12 Best Chinese Movies Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

, 2019

In The Sun, a family of four is dealt with tragedy after tragedy, beginning with the younger sun A-ho's sudden incarceration. The mother is sympathetic but the father all but shuns him as he chooses to throw all his affection to A-hao, the older brother, and his med school pursuits instead. Themes of crime, punishment, family, and redemption are then explored in gorgeous frames and mesmerizing colors with director Chung Mong-hong doubling as the film's cinematographer. 

Despite itself, The Sun never falls into cliche melodrama territory. Its heavy themes are undercut by naturalistic acting and poetic shots, resulting in a deeply emotional but balanced film. Rich in meaning and beauty, The Sun will surely stay with you long after your first watch.

 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Family

Actor: Apple Wu, Chang Han, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen, Chen-Ling Wen, Chien-Ho Wu, Chih-ju Lin, Greg Hsu, Guan-Ting Liu, Han Chang, Huang Hsin-Yao, Ivy Yin, Ko Shu-Chin, Kuan-Ting Liu, Li-Tung Chang, Liao Hui-Jen, Lin Chih-ju, Liu Kuan-ting, Lung Shao-Hua, Ming-Shuai Shih, Samantha Ko, Samantha Shu-Chin Ko, Shao-Huai Chang, Shu-Chin Ko, Shu-qin Ke, Siu Wa Lung, Wang Ko-Yuan, Wen Chen-ling, Wu Chien-ho, Wu Tai-ling, Yi-Wen Chen, Yin Shin

Director: Chung Mong-hong, Mong-Hong Chung

Rating: N/A

, 2018

Director Zhang Yimou, who already has remarkable wuxia films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers under his belt, delivers another exceptional epic. Set during China's Three Kingdoms era (220–280 AD), Shadow revolves around a great king and his people, who are expelled from their homeland but will aspire to reclaim it. The story requires a fair amount of patience at first, as it slowly builds a world consisting of various characters with different motives, before the real action begins. The journey through Shadow is visually pleasing thanks to its stunning cinematography, impressively choreographed combat, and overall brilliant production design. Packed with sequences that will take your breath away, it is an inventive martial arts epic with one amazing scene after another.

Genre: Action, Drama

Actor: Chao Deng, Deng Chao, Feng Bai, Guan Xiaotong, Hu Jun, Leo Wu, Li Sun, Qianyuan Wang, Ryan Cheng, Ryan Zheng, Ryan Zheng Kai, Sun Li, Wang Jingchun, Wang Qian-Yuan, Wang Qianyuan, Zhang Yimou

Director: Yimou Zhang, Zhang Yimou

Rating: Not Rated

Teenagers forced to grow up quickly and spend their prime years wiling away at garment factories sounds like a grim reality, and it is, but in Youth (Spring), Chinese documentarist Wang Bing captures more than just the inherent tragedy of young labor. Here, they build friendships, find love, discover an affinity for their craft, stand up for themselves against exploitative bosses, and look for ways to have fun. Even if it’s just as simple as eating street food, spending the night at an internet cafe, or finding nice clothes, we’re with them in every way. Though it’s never explicitly political, the documentary makes you think about the conditions that put the kids there in the first place, such as our insatiable need for cheap and trendy clothes, governments turning a blind eye to child labor, and a skewed system that favors these above people’s—especially young people’s—well-being and welfare.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Wang Bing

Us and Them follows two former lovers who reminisce and reassess their decade-long relationship over one night. They both seem to be in better places, certainly financially if anything else, but their shared wistfulness for the past threatens to prove otherwise. 

The film was an immediate hit when it was first released in China, and it’s easy to see why. With just the right balance of realism, romance, and comedy, the movie makes for a simple but deeply moving and involving watch. You can’t help but root for the exes to get back together, even though you know as well as they do how minimal the chances of that happening are.

