If you’ve been in China for quite some time now and still haven’t watched a few Chinese movies, we won’t judge. Sometimes it’s hard to break free of HBO and Netflix habits if subtitles just aren’t your thing. Here our editors have rounded up their top picks (in chronological order) for those looking to expand their international film repertoire.
1. City on Fire (1987) 龙虎风云
Ringo Lam’s 1987 crime thriller, City On Fire, follows the plight of a reluctant undercover cop, played by Chow Yun-fat, through the criminal underbelly of Hong Kong in the 80s. Chow is a sly and quick-thinking heartthrob who manages to infiltrate a gang of thieves, but at a high price. The heist is seemingly going to plan when the cops close in and the crew narrowly escapes to a warehouse, knowing that someone among them is a cop. This film was the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) which expands on the plot of a team of suspicious crooks holed up together after a botched job.
2. Farewell My Concubine (1993) 霸王别姬
This historical drama chronicles the relationships between two Peking opera actors and lifelong friends Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou. Cheng has been trained to play female roles, while Duan takes on male roles. Cheng’s unrequited love for Duan, and Duan’s subsequent marriage to Juxian further complicates the love triangle. This was the first Chinese-language film to win the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.
3. The Wedding Banquet (1993) 喜宴
A Taiwanese-American man is happily settled in New York with his boyfriend and plans on marrying a Chinese woman to keep his parents happy, in turn the bride gets a green card. His parents arrive and haven’t got the slightest clue, what could go wrong?
4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) 卧虎藏龙
A staple on ‘greatest Chinese movies’ lists, this film is filled with beautiful martial arts choreography, a stellar cast (Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi) and an enthralling storyline. In 19th century China, a warrior gives his sword to his lover to deliver to safe keeping. However, the sword is stolen, and the search for it leads to a series of epic events. The movie was nominated 10 times and won four Oscars.
5. Infernal Affairs (2002) 无间道
You may or may not know that the Oscar-winning film The Departed is based on this Hong Kong crime-thriller. A veteran cop is sent undercover to infiltrate the notorious Triad crime ring and, at the same time, the Triad boss has also sent one of his own to infiltrate the police department. Roger Ebert writes, “The movie pays off in a kind of emotional complexity rarely seen in crime movies.”
6. Kung Fu Hustle (2004) 功夫
Stephen Chow directs and stars in this hilarious action-packed, fantasy/martial arts movie set in the 1940s. Sing (Chow) is a petty thief who aspires to be part of the sophisticated and ruthless Axe Gang. He stumbles into a slum ruled by eccentric landlords who turn out to be some of the greatest kung fu masters in disguise. The movie gained a cult following and was nominated for 16 Hong Kong Film Awards, of which it won six.
7. Ip Man (2008) 叶问
Donnie Yen stars as Ip Man, the renowned Grandmaster of Wing Chun living peacefully with his family in Foshan, Guangdong. However, everything changes when the Japanese invade, Ip Man is forced to step forward and teach everyone to protect themselves using the secrets of Wing Chun and become the champion the people desperately need.
8. Detective Chinatown 2 (2018) 唐人街探案 2
If you’re just starting to explore the realm of Chinese movies, this detective duo film is the perfect breezy segue. Yes, we’re skipping to the second installment of the franchise which is set in New York. It follows Qin Feng and his boisterous gold-toothed uncle tracking a serial killer on the loose.
9. Dying to Survive (2018) 我不是药神
A powerful film touching on societal issues, and adapted from a true story, a drug store owner begins to sell cheap generic Indian medicine to Chinese leukemia patients who cannot afford the high price German medicine.
10. Lost in Russia (2020) 囧妈
This is the third installment in the Lost in franchise, with the previous films earning a combined USD463 million. Xu is a middle-aged businessman who ends up trapped on the K3 Beijing to Moscow Trans-Siberian train with his mother. The six-day train ride gives Xu and his mother just enough time to bicker and bond. The movie was released online on January 25, just two days after the city of Wuhan went into lockdown due to COVID-19. As millions of Chinese families were cooped up inside over Spring Festival, this flick helped bring a bit of laughter during those tough times.
[Cover image via Unsplash]