Chinese cinema has provided movie lovers with a number of classics over the years. Mind-blowing action, intense thrillers, slapstick comedy, or breathtaking animation — there’s something in Chinese cinema for expats of every taste. Whether you’re watching with subtitles or practicing your Chinese, here I bring you my pick of seven awesome Chinese movies that every expat should watch.
John Woo and Chow Yun Fat combine for their craziest action movie ever.
Let’s start our list with a bang with Hard Boiled. Directed by John Woo, this action movie sees Chow Yun Fat’s no-nonsense detective “Tequila" Yuen join forces with Tony Leung’s undercover cop Alan to exact revenge on the gun smugglers that killed Tequila’s partner. And with a body count of 307, it’s some revenge.
The teahouse shootout; the long-take in the hospital; Chow Yun Fat wielding a shotgun in one hand and cradling a baby in the other — there are so many reasons why this is such an iconic action movie.
John Woo and Chow Yun Fat collaborated a number of times in the eighties and nineties, with those movies, along with Hard Boiled, breathing new life into the Chinese action genre and inspiring countless copycats. Movies today are rarely this ridiculous or this fun.
If you like this, you should also try A Better Tomorrow (1986) and The Killer (1989)
One of the all-time great crime thrillers, later adapted by Scorsese into The Departed.
Simply put, one of the greatest crime thrillers of all time. Set in Hong Kong, Infernal Affairs boasts a simple concept that plays out in an exciting and breathtaking fashion. Tony Leung finds himself type-cast, staring again as a police officer. This time he’s undercover in the Triads, while Andy Lau conversely stars as a Triad member who has infiltrated the police. What ensues is a nerve-wracking game of cat and mouse, with each mole trying to uncover the identity of the other.
Infernal Affairs was remade by Martin Scorsese in 2006 into The Departed with a stellar cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson. The fact that Scorsese would go on to win his only Best Director Oscar for the remake shows just how good of a story Infernal Affairs is.
If you like this, you should also try Infernal Affairs II (2003) and Infernal Affairs III (2003)
A touching and funny family drama starring Akwafina.
A true story based on writer/director Lulu Wang’s own experiences, The Farewell stars Akwafina (AKA Nora Lum) as Billi, an American-Chinese woman who travels back to her father’s hometown in China. Billi’s whole extended family has seemingly gathered to celebrate her cousin’s wedding, but, in fact, they are really there to say goodbye to her grandmother. Billi’s “Nainai” has terminal cancer, but the family has chosen to hide it from her, using the excuse of the wedding to see her one last time. Billi must decide between respecting the family’s wishes or telling her Nainai the truth.
Tonally, The Farewell feels a lot like Lost in Translation. But while Japanese culture is only dealt with on a superficial level in the latter, the former is a thoughtful and well-crafted study of Chinese society as it finds itself at a crossroads of old and new.
If you like this, you should also try One Child Nation (2019)
Wong Kar-Wai’s relationship drama still resonates today.
One of the biggest shames of Chinese cinema is that Wong Kar-Wai never enjoyed the kind of success in the West as he did back home. He has only ever made one English language movie, the uneven My Blueberry Nights, with that film’s underperformance seemingly deterring Wong from ever making another. His Chinese films are worth seeking out, however, as few filmmakers anywhere in the world have such a way of examining human relationships.
I could have picked any one of of Wong’s movies, but I’ve opted for Chungking Express. Following two cops in Hong Kong, the movie scratches at the surface to reveal the unusual lives that seemingly ordinary people live. One cop, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro, buys canned pineapple every day to help him get over his lost love while also pining for a mysterious woman in a blonde wig that he doesn’t realize is a drug dealer. The second cop, played (yet again) by Tony Leung, is also recovering from a breakup when a waitress gets a hold of his keys, lets herself into his apartment and decides to spruce up his life.
As is often the way with Wong Kar-Wai films, you will either love or hate Chungking Express. But trust me, it’s a chance worth taking it.
If you like this, you should also try 2046 (2004), In The Mood for Love (2000), and Days of Being Wild (1990)
Stephen Chow combines action and comedy for this slapstick masterpiece.
Stephen Chow first caught the eye with Shaolin Soccer, a truly mad and truly brilliant mash-up of football and martial arts. While not as unique as that film, Kung-Fu Hustle is a much better-rounded story that sees Chow really master his craft.
As with Shaolin Soccer, Chow writes, directs, and stars here. When Chow’s Sing and his less-than-smart pal Bone (played by Feng Xiaogang) try to trick the residents of Pig Sty Alley into thinking they are members of the dreaded Axe Gang, the real gangsters arrive to restore their reputation. What the gang doesn’t realize, however, is that three legendary retired kung fu masters live in Pig Sty Alley…
A wild mix of insane martial arts and cartoonish effects, Empire magazine summed Kung-Fu Hustle up best when they described it as a “Spaghetti Western via Enter the Dragon and Tom and Jerry. It’s like watching a blockbuster beamed from another planet.”
If you like this, you should also try Shaolin Soccer (2001)
Cutting-edge animation and ancient folklore combine for China’s biggest animation ever.
While US audiences are treated to Pixar movies and Japanese cinema-goers are spoiled rotten with the genius that is Studio Ghibli, China unfortunately is not home to a film house that produces animated classics on a regular basis.
That’s why the release of Nezha in 2019 was such a big deal. The film arrived to strong reviews and went on to make a massive USD 723 million at the Chinese box office. For once, Chinese cinemas had an animated smash hit that wasn’t from America or Japan.
The movie takes an iconic character of Chinese folklore, Nezha, and loosely adapts the classic novel Investiture of the Gods. The titular character is a magical child born from “the demon orb”. Determined to save Nezha from his evil fate, his parents lie to him and say that he is born from “the spirit pearl”. Nezha can’t escape the truth forever, however, and eventually he must decide which path to take.
If you like this, you should also watch Bigfish & Begonia (2016) and The Tibetan Dog (2011)
Poetry in motion from the master of martial arts movies.
Director Zhang Yimou announced himself to international movie audiences in 2002 with Hero. Starring Jet Li, the film took place on an epic scale and introduced the beauty of wuxia (martial arts/adventure filmmaking) to many for the first time. Hero became the first Chinese movie to top the US box office and remains Zhang’s best-known offering in the West. Despite this, my personal favorite of his is House of Flying Daggers.
Released two years after Hero, House of Flying Daggers is a much more personal story. During the Tang Dynasty, two police offers, played by Andy Lau and Takesi Kaneshiro, are ordered to investigate the House of Flying Daggers, a group who steal from the wealthy to give to the poor. Their search leads them to Zhang Ziyi’s Mei, a blind dancer who both officers fall for.
While the scale is smaller, the movie is even more beautiful than Hero. So many scenes last long in the memory: the echo game, the showdown in the snow, the green bamboo forest that will be forever associated with this beautiful movie.
If you like this, you should also try Shadow (2018), Hero (2002), and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Any more Chines movie recommendations for our readers? Drop them in the comments box below.
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Keywords: Chinese movies
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i can spot the movies that would be more correctly classed as HK movies than Chinese. The narrative structure is closer to that which non-Chinese audiences would recognise. Chinese narrative structure tends more towards 'heroic self-sacrifice' than that of HK movies. Great attempt to dismiss the HK movie industry that was thriving from the '60's onwards Cian, at a time when China would have sent the film-makers to the country-side for re-education.
Apr 07, 2020 23:06 Report Abuse