The 100 best Mainland Chinese films: contributors

Actors, directors, film critics and insiders vote for the best films

View the best Chinese Mainland films as selected by cinema experts.

As part of our 100 best Chinese Mainland films of all time, Time Out polled 88 film experts including actors, directors, producers, critics, academics and film insiders for their top ten best Chinese Mainland films of all time.

View the full lists of each of the experts, including Beijing Bicycle director Wang Xiaoshuai, actress Huang Lu, Walt Disney China's Mia Zhang, The Hollywood Reporter's Asia Bureau Chief Clifford Coonan and more for their favourite films and reasons why below.

Film executives, cinematographers, casting directors, film curators share their lists of ten best Chinese Mainland films of all time, including Wu Bing, President of DMG, Robin Baker, senior curator at BFI, former Hollywood ambassador to China Janet Yang, screenwriter and novelist Rao Hui. Read all their lists below:

Edoardo Gagliadi 


Writer, curator, archivist; PhD in Chinese Cinema, University of Rome

1. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1984

This is probably the most revered modern Chinese movie, which at the same time has a enigmatic narrative that is still fascinating and seducing to the eye. It is the pinnacle of the so-called 'Fifth generation directors' as following its release Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou became the most well-known Chinese directors, both have rarely since engaged in such a striking cinematic form.

2. Spring in A Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

3. Street Angels Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937

4. Horse Thief Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986

5. Devils On The Doorsteps Dir Jiang Wen, 2000

6. Red Sorghum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987

7. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000

8. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin,1986

9. The Days Dir Wang Xiaoshuai, 1993

10. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006

Wu Bing


President, DMG, Chinese co-producers of Looper and Iron Man 3

1. Raise the Red Lantern Dir Zhang Yimou, 1991

A classic of Chinese cinema and for me, it’s Zhang Yimou’s best movie; it combines form and content perfectly. The whole film integrates the audience into the story naturally through the incredible locations, sets, camera work, music and sound to create a real sense of oppression and beauty in daily life that still resonates deeply with the audience. For many foreigners, it’s the first Chinese movie they see, maybe the only one. For that alone it has done much to expand the international appetite for Chinese films.  

The Dream Factory Dir Feng Xiaogang, 1997

Feng’s smart sense of humor is really on display here. Groundbreaking in ushering a new kind of movie for audiences to enjoy during the long holiday periods, Feng also uses witty dialogue and clever situations not the usual pratfalls and double entendre to produce laughs.

3. Crazy Stone Dir Ning Hao, 2006

I love the crazy mix of dialects and how Ning uses them for big laughs. As a producer, I respect the fact that it was a small budget film that really wowed at the box office, mainly driven by excellent word of mouth and positive critic reviews. It proved that Chinese films can be funny and contemporary and make money.

4. Kekexili: Mountain Patrol Dir Lu Chuan, 2004

A beautiful visual treat and very reminiscent of the classic American Westerns in the way the landscape becomes an actual character. Strong acting and directing back up the amazing cinematography of Cao Yu. 

5. The World Dir Jia Zhangke, 2005

Many people will pick Jia’s Still Life, but I actually prefer his first major work The World. Jia exposed a different side of modern Chinese life to audiences abroad and gave audiences at home a touching, tragic real-life drama.  

6. Farewell My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993

7. My Father and Mother Dir Zhang Yimou, 1999

8. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994

9. Love is Not Blind Dir Teng Huatao, 2011

10. The Piano in a Factory Dir Zhang Meng, 2011

Briony Hanson 


Head of film department, British Council 

The impulse to populate my list entirely with Zhang Yimou films has been hard to supress in the interest of variety – but my top honours have to go with Ju Dou, not least because it was the film that first introduced me both to his unique, full-colour vision as well as to the extraordinary screen presence of the inimitable Gong Li. It hooked me from the get go – and set me up for several decades of seeking out Chinese film in search of yet more sumptuous, emotionally draining (melo)drama – the stuff of my movie dreams. 

1. Ju Dou Dir Zhang Yimou, 1990 

2. Farewell My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

3. House Of Flying Daggers Dir Zhang Yimou, 2004 

4. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress Dir Dai Sijie, 2002 

5. Beijing Bicycle Dir Wang Xiaoshuai, 2001 

6. East Palace West Palace Dir Zhang Yuan, 1996 

7. One Half of August Dir Yang Fudong, 2011 

8. Spring In A Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

9. Raise The Red Lantern Dir Zhang Yimou, 1991 

10. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006 

Robin Baker 


Senior curator, BFI National Archive; currently putting together a season of Chinese cinema, which will come to China in 2014

Few films made anywhere in the world had the same impact on me as Zhang Yimou’s Red SorghumJu Dou and Raise the Red Lantern. From the restrained melodrama to the sumptuous cinematography, these films are pure cinema. If forced to pick just one it would be Raise the Red Lantern. The film’s bleak, cruel, claustrophobia is unforgettable and at its heart Gong Li gives one of cinema’s most devastating - but understated -performances. It’s a masterclass in screen acting.

I have no idea when I first saw Tadpoles Search for Their Mother, though I assume that it must have been part of some enlightened TV initiative for children in the early 1970s. This short animation lodged in my memory more resonantly than most feature films. Its animated style and technique could not be more Chinese; its story (the anguish of ‘children’ who have lost their mother) could not be more universal.

I was lucky enough to hear Xie Fei discuss Black Snow after a screening at Beijing’s fantastic BC MOMA Cinematheque in 2010. The film was a revelation, but most of all watching it with such a lively, provocative and engaged audience made it a thrilling experience.  

1. Raise the Red Lantern Dir Zhang Yimou, 1991

2. Tadpoles Search for their Mother Dir Wei Te, 1960

3. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934

4. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

5. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006

6. Two Stage Sisters Dir Xie Jin, 1964

7. The Spring River Flows East Dirs Cai Chusheng, Zheng Junli, 1947

8. Black Snow Dir Xie Fei, 1990

9. Farewell My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993

10. Aftershock Dir Feng Xiaogang, 2010

Maya Rudolph

 Post-production supervisor and writer, dGenerate Films

1. Unknown Pleasures Dir Jia Zhangke, 2002

Unknown Pleasures reveals a broadly evocative portrait of Chinese youth culture and post-70s'-and-80s' attitudes without sacrificing a heartbreakingly intimate acquaintance with its three primary characters. I think Unknown Pleasures is the greatest example of Jia Zhangke’s incredible ability to make films in which the filmmaking style serves as an extension of the time and space of the story—bringing the characters and their world into an unnerving proximity to our own lives.

2. Disorder Dir Huang Weikai, 2009

Huang Weikai’s fractured symphony of recent Guangzhou contains some of the most dazzling, grotesque, and mesmerizing images I’ve ever seen on film.  A masterpiece of fragmentary storytelling in which narrative is surrendered to evocation, detail, and chaos.

3. Winter Vacation Dir Li Hongqi, 2010

Li Hongqi’s Winter Vacation captures a bone-dry sense of humor that demands fortitude and patience from the characters and audience alike. It’s not quite black humor, just a dull gray that captures the absurd drone of life during Spring Festival in an anonymous Inner Mongolian city.

4. Crossroads Dir Shen Xiling, 1937

Equal parts charming and compelling as a historical capstone, this marks an early exploration of youthful frustrations in Chinese urban society and the city as a cinematic landscape.

5. Suzhou River Dir Lou Ye, 2000

My favorite of Lou Ye’s films. A terrific romantic-dramatic landscape, great exploratory urban filmmaking, and my favorite of Zhou Xun’s performances.  

6. When The Bough Breaks Dir Ji Dan, 2012

A staggeringly intimate and masterful documentary story of a migrant family living in the outskirts of a Beijing landfill struggling to send their youngest son to school. The family drama plays out on an epic theatrical scale—the bitterness of the family’s clashes and the strength of the children’s determination is overwhelming to witness.

7. Devils On The Doorstep Dir Jiang Wen, 2000

So funny, so incisive: the black and white film that deals with the lightness and heaviness of history. Nothing is ever as simple or as complex as it seems in Jiang Wen’s world and the characters are all so vivid and memorable.

8. New Women Dir Cai Chusheng, 1935

A fascinating film not only about “modern girls” in 1930s Shanghai, but also an incredible example of how women’s roles and attitudes in pre-war Shanghai were considered so significantly by the early Chinese film industry. Features Ruan Lingyu in her penultimate performance and provides a really lively portrait of women in a highly mobile, quickly-urbanizing society.

9. The Other Half Dir Ying Liang, 2006

In some ways, can almost be seen as a contemporary companion to Cai Chusheng’s 1935 “New Women.” Ying Liang is an incredibly thoughtful filmmaker whose approach to telling the stories of women in second/third tier Chinese cities delves into women’s roles and disadvantages—not only in domestic settings—but in relation to urban mobility, economics, environmental issues, and the law.

10. Knitting Dir Yin Lichuan, 2008

A poetic and clever tale of two women and their mutual interest in a hapless loser. Well-performed and nicely shaped with great emphasis on domestic spaces, a revealing portrait of two different women and how power is transferred and lost between them.

Vicky Mohieddeen 


Artistic director, Electric Shadows cinema events; director Asian Cinema Week 2013

In writing this list I realise the films which made the most impact on me are ones I saw on a big screen. I love the immersive nature of cinema, for film to be an experience, to be enveloped or suffocated or enriched or enlightened not just by story and heart and truth and those other important things, but by the visceral sensation of light and noise, of sound and music. 

An exception is the documentary Mama Rainbow which certainly lacks a playfulness in form but is an important milestone in Chinese (and Queer) cinema - a documentary about LGBT rights in China which isn't morose, or depressing but rather joyful and uplifting, and made by the fearless and tireless filmmaker and activist Fan Popo. Short film The Child is everything I love about independent Chinese cinema, and everything I hope for it's future - it's a beautiful, ambiguous, reality-tinged mystical slice of cinema.

1. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006

2. The Horse Thief Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986

3. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934

4. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985

5. The Child Dir Wu Qian, 2012

6. Mama Rainbow Dir Fan Popo, 2012

7. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

8. The Search Dir Pema Tseden, 2009

9. Goldfish Dir Zheng Zhong, 2006

10. Yumen Dir J.P. Sniadecki, Huang Xiang, Xu Ruotao, 2013

Christopher Bremble


CEO, Beijing visual FX company Base FX; work includes Flowers of War, Sacrifice, The Last Supper

1. Kekexili: Mountain Patrol Dir Lu Chuan, 2004 

2. Ju Dou Dir Zhang Yimou, 1990 

3. 24 City Dir Zhang Jiake, 2008 

4. Hero Dir Zhang Yimou, 2002 

5. The Banquet Dir Feng Xiaogang, 2006 

6. Shower Dir Zhang Yang, 1999 

7. The Devil's Doorstep Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

8. Farewell My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993  

9. The Missing Gun Dir Lu Chuan, 2002  

10. Lost in Beijing Dir Li Yu, 2007

Qin Wei 

GC Supervisor, Beijing visual FX company Base FX; work includes Flowers of War, Journey of Hope, Finding Mr Right, Sacrifice, The Last Supper

1. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006

Still Life is directed by Jia Zhangke and won the Gold Lion award at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival. The story focuses on ordinary people's lives in times of profound social changes. It's amazing how director Jia captured every-day moments as well as the private psychology of people from the lower class. In this film, we see the tolerance, the nostalgia and more violent passions underneath the seemingly calm surface, which can be really touching at times.

2. Farewell My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993

3. Red Sorghum Dir Zhang Yimou 1987

4. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

5. Kekexili: Mountain Patrol Dir Lu Chuan, 2004

6. The Eternal Wave Dir Chi Lei 2010

7. The Dream Factory Dir Feng Xiaogang, 1997

8. Love for Life Dir Gu Changwei 2011

9. Five Golden Flowers Dir Wang Jiayi, 1959

10. Getting Home Dir Yang Zhang, 2007

Xie Meng 

Curator and programmer, UCCA Art Cinema 

I first came up a list with films like Spring in a Small Town (Dir Fei Mu), Platform (Dir Jia Zhangke), In the Heat of the Sun (Dir Jiang Wen). These films are the ones can bring me back to the cinema, enjoying the experience of big screen again and again. However, before the deadline, I realized the purpose of this chart is to discover or rediscover, not to reward. I hope my new list can lead you to a Chinese film wonderland.

1. Mr Zhao Dir Lu Yue, 1998

2. Suzhou River Dir Lou Ye, 2000

3. Oxhide Dir Liu Jiayin, 2005

4. West of The Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003

5. In Expectation Dir Zhang Ming, 1996

6. Black Snow Dir Xie Fei, 1990

7. On the Beat Dir Ning Ying, 1995

8. South of the Clouds Dir Zhu Wen, 2003

9. The Legend of Sealed Book Dir Wang Shuchen, Qian Yunda, 1983

10. Jalainur Dir Zhao Ye, 2008

Michael Campi 


Programme Consultant, Melbourne International Film Festival, Jury Member Hong Kong International Film Festival 2010

After watching a lot of Chinese films over the last forty years, I chose ten that I felt best represented certain periods of important development in Chinese film history. It would be easily possible to make up a ten best list of films from the 1930s alone with the richness of Shanghai film productions at that time. As in Japan, sound films were not made regularly in China till the middle of the 1930s and silent cinema reached a final flowering in the first half of that decade. Several other films directed by Sun Yu jostle with Little Toys for pride of place but I chose this one because it seems the most perfect, original and urgent of the collaborations between Sun Yu and Li Li-li while being enriched as well by the presence of legendary and tragic Ruan Lingyu. While the versatile Yuan Muzhi appeared in Ying Yunwei's Unchanged Heart in Life and Death, it is Yuan's own direction of Street Angel that makes the latter film stand out. Short lists are difficult in this 1930s period because it was a very exciting time for Chinese cinema.

Fei Mu's Spring in A Small Town features in so many 'best' lists of Chinese films of any period because of it's total perfection in distilling a sombre and plaintive postwar mood in the later 1940s. Every shot expresses so much about the inner feelings of only five main characters and every camera movement flows effortlessly. Something of its legacy can be seen in such films as Kinoshita Keisuke's An Engagement Ring made shortly afterwards in Japan.

Jumping ahead to the Fifth Generation period, Chen Kaige's King of The Children with its touching narrative and splendid images and resonant soundtrack has remained my favourite of this director's early ground-breaking films. The remaining titles from more recent years seem to me the most striking artistic achievements of the last two decades. It highlights again the rich diversity of Chinese cinema recently that choosing just ten titles lead to the exclusion of some other major works.

Fei Mu's Spring in A Small Town is not only one of the ten best Chinese films but also in the minds and hearts of several international film writers one of the best ten films from anywhere in the last hundred years of cinema. Produced in the immediate post-World War II period and then out of sight for three decades, the film is a masterly chamber piece involving only five protagonists within the crumbling ruins of the compound in which the formerly rich Dai family are living. Its influence has extended to possibly Kinoshita Keisuke's An Engagement Ring (1950) and Tian Zhuangzhuang's remake of Fei Mu's original in 2002.

1. Little Toys Dir Sun Yu, 1933   

2. Postman Dir He Jianjun, 1995

3. Street Angel Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937

4. Spring in A Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

5. King of The Children Dir Chen Kaige, 1988

6. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zuangzhuang, 1993

7. West of The Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003

8. Taking Father Home Dir Ying Liang, 2006

9. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000

10. Devils on the Doorstep Dir Jiang Wen, 2000

Zhang Xiaobei 


Film critic; screenwriter, Lee's Adventure and An Inaccurate Memoir

1. Farewell My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1994

Farewell My Concubine came out during an era that was great for movies, when films that were being made were just right for the times. These people thought that everything was just beginning. They didn’t realise that it was actually the end.

2. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

3. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994

4. The Swordsman in Double Flag Town Dir He Ping, 1991

5. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986

6. Bumming In Beijing Dir Wu Wenguang, 1990

7. Devils on the Doorstep Dir Jiang Wen, 2000

8. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994

9. The Grandmaster Dir Wong Kar-wai, 2013

10. Life on the Road Dir Wu Wenguang, 1999

Dong Bingfeng


Artistic director, Beijing Independent Film Festival

1. The Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997

2. West of The Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003

3. Spring Fever Dir Lou Ye, 2009

4. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

5. The Days Dir Wang Xiaoshuai, 1993

6. King of the Children Dir Cheng Kaige, 1987

7. Red Sorghum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987

8. Princess Iron Fan Dirs Wan Guchan & Wan Laiming, 1941

Big Road Dir Sun Yu, 1942

10. The Threshold of Spring Dir Xie Tieli, 1968

Rao Hui 

Screenwriter and novelist; Professor, Central Academy of Drama

* Selections are chronological.

It’s really difficult to just pick ten movies out of the entire 100-year history of Chinese film. From the beginning until now, the nature of Chinese cinema has transformed and is inseparable from the dramatic political changes of the country.

The films and cinematic demands of different eras and different periods in history are never the same. For someone who has studied Chinese film, it’s really hard to establish an effective standard by which to rank movies from different time periods in history. Therefore, the best I could do was to compile a list of ten movies according to my personal recollections, memorable bits and pieces, flashes, and moments I experienced watching the films, and then order them by date.

1. The Big Road Dir Sun Yu, 1934

The passionate 'Big Road Song'. The bright smile, sunlight penetrating the body; all simple, yet powerful footnotes in the hearts and minds of people in the midst of war.

2. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

A pair of embroidered shoes, a frightened woman standing on the ruins of war.

3. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986

History favors no one. The only consolation comes from the encounters in the midst of calamity; silent, yet fiery, filling the depths of the stone alley.

4. Black Snow Dir Xie Fei 1990

A street vendor with an array of items laid out on the ground repeatedly tries to sell a pair of underwear as a toy. Boring times precipitate deep frustrations, yet the situation remains calm and steady.

5. Good Morning Beijing Dir Zhang Nuanxin, 1990

During Beijing’s gray dawn, a bus travels across the city carrying three young people who don’t know where they’re going.

6. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993

Young people are confronted by the ruthless purge of history. It isn’t just the blue kite in the bare fork in the tree that is crushed.

7. The Days Dir Wang Xiaoshuai, 1993

Winter comes to an end, spring fast approaches, yet still bleak and inexperienced, a pair of lovers are stuck, hopelessly waiting with no way out.

8. On the Beat Dir Ning Ying, 1995

An absurd chase on ice, a group of policemen kill a dog, the sanctity of the system is destroyed without batting an eyelid.

9. In Expectation Dir Zhang Ming, 1996

The small town along the Yangtze that is about to disappear, the humid and heavy air wraps around unspeakable desire, everything has already happened, but it seems as if nothing has happened.

10. Spring Fever Dir Lou Ye, 2009

Tangled feelings and drifting emotions in a sleepless night, singing in a low voice at a gaudy karaoke hall.

Kate Reidy 

Artistic director, Black Movie Geneva Independent Film Festival

1. People Mountain, People Sea Dir Shangjun Cai, 2011

A perfect equilibrium between a thriller, a contemplative movie and a social fresco, with the brilliant and mute Jianbin Chen in the lead role.

2. The Pickpocket Dir Zhangke Jia, 1997

In a 'caméra au point' style looking very spontaneous, Zhangke Jia reinvented cinema and allowed a whole generation of Chinese and international film makers to find their way and to leave the ready made pattern. This film is free.

3. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003

Tremendous nine-hour long film, looking into the slow decline of an industrial district shot over several years. A mesmerising trip which can never be forgotten. A masterpiece.

4. Xiao Lin Xiao Li Dir Zhang Miaoyan, 2007

The painter Zhang Miaoyan depicts the sexual frustration of a young worker and the downfall of a young woman, in the Chinese lumpen proletariat. Mastering framing and light Zhang Miaoyan manages to capture in this underground and crude movie, the soul of his non professional actors.

5. Blind Shaft Dir Yang Li, 2003

Based on the short novel Shen Mu by Qingbang, Blind Shaft tells the story of a brutal pair operating in the illegal coal mines in present day northern China. Pretending they are members of the family of isolated workers, they murder them in order to touch a compensation in exchange for their silence. Brilliant and banned.

6. Petition Dir Zhao Liang, 2009

One of the most important documentaries made in the underground documentary wave of Mainland China. This film courageously captures the everyday life of petitioners, who find themselves in a terrifying waiting zone for years on end, having left family and friends behind to go to Beijing to plead against a collective or personal injustice. A nightmarish modern tale.

7. Refrain Dir Cui Zi'en, 2006

Cui Zi'en is an outspoken gay activist. He depicts in a low key mode the close and moving relation between two brothers, isolated from the world. One is homosexual, the other mentally handicapped. They struggle together against all odds. Overwhelming.

8. Grain in the Ear Dir Zhang Lu, 2006

The plot is based on the problems a woman belonging to the Korean minority in China comes across as she tries to bring up her son alone. When he dies in dramatic circumstances she decides to take revenge. Beautifully staged, this film mixes a thriller type intrigue with a very delicate portrait of a courageous mother.

9. Three Sisters Dir Wang Bing, 2013

Wang Bing's latest opus is again a straight forward and powerful testimony. Three little girls live alone in a mountain village. Their father works in a faraway town, their mother has left. Wang manages to find the strategic point to set his camera in absolutely every shot and then by magic cinema appears. A masterpiece.

10. Disorder Dir Huang Weikai, 2009

A digital collage of various events of public disorder, all taking place on the same day in the province of Guangzhou. Edited in a grainy black and white, a pig running wild on the auto route, or a flood taking over a pizzeria, all events seem to be out of the pages of an absurd picture book and little by little chaos seems to conquer all.

Li Cheuk-To 

Artistic director, Hong Kong International Film Festival

* Selections are chronological.

All my ten best lists are arbitrary, especially this time when I wish to include more recent films and not just well-known classics. The ten films in this list are either emblematic of their times, breakthroughs in Chinese film aesthetics, visionary in their representations of reality, or all of these.

1. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934

2. Big Road Dir Sun Yu, 1934

3. Street Angels Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937

4. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

5. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985

6. The Horse Thief Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986

7. Back to Back, Face to Face Dir Huang Jianxin, 1994

8. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000

9. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006

10. Let the Bullets Fly Dir Jiang Wen, 2010

Peter Loehr

CEO, Legendary East film company

1. Devils on the Doorstep Dir Jiang Wen, 2000

The Kurosawa-esque humour and tragedy, cinematography, performances blew me away. Great slow burn into a senseless and powerful tragedy.  Audacious film-making.

2. Shower Dir Zhang Yang, 1999

3. Red Sorghum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987

4. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993

5. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994

6. Raise the Red Lantern Dir Zhang Yimou, 1991

7. The Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997

8. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003

9. Crazy Stone Dir Ning Hao, 2006

10. Kekexili: Mountain Patrol Dir Lu Chuan, 2004

Kevin B Lee 

Co-founder and programming executive, dGenerate Filmscontributes to Sight & Sound, Slate, Indiewire, Time Out New York and Time Out Chicago

1. Street Angel Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937

For me the story of Chinese cinema is one of possibilities, a world whose finest hour perpetually appears waiting across the horizon. Nowhere is this sensation stronger than in this inimitable blend of musical romantic comedy and social realist drama, in which two of China's all-time greatest screen talents (Zhao Dan and Zhou Xun) try to carve out a life free from the oppression of 1930s Shanghai that surrounds them. 

The film shifts effortlessly through a series of registers: a karaoke sing-along explodes into an proto-MTV docu-montage of war and suffering; satirical wordplay alternates with silent pantomime; shadows express escape in one moment and entrapment the next. Blending the popular with the political, the playful with the profound,Street Angel moves so effortlessly that one hardly notices how audaciously it reaches towards an ever brighter future. For me, this film is the eternal spring in which Chinese cinema can forever rediscover and replenish itself.

2. Love and Duty Dir Bu Wancang, 1931

There may never be a Chinese actress greater than Ruan Lingyu, because no other actress may ever give as much of herself to the screen; her performances weren't just acting, but spectacles of self-liberation writ large in ways her tragic real life wouldn't allow. The Goddess and New Women are Ruan's iconic roles, but this tour de force (long considered lost until a print was unearthed in Uruguay, of all places), playing a woman who tragically attempts to live on her own terms, she not only exhibits a stunning performative range but also an all-or-nothing intensity that practically melts the screen. It climaxes in an impossible moment where she, a burned-out middle-aged mother, is reunited with her long-lost daughter... also played by Ruan! Just one character could not contain a force like Ruan Lingyu, she who dared to embody more personas and possibilities than even the Chinese cinema could conceive, leaving it transformed in her wake.

3. The Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997

Platform introduced me to Jia and it was a life-changing experience, but now I consider The Pickpocket to be his richest work. Here is Jia before he had to start navigating between the international arthouse and Chinese commercial scenes, before he had to play by their rules, for better or worse. With no expectations, no 'Jia Zhangke' to live up to, he is free to dig as deep as he can into the many layers of Chinese society and the enigmatic psyche of a man both complex and trivial. Jia's exploration ends with a single shot that remains the greatest he's ever filmed.

4. This Life of A Peking Policeman Dir Shi Hui, 1950

Few cinemas are as obsessed with crafting its national biography as China's. The Chinese historical epic is a genre to itself, from 1950's The Life of Wu Xun (still censored after all these years!) to Farewell My ConcubineTo LivePlatform and Aftershock. The best is Shi Hui's heartbreaking tale of a Beijing policeman's 50-year odyssey from the Qing Dynasty to the Communist Revolution. Maoist optimism is tempered by harsh, honest lessons from the past; Shi was censured for his earnestness, and eventually killed himself.

5. Two Stage Sisters Dir Xie Jin, 1965

The apotheosis of PRC cinema's 'Seventeen Years' era, this film embodies all the stylistic and thematic richness that could be found in that critical period when Communist China first tried to create its own cinema. A stunning fusion of Hollywood musical melodrama, Soviet socialist realism and classic Chinese opera, the film's brilliant synthesis is a quality contemporary Chinese cinema should note as it tries to become more global.

6. Woman Demon Human Dir Huang Shuqin, 1987

Though Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige are the most celebrated Fifth Generation directors, the movement wasn't a boys club; female director Huang Shuqin's portrait of a gender-bending opera singer is by far the most psychologically complex work of the period, and arguably the freshest from a present vantage point.

7. Tape Dir Li Ning, 2009

The Chinese digital independent scene unleashed a wave of fresh talent and creative energy over the past decade, exploring areas of life previously thought unfilmable; Li Ning's boldly experimental autobiography takes the do-it-yourself ethos to breathtaking extremes.

8. Oxhide Dir Liu Jiayin, 2005

Then-film student Liu Jiayin put masking tape over her DV camcorder lens to shoot a super-widescreen epic in her family's tiny apartment, giving monumental treatment to private moments, a radical reinvention of cinematic topics and techniques.

9. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003

Another personal landmark of overlooked lives, Wang Bing's nine hour trek through a post-industrial northeastern wasteland unlocked the possibilities for epic documentary in the digital era.

10. The Big Road Dir Sun Yu, 1935

Anyone who thinks mainland Chinese cinema started with the Fifth Generation needs to watch this robust early masterpiece, with its highly sensual footage of highway builders toiling towards freedom, and wonder if Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou should be cutting spiritual royalty checks to Sun Yu.

PoPing AuYeung 

Casting director, Shanghai CallingMan of Tai Chi, The Karate Kid

1. Raise The Red Lantern Dir Zhang Yimou, 1991

A hauntingly brutal depiction of the lives of four concubines married to a wealthy landowner in 1920s China. Trapped inside a sprawling estate, the women pit against each other for the Master’s attention and the privileges and power that come with it. Wonderful performances all around and Gong Li is absolutely superb as the tragic heroine.

2. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993

3. Red Sorgum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987 

4. Ju Dou Dir Zhang Yimou, 1990

5. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000

6. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993

7. Peacock Dir Gu Changwei, 2005

8. Women From the Lake of Scented Souls Dir Xie Fei, 1993

9. Suzhou River Dir Lou Ye, 2000 

10. A Touch of Sin Dir Jia Zhangke, 2013

Karin Chien 

President and founder, dGenerate Films

In chronological order, my 10 favorites

1. Ju Dou Dir Zhang Yimou, 1990 

2. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993 

3. Unknown Pleasures Dir Jia Zhangke, 2002 

4. San Yuan Li Dir Ou Ning, Cao Fei, 2003 

5. Fujian Blue Dir Weng Shouming, 2007 

6. Petition Dir Zhao Liang, 2009 

7. Oxhide Dir Liu Jiayin, 2005 

8. The Search Dir Pema Tseden, 2009 

9. Karamay Dir Xu Xin, 2010 

10. Winter Vacation Dir Li Hongqi, 2010

Paul Morris 


Independent cinematographer based in China

1. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994 

2. Ashes of Time Dir Wong Karwai, 1994 

3. The Sun Also Rises Dir Jiang Wen, 2007 

4. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993

5. The Horse Thief Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986 

6. Suzhou River Dir Lou Ye, 2000 

7. The Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

8. People Mountain People Sea Dir Cai Shangjun, 2012 

9. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985 

10. Hero Dir Zhang Yimou, 2002

Zhang Xianmin


Producer and distributor of Chinese documentaries; professor, Beijing Film Academy

1. Street Angel Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937 

2. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

3. The Life of Wu Xun Dir Sun Yu, 1952 

4. Third Sister Liu Dir Yu Mingsheng, 1960 

5. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986 

6. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994 

7. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994 

8. Suzhou River Dir Lou Ye, 2000 

9. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000 

10. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003

Shenshen Xiao

First assistant director, Feathered Fan and Silken RibbonProduction co-ordinator, Flowers of War and Return

1. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

2. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994 

3. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

4. Getting Home Dir Zhang Yang, 2007 

5. Peacock Dir Gu Changwei, 2005 

6. Ocean Heaven Dir Xue Xiaolu, 2010 

7. The Piano in a Factory Dir Zhang Meng, 2011 

8. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003 

9. Lost in Beijing Dir Li Yu, 2007 

10. No Man's Land Dir Ning Hao, 2013

Gao Ke


Producer and partner, C2M Media, a Beijing-based production company

1: The Next Life Dir Jian Fan 2011  

2: Farewell My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige 1993    

3: Hero Dir Zhang Yimou 2002  

4: Let the Bullets Fly Dir Jiang Wen 2011   

5: The Assembly Dir Feng Xiaogang, 2007

6: The Message Dirs Kuo-fu Chen and Gao Qun Shu 2009         

7: The Dream Factory Dir Feng Xiaogang 1997     

8: Mountain Patrol Dir Lu Chuan 2004        

9: Crazy Stone Dir Ning Hao 2006   

10: Perhaps Love Dirs Peter Chan, Samson Chiu 2005

Film critics, authors and journalists, including The New York Times China correspondent Edward Wong, China Daily film critic Raymond Zhou, Vice China editor-in-chief Wang Ge, and The Hollywood Reporter Asia bureau chief Clifford Coonan share their ten favourite Chinese Mainland films of all time with Time Out as part of our 100 best Chinese Mainland films. Read their full lists below:

Wang Ge 

Editor-in-chief, VICE China; former film editor, Time Out Beijing

1. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006

Still Life is, in my opinion, both the best and most important Chinese-language film of the last decade. Jia certainly knows his audience and he's a genius at combining personal emotions with the changing of the times. The migration caused by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam was covered heavily by the Western press, but Jia’s uniquely surrealist vision not only lifts it out of cliche, but also manages to make beautiful poetry out of the most ordinary daily routines. 

Still Life surpasses all of Jia’s other works. 'A town that has been around for 2,000 years, and now it'll be under water in two years' – lines like that just punch you right in the heart, with no need for visual action. 

And the shot where this construction worker holds a 10RMB bill, looking at the landscape printed on its back, then raises his head and see the exact same landscape in concrete – I mean, that’s the kind of trick only a master filmmaker would think of. I've seen this film at least five times and still get goosebumps from the very first scene.

2. Peacock Dir Gu Changwei, 2005

The first time I saw Peacock I didn't like it at all, but that shows how first impressions can deceive. This film, if anything, is a profound poem to all those who live or have lived in northern China's small towns. It shows an ordinary working class Chinese family in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, through the eyes of its three siblings.

I was born and raised in one of those towns, where people are too afraid to go out and see the world, or sometimes simply can’t afford it. Everyone has dreams of what they want to do or be, but usually the dreams are crushed by reality.


Unlike cities like Beijing or Shanghai, where there is still room for messing around and being stupid, these towns won't give you any chance to fail. Most of my classmates have kids now, and they are far richer than I am because they work for the Government, and every time I return home I have these uncomfortable drinking sessions with them. I bet sometimes they look at me and think: ‘This is what I expected Wang Ge would turn out to be – another drunken hipster. I don't understand what he does for a living.’ Secretly we all think we are better off than others, don't we? 

3. The Sun Also Rises Dir Jiang Wen, 2007

Using the film as a playground, Jiang Wen dreams his wildest dreams (a baby lying in a flowerbed planted on railway tracks; vagabonds dancing around bonfires in the desert…all that kind of stuff). 

It's quite surreal, and comprises a couple of stories that are seemingly interrelated while also disjointed from each other. The music, the colours, the cinematography, everything falls into place for a very – whatsthewordforit – psychedelic experience… I don't think it's Jiang Wen's best film (it actually might have been his Waterloo), but it's my personal favourite.

4. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003

No word could be more appropriate to describe modern China than ‘change’, and this brave, nine-hour documentary is so long that it almost shows those changes in real time. Wang Bing takes his camera to Tie Xi Qu, an industrial area in northeast China, whose glory days faded in the late 1970s, when China ended its revolution and started to embrace capitalism like a kid in a candy store. 

As the rest of the nation tries as hard as it can to catch up, this place almost voluntarily falls behind. People here still live in the past, and the fact that you get to experience the 'fallen glories' with them, over such an enormous amount of time, makes it feel like you’re re-living histoy. I finished this whole nine hours in one go. A word of advice – don't do that, or you won’t want to look at any kind of screen for at least two days.

5. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003

I first watched this film on the BBC, actually. I’d never heard of it until it won some kind of award at some European film festival (all independent Chinese films do, apparently). It's about two coal mine workers performing the perfect scam: get a job in an illegal coal mine, find a victim, pretend they are related to the person (with fake IDs), kill him in the mine, then demand compensation from the boss. 

It’s adapted from a novel based on real events, and is a very heavy film, very intense and powerful. The fact that there is no music in it makes it even more eerily haunting.

6. The Troubleshooters Dir Mi Jiashan, 1988

Set in 1990s Beijing, this film tells the story of three young men operating a 'problem-solving' business. They helped nerdy guys to break up with their girlfriends, organise an award ceremony for a porn novel writer…absurd things like that. it's the perfect reflection of Beijing in the ‘90s – chaotic, wild, and energetic.

7. My Mother's Rhapsody Dir Qiu Jiongjiong, 2008

The reason that I love this documentary is that, over the last few years, I have been developing a new interest in old people's grumbles. When I was a kid, I got bored every time my grandpa started to talk about the old days, the war, how the Cultural Revolution f**ked up his life, etc. But now when I go home for Chinese New Year, I would rather listen to his stories than give him the chance to ask ‘When will you have kids?’ or ‘What exactly does an editor do?’ or ‘As a journalist, do you get to meet Jay Chou?’ I f**king shook hands with Jimmy Page! How about that, Grandpa? ‘Who the f**k is Jimmy Page?’

8. The Missing Gun Dir Lu Chuan, 2002

A policeman in a small town in southwest China loses his gun, and to keep his job he goes on a journey to find it. That's the easy way to describe the plot. Now the intellectual way: ‘Guns represent power in the context of nation state, especially in a communist country like China. While looking for his missing gun, the protagonist, a policeman, gets to revisit his youth and re-discovers his confused.’ Anyway, the cinematography is great, and the fact that it's such a simple story makes Missing Gun a very enjoyable film to watch. 

9. Follow Follow Dir Peng Lei, 2012

This is not a 'good' film, technically, but in a world of films that either have heavy, social and political subjects or a dozen kung-fu fights, a film about innocent girls wanting to date rock bands (in a very sweet way) is very rare in Mainland Chinese cinema. I will save this spot for that very reason, also for the fact that a friend of mine stars in this film – NOT because it's ‘one of the first rock n roll films ever authorised by the Chinese Film Bureau,’ – that's a very lame way to put it.

10. Kun 1 Action Dir Wu Haohao, 2008

Compared to all the films above, this one looks very amateurish; it barely counts as a proper film. Shot on a home DV camera when Wu Haohao was still in university, he uses a boldly experimental style to muse about his childhood and his philosophies. It’s the film’s confrontational, in-your-face material makes it powerful and, dare I say it, punk-rock. You could say this is just some stupid film student grumbling about his own failure and acting older than he actually is. 

But strangely, in a way it reawakens my inner film student (which I was, unfortunately) who wants to just tell everyone to fuck off and shoot whatever he wants to shoot. It's amature, but man it's brave.

By the way, all Zhang Yimou's films suck. I'm so pissed that he's presented in the West as China's ultimate film master.

Edward Wong


China Correspondent, The New York Times

Of the Mainland Chinese films I have seen, these are the ones that have had the biggest impact on me. They have stayed in my memory, and each one has helped shape my relationship with China. The order is somewhat arbitrary. Ask me to rank them on another day, and the numbers could very well be different. I can say for certain, though, that the films of Jia Zhangke are the most exciting I have seen from a mainland director. No other director has captured the epic transformation of China in such a personal manner and with so masterful a command of cinematic language. His style weds formal rigor to a pop sensibility, and his vision is generous.

I wish the criteria for making this list were broader, so that three directors from Hong Kong and Taiwan- Wong Kar-wai, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang - could be represented. They are among the finest filmmakers in the world. But that is a conversation for another time.

1. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000

2. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994

3. Raise The Red Lantern Dir Zhang Yimou, 1991

4. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993

5. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006

6. The World Dir Jia Zhangke, 2004

7. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000

8. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994

9. Unknown Pleasures Dir Jia Zhangke, 2002

10. Petition Dir Zhao Liang, 2009

Clifford Coonan

Asia bureau chief, The Hollywood Reporter

I've restricted my choice to one film by each director, as otherwise I would have had more than one by Jia Zhangke and Zhang Yimou. 

Isn't it interesting how many great early works there are by Chinese directors, but so few great follow-ups? The system seems to eat them up after they do something worthwhile early on. Also notable how many were banned early on, and now are fixtures in the industry.

1. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003

This fanastic film deals with a pair of con artists in the illegal coal mines of Shaanxi province and takes the whole Chinese film narrative to a new level. Steeped in Wenders, Bresson and Wajda, it has a brain and a heart and is still relevant even a decade after its release. Essential.

2. Unknown Pleasures Dir Jia Zhangke, 2002

A fine work from a strong creative period of Jia's between the late 1990s and the early Noughties, this is part of the great trilogy that includes Xiao Wu and Platform. It came at a crucial point – China had been opening up and reforming for some time by 2002, but no one had really addressed the psychological impact of what was a huge wrench in Chinese society. Also I picked this because Jia told me nicked the title from a Joy Division song.

3. Under The Hawthorn Tree Dir Zhang Yimou, 2010

I hesitated to put this so high up, but Zhang Yimou is the most gifted film director in China, there is no getting around it. Red Sorghum was the first Chinese film I saw, and it lingers, as do Raise The Red Lantern and The Road Home. Like everyone else, his transformation from poacher to gamekeeper is upsetting, and films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers leave me cold, but this is a truly wonderful film.

4. Petition Dir Zhao Liang, 2009

This is a brilliant piece of film making, a real work of art, telling the tale of petitioners, using footage gathered over years. A documentary that changed how Chinese documentaries are made, as we saw in the similarly excellent Last Train Home.

5. Suzhou River Dir Lou Ye, 2000

Tragedy, romance, Shanghai before it got crazy expensive, what does this film not have? Another strong talent and you sense he has still to make his best film. Also been hampered by regular bans.

6. City of Life and Death Dir Lu Chuan, 2009

Lu can be a frustrating director but there are moments of brilliance in what I think is the most successful of the 'Rape of Nanking' glut of movies that came out a couple of years ago. Lu Chuan is the man to watch in the next few years, though The Last Supper was confusing, if beautiful to look at.

7. Cellphone Dir Feng Xiaogang, 2003

My favorite of Feng Xiaogang's, who is China's greatest popular director, and clearly searching for something more profound, too, with his recent work. Claims the censorship system holds him back, and I believe him.

8. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000

Jiang is preening from his deserved success with Let The Bullets Fly – and he's done his time, surviving bans and all kinds of pressure. I love this sensitive, intelligent reading of China's relationship with Japan, and with its own demons.

9. Beijing Bicycle Dir Wang Xiaoshuai, 2001

Wang Xiaoshuai's 2001 bittersweet-then-full-on-bitter drama painted a fantastic picture of modern China. Still looks great, though most of the hutongs are gone.

10. Beijing Blues Dir Gao Qunshu, 2012

Hugely popular within the domestic industry, I enjoyed this attempt to do something new with the cop genre, and it has a realistic, if occasionally mawkish, take on life in Beijing.

Simon Fowler 


Former film editor, Time Out Beijing; author, 101 Chinese Movies to See Before You Die; blogger, North Korean Films

1. Woman Basketball Player No. 5 Dir Xie Jin, 1957

Woman Basketball Player No. 5 is like a quiet explosion for Chinese cinema. The first Chinese sports film in colour is gripped with a vitality and speed unlike any other Chinese film that went before it. The film was director Xie Jin's breakthrough, which went on to set the scene for a career that would see him active in each of China's difficult periods right up until his death in 2008. 

But despite Xie's relative inexperience, the film gushes with many of the staples that would go on to form the centre of every sports movie in the future: training montages, flashbacks and truly impressive (for the time) sports scenes. It's almost certain that he didn't, but if Sylvester Stallone would have seen it in the 1970s, he would have got plenty of good ideas for Rocky.

2. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994 

3. The Black Cannon Incident Dir Huang Jianxin, 1985 

4. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934 

5. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985 

6. The Horse Thief Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986 

7. Crazy Stone Dir Ning Hao, 2006 

8. East Palace West Palace Dir Zhang Yuan, 1996 

9. Romance of a Fruit Peddler Dir Zhang Shichuan, 1922 

10. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997

Raymond Zhou

Columnist and film writer, China Daily

1. Raise The Red Lantern Dir Zhang Yimou, 1991

Shot inside Qiao’s Compound near the ancient town of Pingyao, Shanxi Province, this tale of family intrigue is an allegory of China’s political system with its opaque dynamics and secret liaisons. The male master of the household has a pervasive and oppressive presence by being conspicuously absent. All the female roles are perfectly cast and deliver exquisite performances. By moving the story from the Yangtze River Delta, where the original nouvelle Wives and Concubines by Su Tong is set, Zhang found his comfort zone and imbued the story with rich overtones.

2. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993

Centering around a pair of Peking Opera performers, this adaptation from a novel by Lilian Lee has a historic sweep, rich texture and great performances all around. Leslie Cheung delivers what many consider one of the greatest screen performances in China’s film history.

3. The Sun Also Rises Dir Jiang Wen, 2007

This visually hallucinatory film is divided into four seemingly unrelated parts, but like a modernist painting, all parts are thematically related. But those into conventional narrative will have a hard time solving the jigsaw puzzle, let alone deciphering its deep meaning. The story can be viewed as either a political allegory about the past half century or different phases of a man and his latent sexual growth. Freud would have a field day sifting through the wealth of sexual symbols in this movie. A box-office flop, it is nevertheless Jiang Wen’s most audacious and also most brilliant work.

4. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006

This winner of the Golden Lion from Venice is an indisputable masterpiece of humanity and compassion. The movie portrays two northerners in search of their spouses along the upstream of the Three Gorges where a county town was to be submerged. It looks like a haunted place of scavengers where half demolished buildings stand in contrast with the mighty river in the background. The one million people who had to migrate because of the construction of the dam had always been a faceless crowd until now, when Jia’s camera focuses on them and their struggle for survival. Wherever he pauses, you could detect a hardened face and a toughened body that tell of a heartbreaking story. Still Life has a light touch of surrealism on top of its highly realistic approach.

5. Long Live My Wife Dir Sang Hu, 1947

Almost miraculously, the second partnership between Eileen Chang and director Sang Hu, who reportedly had his eyes on the gifted writer during production, has proved to be one of the most enduring and endearing comedies in China’s cinema. The battle of the sexes and the family dynamics are so accurately and intelligently depicted that it hasn’t lost an iota of relevance. Standouts are the great Shi Hui and Shangguan Yunzhu in supporting roles.

6. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

A love triangle set in post-WWII southern China town stands out for its subtlety in portraying Chinese ethics, including the virtue of restraint. Director Fei experiments with many unconventional touches that are rooted in traditional Chinese aesthetics.

7. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993

The most incisive portrayal yet of the brutalities of political upheavals comes amid masterful details and characterisations so real they made one shudder. It was banned by the government.

8. My Memories of Old Beijing Dir Wu Yigong, 1982

An episodic saga of an urban neighborhood, seen through the childish eyes of a young girl, is recounted with tenderness and melancholia. The movie follows the Chinese aesthetic that de-emphasises dramatic tension and uses mood as a plot device.

9. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003

Adapted from an awarding-winning book, this small-budget film was never released in China, but has garnered a lot of favorable attention for its stark probe into the abyss (literally) of human conditions. In a country where mine accidents kill thousands a year, the tale has a twist and a touch of black humour, which makes the neo-realism easy to digest. Country boy Wang Baoqiang was picked from an army of extras, and by great luck, later turned into a major star specialising in bumpkin savant roles.

10. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986

Having made several landmark films through political ups and downs, veteran filmmaker Xie Jin launched this indictment against the Cultural Revolution and all the evils it represents. This is the traditional school of social realism at its most brilliant and influential.

Karen Jin 


Producer and host, CRI's movie programme, Reel China

1. Cow Dir Guan Hu, 2009

Set during the Second Sino-Japanese War, Cow is definitely not another war drama with the same themes, same ideas and same epic battle scenes. It is a black comedy about a man and a cow surviving together in the midst of war. The film is full of charm, affection and cinematic surrealism. It is genuine, entertaining and possibly the best movie about a cow ever made.

2. Blind Mountain Dir Li Yang, 2007 

3. The Missing Gun Dir Lu Chuan, 2002 

4. Ju Dou Dir Zhang Yimou, 1990 

5. Last Train Home Dir Fan Lixin, 2009 

6. The World without Thieves Dir Feng Xiaogang, 2004 

7. The Message Dir Chen Kuo-Fu, 2009 

8. Crazy Stone Dir Ning Hao, 2006 

9. Red Sorgum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987  

10. Suzhou River Dir Lou Ye, 2000

Wei Xidi


Author, Movie + film book series Hou Chang Kan Dian Ying (后窗看电影) 

1. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934

2. Street Angel Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937

3. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

4. February Dir Xie Tieli, 1964

5. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986

6. The Troubleshooters Dir Mi Jiashan, 1988

7. In Expectation Dir Zhang Ming, 1996

8. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997

9. Mr Zhao Dir Lu Yue, 1998

10. Spring Fever Dir Lou Ye, 2009

Zhang Ling

Film blogger, Huang Xiaoxie

1. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

2. Street Angel Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937

3. The Spring River Flows East Dir Cai Chusheng, Zheng Junli, 1947

4. February Dir Xie Tieli, 1964

5. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986

6. Woman-Demon-Human Dir Huang Shuqin, 1987

7. King of The Children Dir Chen Kaige, 1988

8. In Expectation Dir Zhang Ming, 1996

9. The World Dir Jia Zhangke, 2004

10. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006


Judge, 'Critics' Week' , 66th Cannes; chief editor film e-zine IRIS

1. Waves Washing Sand Dir Wu Yonggang, 1936 

2. Miserable at Middle Age Dir Sang Hu, 1949 

3. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

4. Three Monks Dir A Da, 1982 

5. Mr Zhao Dir Lu Yue, 1998 

6. Two Stage Sisters Dir Xie Jin, 1964 

7. Back to Back, Face to Face Dir Huang Jianxin, 1994 

8. Third Sister Liu Dir Yu Mingsheng, 1960 

9. The King of Masks Dir Wu Tianming, 1996 

10. The Lin Family Shop Dir Shui Hua, 1959

Mu Wei Er 

Writer, Movie World and Movie View magazines

1. Miserable at Middle Age Dir Sang Hu, 1949 

2. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

3. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985 

4. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

5. The Monkey King Dir Wan Laiming, 1965 

6. Crow and Sparrow Dir Zheng Junli, 1949 

7. Street Angel Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937 

8. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

9. Legend of Tianyun Mountain Dir Xie Jin, 1980 

10. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003

Mark Cousins

Film critic and filmmaker; co-director, Cinema China film festival

1. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

2. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934 

3. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985 

4. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003 

5. Oxhide Dir Liu Jiayin, 2005 

6. Two Stage Sisters Dir Xie Jin, 1964 

7. Three Monks Dir A Da, 1982 

8. The Monkey King Dir Wan Laiming, 1965 

9. Raise The Red Lantern Dir Zhang Yimou, 1991 

10. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994

Lin Shifeng 

Film critic

1. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

2. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

3. Back to Back, Face to Face Dir Huang Jianxin, 1994 

4. Woman-Demon-Human Dir Huang Shuqin, 1987 

5. Looking for Fun Dir Ning Ying, 1993 

6. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

7. The Monkey King Dir Wan Laiming, 1965 

8. Crow and Sparrow Dir Zheng Junli, 1949 

9. Sacrifice of Youth Dir Zhang Nuanxin, 1985 

10. The Horse Thief Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986

Chinese film directors including Wang Xiaoshuai, Fan Popo, Cui Zi'en and Yung Chang share their ten favourite Chinese Mainland films of all time with Time Out as part of our 100 best Chinese Mainland films. Read their full lists below:

Wang Xiaoshuai 

Director, The Days, Beijing Bicycle and 11 Flowers

The significance of Spring in a Small Town with regards to the history of Chinese cinema lies in the fact that it transcended the concept of film from every previous era. In a time when everyone was searching for what the notion of an 'ideal country' meant to them, here they focus on spiritual aspects of their individual lives.

They used the abundant resources of modernity and the poetic language of film to absorb the traditions of Chinese classical verse, creating a sad and oppressive atmosphere and an implicitly serene artistic mood. The depression and contradiction of Chinese intellectuals during that period of time has been documented. The pioneering concepts of such films are comparable to that of the great European film directors. They broke free of the restrictions of that time period and, even today, they still have a unique artistic allure. 

1. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

 2. The Lin Family Shop Dir Shui Hua, 1959 

 3. February Dir Xie Tieli, 1964 

 4. This Life of Mine Dir Shi Hui, 1950 

 5. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993 

 6. The Story of Qiu Ju Dir Zhang Yimou, 1992 

 7. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

 8. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003 

 9. Heroic Suns and Daughters Dir Wu Zhaodi, 1964 

10. Dong Cunrui Dir Wei Guo, 1955

Anthony Chen 

Director, Ilo, Ilo and winner Camera d’Or Cannes International Film Festival 2013

I have to say it is very hard for me to decide the rankings because I like them for different reasons and they responded to me or affected me during different periods of my life. 

I want to bring to attention specifically Let The Bullets Fly by Jiang Wen because I think it is easily of the most original and freshest thing I have seen from China in recent years. Bold, subversive, funny and highly entertaining. It did blow me away quite a bit.

1. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

2. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985 

3. Red Sorgum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987  

4. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994 

5. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934 

6. Let The Bullets Fly Dir Jiang Wen, 2010 

7. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

8. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006 

9. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

10. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003

Cui Zi’en 

Director, Queer China, Comrade China (2008)

1. Zero Thousand Li Under the Clouds and Moon Dir Cheng Yusu, 2013

The world of mortals (hongchen; 'red dust') and the world of 'rivers and lakes' (jianghu; martial heroes and kungfu) both feature heavily in the film.

2. Sacrifice of Youth Dir Zhang Nuanxin, 1985

Mourn the world of mortals.

3. Beijing Bastards Dir Zhang Yuan, 1993

Escape from the world of mortals.

4. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006

Get lost in the world of mortals.

5. Black Snow Dir Xie Fei, 1990

Be infuriated by the world of mortals.

6. The Black and White Milk Cow Dir Yang Jin, 2004

The solitude of the world of mortals.

7. The Days Dir Wang Xiaoshuai, 2011

The private life of the world of mortals.

8. Petition Dir Zhao Liang, 2009

The dark side of the world of mortals.

9. Spring in A Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

The slow pace of the world of mortals.

10. The Spring River Flows East Dir Cai Chusheng, 1947

The bitterness of the world of mortals.

Conrad Clark 


Director, Soul CarriageA Fallible Girl

With Devils on the Doorstep Jiang Wen fulfills the promise of a uniquely Chinese mainland cinema. Out of the shackles of Communist era grand cinema and the shadows of the fifth generation grand narrative directors (Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige) and importantly beyond most of his sixth generation contemporaries, who created Chinese adaptations of European art house cinema (Pickpocket by Jia Zhang Ke; Beijing Bicycle by Wang Xiaoshuai). 

Jiang Wen creates a powerful, stylistically fluid film that is narratively complex (going beyond simple nationalistic readings of history) and crucially introduces his kind of humour. At times dark, other times slap  stick - a confident humour, based in situation comedy as well as language. 

Jiang Wen's three establishing feature films (In the Heat of the Sun, Devils on the Doorstep and The Sun Also Rises) mark him out as the strongest voice in mainland Chinese cinema - a risk taker without seeking to be controversial as such; a craftsman of the cinematic form; and a director with a distant enough perspective to show the absurdities within historical tragedies of his country.

1. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

2. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003 

3. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

4. Red Sorgum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987  

5. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

6. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003 

7. The Obscure Dir Yue Lu, 2006 

8. Purple Butterfly Dir Lou Ye, 2003 

9. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000 

10. The Sun Also Rises Dir Jiang Wen, 2007

Yung Chang 

Director, Up the Yangtze and China Heavyweight

Too many to count and difficult to hone it down. In no particular order, a small survey of some of my favourites. 

1. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997
When I first saw this film it was like witnessing a revolution. A landmark in Chinese cinema. Best last shot in a film.

2. Red Sorgum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987
Gong Li and Jiang Wen in unforgettable performances. The film that turned me onto the Fifth Generation and the Chinese filmmaking revolution. 

3. Three Sisters Dir Wang Bing, 2012 
Arguably my favourite of Wang Bing's documentaries. So raw and intimate and largely silent, it is one of the most precise films delving into the aftershock of the migrant experience through the eyes and perspective of children. 

4. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003 
Sharp social commentary in a taut noirish thriller. Like a good James M. Cain story. 

5. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994 
Zhang Yimou takes two on my list. I saw this with my parents when I was in high school. It may be overly sentimental, but when your mother is weeping and your father is grave, you know the cinematic epic intentions are hitting home. I can still recall scenes and images from this film. 

6. This Happy Life Dir Jiang Yue, 2002 
An odd and moving documentary about two men who work at Zhengzhou train station. Crazy Spring festival train sequence predates the unforgettable Last Train Home. 

7. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 
A lot of criticism has been laid upon the Fifth Generation but these films were an emotional outlet for Chinese diaspora, including my family in Canada. As a first generation huayi (ethnic Chinese), Farewell My Concubine started to shape my investigation into my Chinese heritage.   

8. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 
I don't think I've seen satire as cinematic, biting and clever as in Devils on the Doorstep. Jiang Wen is a genius. 

9. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006 
This film charts the death of idealism in the 1980s. It is epic, capturing the passion and confusion of an era. 

10. Petition Dir Zhao Liang, 2009 
Kafka-esque, candid and shocking, one of the most important documentaries about contemporary China.

Lixin Fan

Director, Last Train Home

1. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948
2. Havoc in Heaven Dir Wan Laiming, 1965
3. Farewell, My concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993
4. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994
5. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006
6. West of the Tracks Dir Wan Bing, 2003
7. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006
8. Petition Dir Zhao Liang, 2009
9. Up the Yangtze Dir Yang Chang, 2008

Fan Popo 

Director, Mama Rainbow and Be a Woman

1. Street Angel Dir Muzhi Yuan, 1937

2. Spring in a Small Town Dir Mui Fei, 1948

3. Sacrifice of Youth Dir Nuanxing Zhang, 1985

4. Black Snow Dir Fei Xie 1990

5. Bing’ai Dir Yan Feng, 2007

6. The Blue Kite Dir Zhuangzhuang Tian, 1993

7. Perpetual Motion Dir Ying Ning, 2005

8. East Palace, West Palace Dir Zhang Yuan, 1998

9. Purple Butterfly Dir Ye Lou, 2003

10. The Story of Ermei Dir Quan’an Wong, 2004

Yang Jin 

Director, Black and White Milk Cow

1. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

2. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994 

3. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000

4. Neighbors Dir Zheng Dongtian, 1981 

5. The Search Dir Pema Tseden, 2009 

6. Around That Winter Dir Wang Xiaozhen, 2013 

7. Wonder Boy Dir Song Chong/Weng Luming, 1988 

8. Labourer's Love Dir Zhang Shichuan, 1922 

9. Woman-Demon-Human Dir Huang Shuqin, 1987 

10. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986

Eva Yimeng Jin 

Director, Sophia’s Revenge, Sailfish; first female director to break 100 million RMB at the Chinese box office

1. American Dreams in China Dir Chen Kexin, 2013 

2. Lost on a Journey Dir Ye Weimin, 2010 

3. Let The Bullets Fly Dir Jiang Wen, 2010 

4. Crazy Stone Dir Ning Hao, 2006 

5. Hero Dir Zhang Yimou, 2002 

6. The Dream Factory Dir Feng Xiaogang, 1997 

7. Temptress Moon Dir Chen Kaige, 1997 

8. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994 

9. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

10. Raise The Red Lantern Dir Zhang Yimou, 1991

Wu Haohao 

Director, Kun 1

1. Black Snow Dir Xie Fei, 1990 

2. My Memories of Old Beijing Dir Wu Yigong, 1982 

3. An Answer from Heaven Dir Wang Junzheng, 1994 

4. The September of Mine Dir Ying Lu, 1990 

5. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934 

6. After Divorce Dir Wang Rui, 1995 

7. The Ozone Layer Vanishes Dir Feng Xiaoning, 1990 

8. Good Morning Beijing Dir Zhang Nuanxin, 1990 

9. Wonder Boy Dir Song Chong/Weng Luming, 1988 

10. Nuan Dir Huo Jianqi, 2003

Yang Mingming 

Director, Female Director

* Yang Mingming only selects nine films.

1. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

2. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

3. Petition Dir Zhao Liang, 2009 

4. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003 

5. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006 

6. In Expectation Dir Zhang Ming, 1996 

7. Passages Dir Yang Chao 2004 

8. The Sword Identity Dir Xu Haofeng 2012 

9. The Days Dir Wang Xiaoshuai, 1993

Jenny Wu 


Director, Some Sort of Loneliness

1. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

2. Woman-Demon-Human Dir Huang Shuqin, 1987 

3. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

4. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006 

5. The Troubleshooters Dir Mi Jiashan, 1988 

6. Dam Street Dir Li Yu, 2005 

7. Stolen Life Dir Li Shaohong, 2005 

8. Uniform Dir Diao Yinan, 2003 

9. Female Director Dir Yang Mingming 2012 

10. Beijing Bastards Dir Zhang Yuan, 1993

Li Tao 

Filmmaker; Associate professor of Chinese Film, Fudan University

1. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985 

2. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

3. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

4. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993 

5. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006 

6. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

7. New Women Dir Cai Chusheng, 1935 

8. Spicy Love Soup Dir Zhang Yang, 1997 

9. Finding Mr Right Dir Xue Xiaolu, 2013 

10. So Young Dir Zhao Wei, 2013

Guo Xiaolu 

Filmmaker and novelist; winner of Golden Leopard, Granta's Best Young British Novelist 2013

1. Street Angel Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937 

2. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

3. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934 

4. Sacrifice of Youth Dir Zhang Nuanxin, 1985 

5. Journal of Clouds and Mountains Dir Ye Lou, 2009 

6. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

7. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985 

8. Red Sorgum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987 

9. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

10. Suzhou River Dir Lou Ye, 2000

Chen Zhou 


Director, Morning!

1. Emperor Visits the Hell Dir Li Luo, 2012 

2. The Sun Also Rises Dir Jiang Wen, 2007 

3. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

4. Spring Fever Dir Lou Ye, 2009 

5. Mr Zhao Dir Lu Yue, 1998 

6. Keep Cool Dir Zhang Yimou, 1997 

7. The Obscure Dir Yue Lu, 2006 

8. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

9. Crazy Stone Dir Ning Hao, 2006 

10. Crazy Rabbit Dir Cui Xiaoqin, 1997

Cai Shangjun 

Director, People Mountain, People Sea

1. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

2. The Story of Qiu Ju Dir Zhang Yimou, 1992 

3. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

4. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003 

5. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

6. Crow and Sparrow Dir Zheng Junli, 1949 

7. February Dir Xie Tieli, 1978 

8. The Red Detachment of Women Dir Xie Jin, 1961 

9. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986 

10. Spring Fever Dir Lou Ye, 2009

Fan Jian 

Director, Taxi, 2008

1. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

2. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

3. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994 

4. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

5. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006 

6. Taking Father Home Dir Ying Liang, 2006 

7. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003 

8. Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul Dir Hu Jie, 2004 

9. Petition Dir Zhao Liang, 2009 

10. Last Train Home Dir Fan Lixin, 2011

Song Chuan 

Director, Huan Huan (2012)

1. Street Angel Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937 

2. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

3. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986 

4. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

5. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

6. Taking Father Home Dir Ying Liang, 2006 

7. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

8. Spring Fever Dir Lou Ye, 2009 

9. Orphan of Anyang Dir Wang Chao, 2001 

10. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003

Wei Xiaobo 

Director, The Sound and the City

1. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994 

2. Father Dir Wang Shuo, 2000 

3. Looking for Fun Dir Ning Ying, 1993 

4. Cala, My Dog Dir Lu Xuechang, 2003 

5. This Life of Mine Dir Shi Hui, 1950 

6. The Conscription Dir Chen Ge, 1963 

7. Ren Nai Mo Chao (人奶魔巢 , no English title) Dir Zheng Yongming, 1989 

8. Back to Back, Face to Face Dir Huang Jianxin, 1994 

9. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

10. The Emperor and the Assassin Dir Chen Kaige, 1998

Yu Guangyi 

Director, Survival Song and Bachelor Mountain

*Yu only picks three best films

1. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

2. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

3. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003

Zhao Dayong 

Director, Obscene Poetry and Ghost Town

1. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

2. King of Children Dir Chen Kaige, 1988 

3. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

4. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985 

5. Seventeen Years Dir Zhang Yuan, 1999 

6. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994 

7. The Black Cannon Incident Dir Huang Jianxin, 1985 

8. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003 

9. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

10. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006

Zheng Kuo

Director, 798 Station and Cold Winter

1. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994 

2. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

3. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

4. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

5. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000 

6. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006 

7. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006 

8. My Father and I Dir Xu Jinglei, 2003 

9. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993 

10. Beijing Bicycle Dir Wang Xiaoshuai, 2001

Tan Chui Mui 

Director, Love Conquers All

1. Emperor Visits the Hell Dir Li Luo, 2012 

2. A Touch of Sin Dir Jia Zhangke, 2013 

3. Unknown Pleasures Dir Jia Zhangke, 2002 

4. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994 

5. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

6. Devils on the Doorstep Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

7. Oxhide Dir Liu Jiaying, 2005 

8. Crazy Stone Dir Ning Hao, 2006 

9. Memories Look At Me Dir Song Fang, 2012 

10. When Night Falls Dir Ying Liang, 2012

Alexi Tan 

Director, Blood Brothers, Color Me Love and Double Blade

1. Ju Dou Dir Zhang Yimou, 1990 

2. Suzhou River Dir Lou Ye, 2000 

3. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

4. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000 

5. Let The Bullets Fly Dir Jiang Wen, 2010 

6. Raise The Red Lantern Dir Zhang Yimou, 1991 

7. A World Without Thieves Dir Feng Xiaogang, 2004 

 8. Peacock Dir Gu Changwei, 2005 

9. The Grandmaster Dir Wong Kar Wai, 2013 

10. No Man's Land Dir Ning Hao, 2013

Ying Ning 

Director of For Fun, I Love Beijing

1. Song of The Fisherman Dir Cai Chusheng, 1934 

2. This Life of Mine Dir Shi Hui, 1950 

3. Crow and Sparrow Dir Zheng Junli, 1949 

4. The Spring River Flows East Dirs Cai Chusheng, Zheng Junli, 1947 

5. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997 

6. The Three Swordsmen Dir Huang Tailai, 1994 

7. The Story of Qiu Ju Dir Zhang Yimou, 1992 

8. Raise The Red Lantern Dir Zhang Yimou, 1991 

9. On the Beat Dir Ning Ying, 1995 

10. Looking for Fun Dir Ning Ying, 1993

Movie producers, including Walt Disney China's Creative Producer Mia Zhang and Chongqing Blues co-producer Isabelle Glachant, share their ten favourite Chinese Mainland films of all time with Time Out as part of our 100 best Chinese Mainland films. Read their full lists below:

Janet Yang 


Hollywood ambassador to China in the ‘80s, co-producer, The Joy Luck Club and Shanghai Calling

What a treat, and a challenge, to be asked to do this. In the 80’s, I lived in and travelled frequently to China. I was running a company that represented Chinese films in North America and I took many Chinese filmmakers and government delegations to film festivals and to screenings at select theatres, primarily in Chinatowns. Back then, very few people in the West even knew films were being made in China so there was the thrill of discovery. I saw many wonderful films that actually inspired me to make movies myself.

The same inspiration continues to this day. I feel it is more critical than ever to expose Chinese cinema to the world. There is such a gap between the reality and perception of what China is today, film continues to be an unparalleled window into this civilization and society.

I have not included any documentaries or animated films. I have not seen enough to make a fair comparison.

1. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985

This was a game changer for me. The stark beauty of the film, and the depth of feeling, truly changed my life. Seeing that film made me a devotee and proselytizer of Chinese cinema forever.

2. Raise The Red Lantern, Red Sorghum, Ju Dou Dir Zhang Yimou 

I’m sorry, I simply cannot choose from among these three. I love them equally. Zhang Yimou’s visual mastery is unparalleled. He and Gong Li were a perfect match on screen.

3. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994

Jiang Wen is a genius, and this is my favorite of his films, but all of which I deeply admire. He does not make enough.

4. Two Stage Sisters Dir Xie Jin, 1965

I have a soft spot in my heart for Xie Jin, whom I spent a great deal of time with, especially when we organised a U.S. retrospective of his works. His films are grand and unapologetically emotional, and managed to deftly navigate the politics of his times.

5. Street Angel Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937

There is a treasure trove of older Chinese films, but this one is so memorable for its irreverence, and the mesmerising presence of Zhao Dan.

