Ten Excellent Movies in Chinese (and Where to Watch Them)


Whether it’s Mandarin or Cantonese, martial arts fantasies, intimate dramas or crazy comedies, Chinese cinema has produced some of the most beloved films of the past 20 years.

Directors like Ang Lee, John Woo, Stephen Chow, and Zhang Yimou have mesmerized audiences with their unique storytelling and visual styles, while actors like Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Jet Li, and Donny Yen have become global stars.

To celebrate Chinese Language Week in New Zealand, Things to watch has put together this list of 10 terrific titles (and where you can watch them) that offer something for everyone.

Kung Fu Hustle, In the Mood For Love and Only Cloud Knows are some of the amazing Chinese movies now available for streaming.

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Kung Fu Hustle, In the Mood For Love and Only Cloud Knows are some of the amazing Chinese movies now available for streaming.

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon made Zhang Ziyi a world star.

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon made Zhang Ziyi a world star.

Hidden Dragon of the Crouching Tiger (Netflix)

The 2000 film that gave the world wuxia and wushu.

Director Ang Lee had previously shown his versatility with figures like Sense and sensitivity and The ice storm, but he grabbed the world’s attention with this miraculous wedding in Mandarin how-they-did-martial arts and intimate love story. Actors Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, and Chow Yun-Fat were just stunning.

Awkafina and Zhao Shuzhen teamed up for The Farewell.

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Awkafina and Zhao Shuzhen teamed up for The Farewell.

Farewell (Netflix)

As the opening card for this 2019 comedy-drama so eloquently puts it, this fabulous family drama is “based on a real lie.” Drawing on her own experiences, writer and director Lulu Wang has crafted a gripping, heartbreaking (and heartwarming) story that will touch viewers of all ages.

At the heart of it all is a formidable performance by Awkwafina, displaying nuance and gravity as she plays a young woman clinging to her past and trying to forge her own path in life.

Illustrious Energy makes fabulous use of the Central Otago landscape, some of which no longer exist.

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Illustrious Energy makes fabulous use of the Central Otago landscape, some of which no longer exist.

Illustrious Energy (NZ Film OnDemand, AroVision, Deluxe At Home, Academy OnDemand)

Yes, I know this 1988 Kiwi movie is entirely in English, but I included it here because it’s a rare story that focuses on the experience of the first Chinese immigrants to our country. Set in the Central Otago gold fields in the 1890s, Leon Narby’s film follows two men who try to earn enough money to return home with honor.

As former New Zealand Film Festival director Bill Gosden noted, it also offers a fascinating glimpse into an area that was later drowned by the creation of the Clyde Dam.

In Mood For Love, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung light up the screen.

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In Mood For Love, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung light up the screen.

In the mood for love (Kanopy)

Considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time, Wong Kar-wai’s romantic drama, set in 1960s Hong Kong, is filled with evocative and haunting imagery that still fascinates 21 years later. to have seduced the public for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival.

Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are the couple who slowly develop feelings for each other after finding out their spouses have been having an affair.

Donnie Yen is Ip Man, the grandmaster of the <a class=Wing Chun style of kung fu and the master of legendary kung fu superstar Bruce Lee.” style=”width:100%;display:inline-block”/>

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Donnie Yen is Ip Man, the grandmaster of the Wing Chun style of kung fu and the master of legendary kung fu superstar Bruce Lee.

Ip Man (Netflix)

Rogue One and Mulan star Donnie Yen plays the legendary martial artist (his sidekicks included a Bruce Lee) in this first of many dramatizations of his life and exploits. The events of this 2008 edition focus on his 1930s debut in Foshan and his encounters with invading Japanese soldiers.

“An explosive exercise in bare-knuckled myth-biography,” wrote Tilt from Joseph Jon Lanthier magazine.

Kung Fu Hustle has become a hit the world over.

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Kung Fu Hustle has become a hit the world over.

Kung Fu Hustle (Netflix)

The 2004 global success that introduced the delights of 1970s Hong Kong action cinema to a whole new audience.

Stephen Chow directed, produced, co-wrote and starred in this 1940s Shanghai comedy about a young man who intends to join a notorious gang. However, he does more than meet his equal when he tries to terrorize a seemingly ordinary neighborhood.

Tony Leung and Tang Wei star in Lust, Caution.

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Tony Leung and Tang Wei star in Lust, Caution.

Lust, Caution (iTunes)

Winner of the Golden Lion at the 2007 Venice Film Festival, Ang Lee’s erotic WWII spy thriller set in Shanghai was based on a 1979 short story by Eileen Chang. It is the story of a group of students who try to bring down a powerful political figure (Tony Leung) using the special skills of a young woman (Tang Wei).

“A film as visually stylish as it is psychologically demanding…. I wish it was twice as long, “wrote The telegraph Sukhdev Sandhu.

The South Island of New Zealand turns out to be a beautiful backdrop for the gripping drama of Only Cloud Knows.

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The South Island of New Zealand turns out to be a beautiful backdrop for the gripping drama of Only Cloud Knows.

Only Cloud knows (iTunes, GooglePlay, YouTube)

Inspired by a real-life couple, director Feng Xiaogang and screenwriter Zhang Ling’s bittersweet love story in 2019 may be too sentimental for some, but it certainly has an emotional impact.

Part of her power comes from her fractured narrative, which leaves their cute encounter until the final act. The real draw to Kiwi viewers, however, is its central Otago setting, with Clyde and its scenic surroundings in particular proving to be a stunning backdrop for this engaging drama to play out.

Tony Leung directs an impressive cast in the epic Red Cliff.

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Tony Leung directs an impressive cast in the epic Red Cliff.

Red Cliff (iTunes, GooglePlay)

After a few experiences of punishment in Hollywood, beloved Chinese director John Woo returned to his homeland to direct one of the most expensive Chinese-language films ever made. Set in 208 AD, this 2008 epic is based on a legendary battle in which a force of 50,000 defeated an army of nearly a million.

“The visual symphony of a legendary filmmaker,” wrote The Wall Street Journal Joe Morgenstern.

Ken Takakura, right, and Zhenbo Yang, have joined forces for Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.

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Ken Takakura, right, and Zhenbo Yang, have joined forces for Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.

Ride Thousands of Miles Alone (iTunes)

He might have made more flashy and crowd-pleasing stories like hero and House of the Flying Daggers, but there’s just something really compelling and compelling about Zhang Yimou’s 2005 road movie that centers on a father trying to reconnect with his son.

A gritty and very human drama, shot in an almost documentary style, the vast austere and gray landscapes of the province of Yunnan perfectly evoke the isolation felt by the Japanese fisherman Takada (Ken Takakura), as he attempts to film a performance of China’s most famous masked opera.


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