Genre: Drama, Reality, Romance

Actor: Andrew Tiernan, Boran Jing, Dongyu Zhou, Jack Roth, Jing Boran, Liu Di, Qu Zhe Ming, Qu Zheming, Rene Liu, Shi Yufei, Sophie Colquhoun, Su Xiaoming, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Tim Bentinck, Zhang Zixian, Zheming Qu, Zhou Dongyu, Zhuangzhuang Tian

Director: Rene Liu

Rating: Not Rated

Slow and almost silent, Edward Yang’s second feature film pins us down in a fast-moving city. In 1980s Taipei, Chin and Lung are childhood sweethearts who try to build a life together, but differences between their wants threaten to pull them apart. Chin bravely adapts to the changes she faces—moving house, shifting jobs, etc.—while Lung misses his promising baseball career and prioritizes familial debt. Through their relationship, the film captures the anxieties of a generation pulled between new Western consumerism and old Asian familial obligations. Watching the two lovers feels like being lost in a cold urban city, unable to move and not knowing where to go.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Chen Shu-fang, Chin Tsai, Cynthia Khan, Grace Chen Shu-Fang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Ko I-chen, Ko Su-yun, Lin Hsiu-ling, Mei Fang, Peng Sun, Tsai Chin, Wu Nien-Jen, Yang Li-yin, 吴念真

Director: Edward Yang

Rating: Not Rated

Eat Drink Man Woman takes place in Taipei, Taiwan in the mid-1990s. It tells the story of an aging father and his three daughters, all of whom are navigating different phases of adulthood while embracing new relationships. The family uses cooking and eating together as a way to communicate their love.

Food as a love language wasn’t a new concept in 1994, when the film was released, however it is impeccably explored in Eat Drink Man Woman. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Chen Chao-jung, Chi-Der Hong, Chin-Cheng Lu, Gin-Ming Hsu, Gua Ah-leh, Huel-Yi Lin, Jui Wang, Kuei-Mei Yang, Lester Chan, Lester Chit-Man Chan, Lung Hsiung, Lung Sihung, Shih-Jay Lin, Sihung Lung, Sylvia Chang, Wang Yu-wen, Winston Chao, Wu Chien-Lien, Ya-lei Kuei, Yang Kuei-Mei, Yu Chen, Yu-Wen Wang, 张艾嘉

Director: Ang Lee

Rating: Not Rated

Your Name Engraved Herein is a melancholy and emotional film set in 1987 just as martial law ends in Taiwan. The film explores the relationship between Jia-han and Birdy, two boys in a Catholic school who are in a romantic relationship. The movie tackles homophobia and social stigma in society which evokes a bleak and rather depressing atmosphere, emphasised by the movie's earthy aesthetic. There is a rawness in the film’s narrative and dialogue, topped off by the lead actors’ successfully raw performances. Your Name Engraved Herein is tender as well as heartbreaking, occasionally depicting the joy of youth.

Genre: Drama, Family, History, Romance

Actor: Barry Qu, Cheng-Yang Wu, Chih-ju Lin, David Chiu, Edward Chen, Erek Lin, Fabio Grangeon, Honduras, Hui-Min Lin, Jason Wang, Jean-François Blanchard, Jing-Hua Tseng, Leon Dai, Lin Chih-ju, Lotus Wang, Lung Shao-Hua, Ma Nien-Hsien, Mimi Shao, Qu Youning, Siu Wa Lung, Soda Voyu, Stone Yang, Tseng Ching-hua, Waa Wei, Wang Shih Sian, Yi-Ruei Chen

Director: Kuang-Hui Liu, Liu Kuang-hui

Rating: N/A

A man returns to a town chasing the memory of a woman he loved years ago.

Poet turned filmmaker Bi Gan coats his idiosyncratic filmmaking with a thick layer of neo-noir in this sumptuous follow up to his remarkable debut Kaili Blues. This time around, Kaili City is a neon-drenched dreamscape dripping in style and calling to mind the work of Tarkovsky and Wong Kar-wai. 

He may wear his influences on his sleeve, but Bi Gan keeps his trademark moves like the bravado long takes and a poetic disregard for past and present, reality and dreams. This leads to an explosive and unforgettable sequence in the second half that while originally intended for 3D loses little of its mind-bending power when watched at home.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Bi Gan, Bi Yanmin, Chen Yongzhong, Chloe Maayan, Duan Chun-hao, Feiyang Luo, Hong-Chi Lee, Huang Jue, Jue Huang, Lee Hong-chi, Ming Dao, Qi Xi, Sylvia Chang, Tang Wei, Tuan Chun-hao, Zeng Meihuizi, 张艾嘉

Director: Bi Gan

Rating: Not Rated

This sensitive and elegantly crafted melodrama recognizes that a death in the family doesn't have to lead to the same expressions of mourning we expect from movies; there might not be any real sadness at all. But when different family members come together again and bring their own personal conflicts with them, suddenly everyone else's little griefs fill the space, and the road to recovery becomes even messier. Little Big Women understands all this with an understated touch and brilliant, naturalistic performances from its cast. It makes for a loving tribute to the generations of tough and complicated women who often hold a family together.

