30 Best Chinese Movies Ever Made | A List Beyond Kung-Fu Movies
Before I begin this post, let me state unequivocally that Hollywood is not the be-all and end-all of movie. While it is true that Hollywood is home to some of the world’s best filmmakers, it is also true that the infatuation with Hollywood is the result of a number of less evident elements. To begin with, as the brilliant Satyajit Ray points out, a picture like Spartacus is difficult to make in the rest of the world because such an expensive set is beyond their budget. As a result, they must come up with innovative ways to improve their art while keeping prices down. Even if their work is as outstanding as, if not better than, that of American filmmakers, the glamour associated with Hollywood frequently overshadows the work of artists from other countries. A lot of people look for Chinese sex movies or Chinese kung-Fu movies, but Chinese Cinema goes beyond these categories
Despite the fact that China and the surrounding East Asian nations are making significant progress in terms of filmmaking, we don’t see them receiving adequate recognition or attention for their efforts. If Asian filmmakers want to obtain the attention they require, they must equal the production budget and technology breakthroughs of western filmmakers.
China has been a regular source of delight for cinephiles around the world in recent years (Wong Kar-‘In Wai’s the Mood for Love’ is No. 7 on our ranking of the top movies of all time). China’s filmmakers have been experimenting with diverse formats, resulting in unique works that stand apart from most other types of filmmaking. The following is a list of the best Chinese films ever made. Some of the best Chinese films are available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
Table Of Content
- 1 24 City (2008)
- 2 Aftershock (2010)
- 3 Chungking Express (1994)
- 4 City of Life and Death (2009)
- 5 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
- 6 Days of Being Wild (1990)
- 7 Devils on the Doorstep (2000)
- 8 Eat Man Drink Woman (1994)
- 9 Farewell My Concubine (1993)
- 10 Fearless (2006)
- 11 Happy Together (1997)
- 12 Hero (2002)
- 13 House of Flying Daggers (2004)
- 14 In the Heat of the Sun (1994)
- 15 In the Mood for Love (2000)
- 16 Infernal Affairs (2002)
- 17 Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
- 18 Lust, Caution (2007)
- 19 Mountain Patrol (2004)
- 20 Not One Less (1999)
- 21 Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
- 22 Red Cliff (2008)
- 23 Red Sorghum (1987)
- 24 Still Life (2013)
- 25 Summer Palace (2006)
- 26 The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
- 27 The Blue Kite (1993)
- 28 The Killer (1989)
- 29 The Legend of Drunken Master (1996)
- 30 To Live (1994)
24 City (2008)
Jia Zhangke employs an avant-garde approach in this film, which uses a narrative style that combines documentary and fiction elements. It uses a documentary-style technique in which actors deliver prepared interviews to demonstrate how the closure of a real state-owned industry impacts workers.
‘Aftershock,’ a historical catastrophe film based on the Tangshan earthquake of 1976, which killed over 242,000 people in its aftermath, grossed more than US$100 million at the box office. The story revolves around the Daqing family, who had twins named Fang Deng and Fang Da who live in a Tangshan neighborhood apartment. An earthquake strikes in the early morning hours of 1976, killing the husband and trapping his wife Li and their twins beneath the rubble. In their search for the trapped children, they locate a boy – Fang Da and Fang Deng – who are relocated, found, and adopted by a military family. Years later, Deng discovers her long-lost sibling and, eventually, her mother when eloping from her adoptive parents, also because she is pregnant, which she didn’t plan for, and another earthquake has struck. ‘Aftershock’ is one of China’s most successful films, receiving critical acclaim from throughout the world.
Chungking Express (1994)
‘Chungking Express,’ a film by Wong Kar-wai, the famed director known for his visually fascinating on-screen miracles, tells the story of two cops struggling with their heartbreaks. The first cop, often known as Sgt. On April 1st, Cop 223, a.k.a. Qiwu, broke up with his lover May. Cop 223 purchases pineapple cans that are about to go bad on May 1st in honor of their romance and because May was a pineapple enthusiast. On May 1st, he meets another woman with whom he instantly falls in love, unaware of what would happen him later. The second scenario follows Cop 663, who has split up with his air hostess lover but meets up with another female who works in a restaurant as a waitress. ‘Chungking Express,’ like all of Kar-films, wai’s is a performance-driven, lively, and unforgettable experience worth every second of your time.
