Nobody’s Looking (Daniel Rezende, Carolina Markowicz, Teodoro Poppovic, 2019)
Called Ninguém Ta Olhando in Portuguese, this cancelled one-season Netflix series is one of the best foreign language series that could have really kicked it off had the streamer given it ample space and time. Within just eight episodes, the creators pack in a bunch of supernatural elements, humour, existential questions and many more, way better than most of Netflix’s boring, long-standing shows.
The series has a supernatural premise where Guardian Angels are tasked with protecting the earthly humans, and their work mirrors mundane office jobs as they are handed out files and fresh tasks. With a pretty good inclusion of heroic and romantic angles and existential crises, the show is fun and original, with a rebellious spirit at the centre, making it more humorous and engaging.
3. Call My Agent! (Fanny Herrero, 2015)
Also known as Dix Pour Cent or Ten Percent in French, this hilarious dramedy revolves around a fictional Parisian talent agency called the ASK or Agence Samuel Kent. Following the death of its founding head, the agency is acquired by four agents who engage in an amusing act of trying to control the operations of the agency, thus leading to several shenanigans.
From legal and financial obstacles to stars’ unfathomable egos and rivalries, the tone of thi French series is fresh and sophisticated. Extremely well-written with a bunch of great actors, the characterisation is human with a clever and relatable commentary on the film industry in general.
2. Babylon Berlin (Tom Tykwer, Achim von Borries, 2017)
This German TV series is set in the late 1920s during the latter era of the Weimar Republic and upholds the historical significance of the era pretty well. It follows the adventures of a police inspector sent on an assignment to bust a criminal ring run by the Mafia and is joined by a poor flapper who dreams of making it to the homicidal division.
A brilliant pictorial representation of the turbulence of the period, the series wonderfully captures the culture, socio-political conditions and the slow but steady rise of the hatred against Jews over the course of its seasons. As democracy crumbles, the emotional and violent premise of the show unfurls through stylistic grandeur and brilliant characterisation, making it one of the best foreign language series ever on Netflix.
1. Borgen (Adam Price, 2010)
This revolutionary and dramatic Danish political thriller deserves viewers’ unhinged attention. Acquired by Netflix in 2020, the series quickly produced the fourth season and is still one of the best political dramas of the decade. Starring Sidse Babett Knudson as the first-ever female Prime Minister of Denmark, the show focuses on her ascent, which is ridden with obstacles and hindrances that often threaten to tear down all her hard work.
The show focuses on the burden of responsibilities, a complex tale of the politics of gender, power and other complexities. As Knudson’s character battles betrayal and tension from cabinet ministers, other rivals and the media, she finds herself caught in the crossroads between professional commitments and personal choices that hint at society’s double standards towards women.