A.O. Scott, chief film critic of the NYT, takes a stab at that burning question — one that's admittedly difficult because as he acknowledges, every film is foreign somewhere.
While Scott's essay is difficult to sum up, here are the last few paragraphs to summarize where he's coming from. Warning, this is probably for hardcore film geeks:
Humanism, which is rooted both in human unhappiness and the capacity for hope, is an impulse that is unlikely to fade from screens, and indeed it has been showing up, adapted to local problems and traditions, in places as far-flung as South Africa, Brazil, China and Uzbekistan. The modernist impulse has undergone a simultaneous resurgence, in Iran, in Latin America and especially in the work of Asian filmmakers like Tsai Ming-liang, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang, Kim Ki Duk and Hong Sang Soo. They have explored the drift and loneliness that characterizes the lives of city dwellers, who navigate the gleaming world of modern capitalism in a state of moody perplexity.
In the work of these filmmakers, the strains of modernism and humanism have begun to mingle, as the boundaries between individual melancholy and social misery become harder and harder to trace. The cities they depict — Seoul, Taipei, Beijing, Hanoi — are at once teeming and desolate, full of the noise of history, commerce and tradition and at the same time governed by the silence of the emotionally stunted. This impression can be gathered from the fractured, sexually anarchic families in Tsai's movies (“Rebels of the Neon God,”“The River”) and the superficially more settled household of Yang's “Yi Yi.” Whatever held people together — filial piety, cultural identity, religious practice — seems to have melted away, and they drift toward one another like downcast atoms, piecing their lives together out of stray bits of feeling.
But are they really alone? A defining modern mood — one that is often evoked but hasn't adequately been named — is the anxious, melancholy feeling of being simultaneously connected and adrift. In a recent essay in Salon, the film critic Charles Taylor identified this condition — “being in a world where the only sense of home is to be found in a state of constant flux” — as a central motif in movies ranging from “Lost in Translation” to the films of cinephile cult figures like Tsai and Wong Kar-wai. Taylor identifies an unstable blend of anxiety, curiosity and longing as the emotional condition that links the solitary, alienated heroes and heroines of the modern cinema of loneliness, among whom Tao and Taisheng in “The World” surely belong. There may be a measure of comfort in joining the international fraternity of the lost — at least for audiences. The experience of dwelling in these movies is replicated, and to some extent redeemed, by the experience of watching them, of feeling estrangement and disorientation not only vicariously through the characters but also in relation to them as well. They encounter one another, in strange, indifferent cities, by chance, and their relations are at once affectless and charged with latent emotion — all of which is just how we encounter them, alone in darkened rooms in the midst of our hectic and decentered lives.