City of Life and Death (2009)
‘City of Life and Death’ is a brutally violent war film about Japan’s annexation of China and the slaughter in Nanjing, China’s capital. The picture escalates to a point of absolute lunacy when it becomes impossible to make sense of the carnage anymore, telling a frightening story of inhuman brutality done by mankind on each other. It’s one of the most realistic descriptions of combat you’ll ever witness, narrated with absolute impartiality and an emotional dryness that’s almost frightening.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
One of the best action films of all time, Ang Lee’s masterwork is still regarded as one of the best. ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ is a captivating display of virtuosity and metaphysical-frippery wrapped in a gripping narrative that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Yu Shu Lien’s sacred sword is stolen from her possession, which she received from the famous Master Li herself. An enraged Lee goes on a journey of romantic and thrilling adventures, complete with unexpected turns. There’s no getting around the reality that the film’s tempo is a little off. However, the way Ang Lee shot the movie, with symbolic and deliberate direction, is a joy to see and enjoy.
Days of Being Wild (1990)
‘Days of Being Wild,’ another title from Wong Kar-filmography, Wai’s is his second feature picture, made before he became one of the most prominent directors of the contemporary age. Here we find a more cautious Kar-Wai, who has yet to adopt his hallmark experimental approaches. Despite this, the film, which follows the life of playboy Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) and his affairs with women, pave the way for classics such as ‘Chunking Express’ and ‘In the Mood for Love.’
Devils on the Doorstep (2000)
A farmer named Ma is visited by an unpleasant man with a gunny sack containing two men – a Japanese army member and a Chinese translator – in a little village along the Great Wall of China’s foothills. The odd man orders Ma to keep the troops inside the gunny sack well-fed for a few days and question them for details on enemy establishments during the peak of the Japanese invasion of China. Ma, who is terrified and timid, agrees, but his and the villagers’ patience is wearing thin as the strange guy does not return for another six months. Ma chooses to conceal the prisoners in one of the Great Wall of China’s watchtowers, but when the locals find out and return one of the Japanese men to the Japanese camp, they are not welcomed enthusiastically because the captives were thought to be dead and are now lauded as war heroes. Because of its political incorrectness, the picture was banned in China.
Eat Man Drink Woman (1994)
‘Eat Man Drink Woman,’ one of Ang Lee’s earliest works, is the “father knows best” recipe that gained a cult following and wonderful reviews. Starting with Mr Chu, a cook who is also the father of three spinster daughters, the eldest of them, Jia-Jen, is a chemistry teacher, the second, Jia-Chien, works for an airline, and the youngest, Jia-Ning, works in a restaurant and is a student. Mr Chu would prepare an elaborate supper for himself and his three daughters as the weekend approached, and the supper table would be the site of their talk about their love lives and the future, much to the daughters’ chagrin. When Mr Chu announces that he is going to marry again one fine day, things take an unexpected turn. ‘Eat Man Drink Woman’ showcases the positive aspects of a dysfunctional family while they eat delectable Chinese cuisine.
Farewell My Concubine (1993)
You haven’t experienced grandeur until you’ve seen Kaige Chen’s ‘Farewell My Concubine.’ Set against the backdrop of Chinese history as the country is torn apart by political turmoil one after another, beginning with the warlord era and ending with the May 4th Cultural Revolution, this film follows the evolving relationship between two actors who have been tied by fate into a lifelong friendship because of their roles in a popular indigenous play that they have been performing since childhood.
‘Fearless,’ a biographical film, is based on the life and times of Huo Yuanjia, a renowned Wushu martial arts genius who, prior to the foundation of the Republic of China, brought tremendous recognition to China with his publicized martial arts tournaments. Huo instilled a strong sense of nationalism among Chinese citizens by defeating Westerners, and his matches against Japanese wrestlers would undoubtedly demolish Japan in the aftermath of the Japanese invasion of China. Jet Li is fantastic in his portrayal as Huo, and ‘Fearless’ is one of his best films to date. In addition, the manner the action sequences were captured is excellent.
Happy Together (1997)
It’s a narrative about two guys who aim to rekindle their already dormant relationship by moving to Argentina, expecting that the new atmosphere will help them re-discover themselves, which helped Wong Kar-Wai win the prize for best director at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. Kar-bold Wai’s experiments with camera allows the audience to have a more visceral feeling of the relationship’s turbulence and abuse.
In this masterful adventure, Jet Li plays the Nameless ‘Hero,’ and be prepared to be awed by plenty of surprises along the way. ‘Hero’ begins with the Kingdom of Qin, the most powerful of the seven Chinese feudal kingdoms, which, as is customary, is beset by assassination and sabotage attempts. The King is particularly concerned about three feared warriors, Broken Sword, Flying Snow, and Sky, who are said to have been dispatched by the remaining six warring kingdoms. In Qin’s reign, Nameless is a provincial official who is said to have defeated all three warriors. The king, surprised and taken aback by the shocking news, invites Nameless to his palace to recount the heroic feat. But not everything appears to be as simple as it appears. ‘Hero’ received positive reviews upon its initial release, with many critics and reviewers hailing it as “spectacular.”
