Netflix Files: What to Watch

In another return of an old recurring column we search Netflix for lesser-known films worth watching, with emphasis on international fare. Even if a film isn’t an “immediate must watch,” if it’s a pleasurable way to spend a few hours, it makes our selection.

Monster Hunt

Want to watch a weird Chinese action-adventure comedy movie?” is what I asked my husband the evening I decided to check off another Netflix film from my queue. Monster Hunt is exactly as I described it to him, although in retrospect I feel bad about the “weird”; not because the movie isn’t that (it certainly is), but because it’s just so fun and playful, and earnestly so, that the adjective “weird” right there at the beginning might be off-putting and that’s a shame.

In this post-Pokémon Go society, Monster Hunt seems a bellwether for anticipating the franchise’s revival; its plot would be prescient if not for the fact that it certainly draws inspiration from that series. Monsters are hidden within the human world, sought by collectors and captured by monster hunters for a fee. The similarities end there, at least for one utterly unfamiliar with Pokémon, but honestly the plot isn’t what particularly matters here.

What matters is that Monster Hunt is a goofy-but-lovable movie with the well-choreographed physics-defying martial arts that we can expect from films in its genre. That it broke box office records in China is at first surprising and then not at all. It may technically be a kids movie, but it’s of the type anyone can enjoy. Yes, this is also a movie where a man gives birth to a CGI baby monster. Yes, it really pulls it off, at least if you’re not trying to take anything too seriously, and manages to both entertain and tug at the heartstrings.

Man Up

Lake Bell and Simon Pegg shine in this romcom stuffed to the brim with many of the tropes we love about the genre. Mistaken identity meet-cute? Check. Confrontations with exes? Check. Truths revealed, lovers part, dramatic run through the streets to declare one’s feelings? Check, check, and check. Hey, sometimes the heart wants what it wants, and often what my heart wants is a fluffy love story with familiar conventions done well, and this delivers.

For all that Man Up scores well on a typical romcom checklist, the story isn’t told as if it’s just ticking boxes. The plot is as follows: Jack mistakes Nancy for his blind date, and after a thwarted halfhearted attempt to correct him, she goes along with it. The majority of the film follows the Before Sunrise mold of the two lead characters wandering their way through the city of an evening, falling in love as they converse. That is, if Jesse and Céline were British and engaged in hijinks instead of philosophical discussion.

Man Up is my favorite romcom I’ve seen recently, Netflix or otherwise. Usually I’m content enough for something to be just enjoyable, but not necessarily memorable, if I watch it on Netflix, but Man Up is a genuinely funny, sweet, and engaging movie that you’ll remember.

The Beauty Inside

If Man Up is my favorite romantic comedy I’ve seen lately, then The Beauty Inside is a recent favorite magical romance. Perhaps some of this is due to the fact that it stars Han Hyo-Joo, of Heaven’s Postman, which is still one of the standards to which I hold up pensive, dreamy love stories. And in fact Han Hyo-Joo is the only true star; the premise of the movie is that its lead character, Woo-Jin, wakes up every day in a different body, of any possible race, gender, age, or nationality.

Obviously this leads to a very lonely existence; Woo-Jin has never experienced love, never had anything other than one night stands, until he meets Yi-Soo. Because a relationship is impossible he means to spend just one day with her, and then another – staying awake as long as he can, because he changes whenever he sleeps.

Of course Woo-Jin and Yi-Soo manage to have one anyway or I wouldn’t be writing this, as my tastes don’t trend toward bleak and depressing (the ultimate success of the relationship, however, I’ll leave for you to discover). What really makes The Beauty Inside stand out is the cast of actors playing Woo-Jin. Korean drama fans will recognize many familiar faces, including Lee Dong-Wook and Park Shin-Hye, but the cameo that really had me shrieking was that of Juri Ueno, of Nodame Cantabile fame.

With so many different actors playing one character we get to explore many different facets of Woo-Jin. That makes him a fascinating character not just to watch onscreen, but to consider. If he’s been waking up in a different body every morning since adolescence, who is he really as a person? Each day he encounters completely different assumptions about who he is just based on his looks. If he doesn’t go out, he has to grow almost on his own, devoid of human contact, and frankly it’s a miracle (or a blessing of storytelling) that he’s at all a functional or adjusted adult.

All these considerations somewhat sideline the romance, which although I rooted for it, is still somewhat difficult to get behind for the sheer mechanics of seeing Yi-Soo with a physically different partner in almost every scene. That makes The Beauty Inside a contemplative film for a quiet evening. You can also check out the original 2012 social film made by Intel and Toshiba that inspired this 2015 Korean remake.