Genre: Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: Buffy Chen, Chang Han, Chen Shu-fang, Chen Yan-Fei, Chia-Kuei Chen, Ding Ning, Grace Chen Shu-Fang, Han Chang, Honduras, Hsieh Ying Shiuan, Hsieh Ying-xuan, Janine Chang, Lung Shao-Hua, Sara Yu, Siu Wa Lung, Sun Ke-Fang, Vivian Hsu, Weber Yang

Director: Joseph Chen-Chieh Hsu, Joseph Hsu

Rating: N/A

Dear Ex is a family drama that explores LGBT+ issues in contemporary Taiwan. As much as it is a movie about how people cope with loss, it’s a powerful, heartwarming, and intimate portrait of the relationship between Jay and Song Zhengyuan and all the obstacles they face.

While the themes of Dear Ex are heavy, the director makes the viewing experience easier for the audience thanks to humorous and witty dialogue. Meanwhile, the history between Jay and Song Zhengyuan’s relationship unfolds in a very beautiful, almost poetic way, and by the end of the movie, we understand that everyone gets their own kind of forgiveness. The way the characters effortlessly show that love is something beyond genders is admirable, and it is great to see how everyone gets their own kind of forgiveness whether it's from themselves or from others by the end of the movie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ai-Lun Kao, Clover Kao, Danny Liang, Fang Wan, Hsieh Ying Shiuan, Hsieh Ying-xuan, Hsin-Ling Chung, Hsu Chih-yen, Joseph Huang, Mag Hsu, Ping-Ya Tai, Roy Chiu, Spark Chen, Ting-Chien Wu, Wanfang, Yang Li-yin, Ying-Xuan Hsieh

Director: Chih-Yen Hsu, Hsu Chih-yen, Mag Hsu

Rating: TV-MA

It's slower and stranger than most comedies you may be used to, but there's still lots of heart to be found in the way Classmates Minus follows the lapsed hopes and wishes of its core characters. Beneath all its stereotypically male yearnings for control and romantic wish fulfillment, there are potent ideas here about how a tired economy and jaded political culture can turn those in their middle age into completely different people. Writer/director Huang Hsin-yao provides narration for his own film, but rather than being distracting or conceited, his words add a level of needed sympathy to everything we see on screen.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ada Pan, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen, Cheng Jen-shuo, Cres Chuang, Evelyn Yu-Tong Cheng, Evelyn Zheng Yu-tong, Hung Shiao-ling, Jacqueline Zhu, Jacqueline Zhu Zhi-Ying, Jennifer Hong, Joanne Yang, Kuan-Ting Liu, Lan Wei-Hua, Liu Kuan-ting, Lotus Wang, Ming-Shuai Shih, Na-Do, Nadow Lin, Rexen Cheng Jen-Shuo, Shih Ming-shuai, Taka Katou, Tong Chih-Wei, Yi-Wen Chen

Director: Huang Hsin-Yao

With a forest home destroyed, leaving an adorable cat spirit child displaced, The Legend of Hei seemed like a Studio Ghibli-esque tale, at least in themes, child protagonist, and fantasy flying. There’s charming moments where Hei appreciates the day-to-day– moments where he diligently learns his powers, enjoys the simple human pleasures present in the modern world, and of course, feels at home in the stunning natural spirit places. However, it’s not quite Ghibli as there are plenty of wuxia-inspired fight scenes, with as many flying kicks involved. That being said, there is a pro-peace message here, that at face value, is probably a good message for children, but this film’s peace comes without clear details about Hei’s displacement, or the general condition of the spirit world at large. The Legend of Hei’s charming animation is lovely, but this push for peace could have been more meaningful if it also considered justice.

Genre: Action, Animation, Fantasy

Actor: Ding Dang, Hao Xianghai, Li Lu, Liu Mingyue, Shan Xin, Sheng Feng, Wang Youji, Yang Ning, Yeqiao Yan, Yuntu Cao

Director: MTJJ, Mtjj Mutou

Rating: PG