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
‘House of Flying Daggers,’ with a shoestring budget of $12 million USD by today’s standards, went on to gross more than 8 times its budget in box office receipts, thanks to an incredible star cast, mind-blowing production design and editing, and some outstanding direction. The film stars Zhang Ziyi, one of China’s most popular actresses today, and is set in 8th-century China, when several rebel factions vied for power against a corrupt government. The House of Flying Daggers is a faction known for their flying daggers, which can kill humans in the blink of an eye. When the government dispatches two police officials to spy on a dancer named Mei, who has ties to the respected group, one of them falls for Mei and deceives the cops, setting in motion a chain of events that becomes even more complicated. ‘House of Flying Daggers,’ a thrilling adventure with all the characteristics of a successful film, is simply outstanding.
In the Heat of the Sun (1994)
A post-modern take on a heartbreaking tale of growing up, woven with moments of love, friendship, and loss. It chronicles the personal story of a teen growing up in a particular Beijing neighborhood, with him interjecting retrospectively from time to time. The film’s greatness resides in the fact that the narrator is not some demi-godlike entity who keeps track of all the events and individuals in the film, but rather a regular guy who lies and exaggerates to create false perceptions about himself in front of others. Without professing moral superiority, the film embraces human fallibility and faults.
In the Mood for Love (2000)
There is no other picture that is more deserving of being ranked first. The photography, narrative, plot, and background score combine to create a delectable combination that will leave you buzzed for a long time. Wong Kar-Wai is a conjurer who transforms one of cinema’s most clichéd and banal subjects, adultery, into a really timeless work of art. The film’s unconventional usage of music from both the West and China helps it to transcend its geographical specificities and become a work of art with a trans-national spirit. I must mention that it completely reinvented one of the film’s soundtracks, Nat King Cole’s ‘Quizas.’
Infernal Affairs (2002)
Originally a Hong Kong-based film, any list of Chinese cinema would be incomplete without ‘Infernal Affairs.’ Not only is it the film from which Scorcese built the inferior ‘The Departed,’ but ‘Infernal Affairs’ stands alone as one of the best criminal thrillers of the decade. This film will leave you gasping for air as it follows the paths of an undercover cop and a triad member who infiltrates the police department.
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
The film ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ is set in 1940s China, when law and order are in shambles and cities are ruled by crime lords and legendary criminal gangs. Sum is the overlord of the Axe gang, one of the city’s most dreaded gangs. Sing and Bone, two buddies, were born and reared in Pigsty, one of the poorest urban neighborhoods that has yet to be plundered by members of various gangs due to its poverty. As the film unfolds, it becomes clear that many of the slum-dwellers are actually Kung Fu masters, and Sing and Bone must choose sides. The film was hailed for its ideal balance of martial arts depiction and humour, as well as its detailed aesthetics.
Lust, Caution (2007)
If you liked “Brokeback Mountain,” you should see “Lust, Caution,” Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed espionage thriller. It depicts a gang of university students attempting to assassinate a high official of Shanghai’s Japanese-controlled administration, based on events that transpired after the Japanese occupation. Lee’s picture is the second to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
Mountain Patrol (2004)
The video is mostly set in Kekexii, in the Quinghai-Tibet region, and follows poachers of the nearly extinct Tibetan Antelope and rangers who have protected the animals on their own due to a lack of official support. Ritai is the commander of the patrol unit, one of whose members was executed lately. They begin on a mission to trace down the poachers, with one trail leading to another, after being joined by Ga, a journalist. ‘Mountain Patrol’ has a nasty and wild demeanor at times, and it largely imitates Hollywood in terms of violence and gore, yet it manages to keep its Asian flavor.
Not One Less (1999)
‘Not One Less,’ a film about a social issue, focuses on a period in China when there was a scarcity of educated people and the different steps the government had to take to send the booming population to schools. The film emphasizes the government’s concern about a very low number of rural people enrolling their children in schools, rather than the urban population, who has always had an affection for education. The film begins with a young teacher, Wei, who has been assigned as a replacement teacher at a rural school and is tasked with retaining all of the kids within the school, as many students have defected to larger cities in search of work. Although the film features real characters and was shot in a documentary approach, it still has the air of a socially conscious film.
Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
‘Raise the Red Lantern,’ one of the fifth-generation films banned on the mainland, tells the story of a young woman who becomes the concubine of a wealthy warlord during the warlord era. The picture, like ‘Farewell My Concubine,’ has a particular extravagance in its graphics that will take your breath away. Despite the director’s denial, several reviewers believe that the iconography of the warring lords in this picture represents the fragmentation of society in China after the Cultural Revolution.
Red Cliff (2008)
‘Red Cliff,’ yet another John Woo classic, was filmed and released in two parts. The first chapter begins in 208 A.D. with the Han Dynasty. Cao Cao is Emperor Xian of Han’s fickle-minded Prime Minister, who persuades the latter to go war against the western and southern rebel kingdoms, changing the course of history forever. With a million-strong army and an imminent conflict that may be a spectacle, the rebel kingdoms band together against a common foe in the Battle of Red Cliff, which went down in history as one of the most intricate maritime battles in human history. ‘Red Cliff’ has been acclaimed as a timeless classic with enormous action, triumphant fight moments, and edge-of-your-seat intensity — everything you’d expect from a John Woo picture. The research for the centuries-old warfare techniques depicted in the film exemplifies Woo’s pursuit of perfection.
Red Sorghum (1987)
The film follows the life of a lady who works in a sorghum distillery, and is based on the novel ‘Red Sorghum Clan’ by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Mo Yan. What distinguishes this picture from others is its lack of sophistication and stylization, which effectively preserves the essence of peasant life.
Still Life (2013)
‘Still Life’ tells the story of two people seeking for their spouses in a little hamlet on the Yangtze River that is slowly being destroyed due to the Three Gorges Dam’s construction. Because of its acclaim, it was promoted both at home and abroad by Chinese officials after winning the award for best film at the Venice International Film Festival. Jia Zhangke’s flexibility as a director is demonstrated in this picture. After dealing with a wide range of issues in the past, ‘Still Life’ is yet another impressive achievement.
Summer Palace (2006)
Set against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, the film follows Yu Hong (Hao Lei) through high school and university, when she meets her lover Zhou Wei (Guo Xiaodong). As the Tiananmen Square demonstrations unfold, they enjoy a passionate and abusive relationship. The film then follows the characters several years after the end of the Cold War, catching up with them as they become increasingly jaded and disillusioned. The film contains not simply You Hong’s personal story, but also a horrifying tale of state-sanctioned brutality.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
‘The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,’ a rags to riches story that is possibly one of the most well-known Chinese films outside of China, is the story of Yude, who eventually becomes Monk San Te, and it is Yude’s journey to become San Te that is worthwhile. Yude is persuaded by his teacher to fight a rebellion against the government, but the government easily crushes the rebellion and kills many of the rebels, forcing Yude to flee and seek refuge at a Shaolin temple, where he is accepted as a disciple after much persuasion and trains in all 35 chambers of the temple to master the art of Kung Fu. He defeats the evil general and constructs a 36th room for laypeople to learn Kung Fu easily after mustering a great deal of strength and knowledge of the old art form. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is widely considered to be the best Kung Fu movie ever created.
The Blue Kite (1993)
‘The Blue Kite,’ along with ‘Farewell My Concubine,’ is one of the most important films of China’s Fifth Generation. This story, narrated in three episodes from the perspective of a young boy and banned in China because of its political stance against the Communist party, blends the perpetual sense of terror propagated by the presence of the party in all aspects of one’s life with the tragic state of affairs in the boy’s family.
The Killer (1989)
‘The Killer,’ directed by John Woo, tells the story of Ah Jong, a hitman who accidently damages the eye of a club singer Jennie during his final mission. Despite the fact that Jennie’s predicament is his fault, he pursues her and falls in love with her. He accepts yet another job for killing someone in exchange for money in order to get her an eye transplant, but he is double-crossed and does not get paid. The police, the assassin, and the assassin’s bosses engage in bloody, fast-paced encounters as the film proceeds, all leading to the elimination of the terrible mafia lords. ‘The Killer’ was a blockbuster hit, with a high action rating but a below-average screenplay. It’s consistently ranked among the top 50 Asian films of all time.
The Legend of Drunken Master (1996)
The plot continues from ‘Drunken Master (1978),’ but this time Jackie Chan takes the lead. Chan plays Wong Fei-hung, who is originally involved in a dispute with British expats whom he believes are taking his country’s valuable and indigenous ginseng. As the feud intensifies, Fei-hung enjoys engaging in a style of Kung Fu he refers to as Drunken Boxing, in which he considers himself to be a dangerous opponent. While most of the battle sequences are at most amusing, they are lavishly produced and executed, making ‘The Legend of Drunken Master’ one of the most adventurous Kung Fu films ever made. Keep an eye out for Chan, who appears to be more younger and more agile.
To Live (1994)
It depicts the story of Fugui (Ge You), a compulsive gambler who loses his wife and home in a dice game. It is based on Yu Hua’s novel of the same name. The story then follows Fugui’s trials as the country slides into chaos, culminating in the May 4th Revolution. This film, which is also a fifth-generation gem, critically re-examines the country’s past, where party propaganda obscures ground realities that aren’t always in line with the party’s grand-narrative.