6. Distant Thunder Dir Zhang Jiarui, 2010

I caught this movie at the 2011 Shanghai Film Festival, and it is truly a hidden gem.  As the filmmaker tells it, it is inspired by the true story of a peasant college student whom he and his friends did not treat very well, and whose life ended in tragedy. The performances are exquisite.

7. Lost in Beijing Dir Li Yu, 2007

I am partial to movies that explore the female sensibility, and this one is exceptionally searing and bold.

8. Kekexili: Mountain Patrol Dir Lu Chuan, 2004

I also particularly like films set in the more remote regions of China, The Horse Thief also comes to mind, and apologies to Tian Zhuangzhuang whom I also adore, for not including it on this brief list. Kekexili captures the people and landscape of Tibet brilliantly.

9. Quitting (昨天)Dir Zhang Yuan,  2001

I was quite shocked that this film could be made at all. It depicts the agonising unraveling of a drug addict, played by himself, alongside his actual parents. Talk about cinema verite.

10. Lost on a Journey Dir Ye Weimin, 2010

I was delighted by this film, and was surprised how absent it was of cliché or exaggeration. It showed me that a film these days can be very commercial and still subtle and complex on a character level. The characters played by Xu Zheng and Wang Baoqiang are modern Chinese prototypes.

Er Yong

Producer, In the Heat of the Sun, Restless, Peacock

1. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994
2. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993
3. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994
4. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000
5. Peacock Dir Gu Changwei, 2005
6. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985
7. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993
8. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000
9. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986
10. The Swordsman in Double-Flag Town Dir He Ping, 1991

Isabelle Glachant

Associate producer. City of Life and Death, Lost in Beijing; co-producer, Chongqing Blues

1. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948
Spring in a Small Town is for me a masterpiece, not just as a Chinese film, but in the context of world cinema history. The script, the acting, the framing, the direction are all beautiful, powerful and meaningful. A film to see again and again, and still feel the terrible turmoil of the characters. Unfortunately, it’s a film I've never seen on a big screen.

2. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934

The silent film area in China produced some major Chinese films, such as The Goddess. The main strength of this film is the incredible acting of the star, Ruan Lingyu. She is captivating and overwhelming as she portrays the tragedy of her character. No wonder Stanley Kwan did a film on her later: Center Stage.

3. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993
4. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994
5. Mama Dir Zhang Yuan, 1990
6. Till Madness Do Us Apart Dir Wang Bing, 2013
7. 11 Flowers Dir Wang Xiaoshuai, 2012
8. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000
9. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006
10. Where is Mama Dir Te Wei, 1960

Mia Zhang

Creative producer, Walt Disney China

1. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003

A first-time director’s feature that leaves everyone awed and dazed; this shockingly powerful, astonishingly gritty film offers the best piercing critique on the intricacies of social contexts in which the spine-shivering story takes place, and it makes Li Yang a truly 'master of cinematic tension', Chinese Hitchcock.

2. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993

An intoxicating epic that sweeps through half a century of China’s contemporary history; a gripping tale of a love triangle that is full of emotional richness and complexity.

3. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994

Zhang’s most serious filmmaking without compromising art, quality, essential humanness and value system before his works later turn frivolous and meritless.

4. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934

Quintessential performance by the legendary actress Ruan Lingyu despite personal turmoil in her last year of life before committing suicide.

5. Street Angel Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937
A classic melodrama that highlights the golden age of Chinese cinema.

6. Fortune Teller Dir Xu Tong, 2009

A candid, emotionally engaging documentary exploring the underclass of China’s economic boom in haunting details.

7. Judge Dir Liu Jie, 2009
A well executed yet often overlooked narrative masterpiece.

8. Crazy Stone Dir Ning Hao, 2006

The first successful Chinese dark comedy that has revolutionarily changed the approaches to Chinese comedy filmmaking ever since. 

9. The September of Mine Dir Ying Lu, 1990
The best kids film ever been made in China. Period.

10. A Touch of Sin Dir Jia Zhangke, 2013

Jia’s best film by far; salute to this daring poetic film that oppressively and constantly pushes the censorship boundaries.

Natacha Devillers

Producer of Shanghai Trance, Pandora’s Box, The Photograph

1. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948
2. The Monkey King Dir Wan Laiming, 1965
3. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993
4. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994
5. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006
6. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003
7. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006
8. Petition Dir Zhao Liang, 2009
9. Up the Yangtze Dir Zhang Qiaoyong, 2007
10. Last Train Home Dir Fan Lixin, 2009

Anaïs Martane

Associate producer, Spring Fever, Luxury Car and Summer Palace

1. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994
2. Suzhou River Dir Lou Ye, 2000
3. The Sun Also Rises Dir Jiang Wen, 2007
4. Red Sorgum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987
5. City of Life and Death Dir Lu Chuan, 2009
6. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006
7. Purple Butterfly Dir Lou Ye, 2003
8. Not One Less Dir Zhang Yimou, 1999
9. Unknown Pleasures Dir Jia Zhangke, 2002
10. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006

Time Out's film critics from around the world, including Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Paris share their ten favourite Chinese Mainland films of all time with Time Out as part of the 100 best Chinese Mainland films. Read their full lists below:

Simon Zhou

Art & Film editor, Time Out Beijiing

Cinema, in its most rudimentary definition, is the procession of moving images projected onto a screen, for some duration of time.  It is, by this definition, an absence as presence: the absence of being, stood in for by the presence of the screen, the presence of the screen mourning the absence of beings.  The screen signifies the limitations of cinema: as repository of memory, as archive of history, as document of the present, as effigy of past, and as body for social intervention.  For the cinema has no body, it is merely a screen; for though it looks like life, it can never be life; for though it may contain traces of the past, it can never be present, and no matter how we may wish to, we can never proceed beyond the screen.  Cinema cannot be substitute for life, it is at most an unreliable witness, a perfidious raconteur, but insofar as this means that life intrudes sometimes, necessarily and involuntary upon the tale being told, this is when cinema really is, and this is more than enough.

Here are ten films that for me, bear this mark of sincere perfidy.

1. Oxhide Dir Liu Jiayin, 2005

2. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003

3. 24 City Dir Zhang Jiake, 2008

4. Dr Ma’s Country Clinic Dir Cong Feng, 2007

5. Chung Kuo Cina Dir Michaelangelo Antonioni, 1972

6. The Square Dir Zhang Yuan and Duan Jinchuan, 1994

7. When Night Falls Dir Ying Liang, 2012

8. The Questioning Dir Zhu Rikun, 2012

9. Female Director Dir Yang Ming Ming 2012

10. The Founding of a Republic Dir Huang Jianxin and Han Sanping, 2009

Nicola Davison

Film editor, Time Out Shanghai

1. City of Life and Death Dir Lu Chuan, 2009
2. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985
3. Still Life Dir Jia Zhangke, 2006
4. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994
5. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993
6. Hero Dir Zhang Yimou, 2002
7. 24 City Dir Jia Zhangke, 2008
8. Suzhou River Dir Lou Ye, 2000
9. The Ditch Dir Wang Bing, 2010
10. Last Train Home Dir Fan Lixin, 2009

Alexandre Prouvèze

Film editor, Time Out Paris

1. Raise The Red Lantern Dir Zhang Yimou, 1991
2. A Touch of Sin Dir Jia Zhangke, 2013
3. A Chinese Ghost Story Dir ‪Ching Siu-tung, 2011
4. Beijing Bicycle Dir Wang Xiaoshuai, 2001
5. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993
6. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Dir Ang Lee, 2000
7. Spring Fever Dir Lou Ye, 2009
8. City of Life and Death Dir Lu Chuan, 2009
9. Apart Together Dir Wang Quan'an, 2010
10. Sauna on Moon Dir Zou Peng, 2011

Ben Sin

Film editor, Time Out Hong Kong

1. Drug War Dir Johnnie To, 2013
Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To's first real 'Mainland' movie manages to respect all of Mainland cinema's, um, codes, every cop here is a straight-arrow crime fighter with no other agenda, while remaining intense and unpredictable. A masterful action-filled crime drama with a solid dose of humour, Drug War is among the best films in To's critically acclaimed oeuvre.

2. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993
Arguably the most important Mainland Chinese film of all time, Chen Kaige's epic about the lives of two men during China's political turmoil in the 20th century manages to be simultaneously political and personal. It is, to date, the only Chinese-language film to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

3. Suzhou River Dir Lou Ye, 2000
This quirkily-edited, and perhaps overly-stylish, film on the intersecting lives of femme fatales and lovelorn thugs first gave Lou Ye international prominence.

4. The Story of Qiu Ju Dir Zhang Yimou, 1992
One of the first films to put Gong Li on the map, The Story of Qiu Ju sees Gong as a pregnant, peasant woman on a quest for justice.

5. If You Are the One Dir Feng Xiaogang, 2008
Hilarious romantic comedy focuses on a middle-aged man and his quest to find the right woman.

6. Beijing Bicycle Dir Wang Xiaoshuai, 2001

This simple yarn of a stolen bicycle carries heavy metaphors for China's social issues, most notably the giant class divide. Released in 2001 but banned in China until 2004, it won the Jury Grand Prix at the Berlin International Film.

7. A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop Dir Zhang Yimou, 2009

Zhang Yimou's slapstick comedy is a remake of the Coen Brother's debut film, Blood Simple. As if the transition from 1980s Texas to ancient China isn't interesting enough, Zhang directs this film loosely, giving it a anything-goes feel.

8. The Road Home Dir Zhang Yimou, 1999

Based on the acclaimed novel Remembrance, this love story of a country girl and a teacher marks Zhang Ziyi's film debut.

9. The Warlords Dir Peter Chan, 2007
This action-packed epic on the Taiping Rebellion in the late Qing Dynasty is full on action,special effects, and bromance.

10. Hero Dir Zhang Yimou, 2002
Zhang Yimou's wuxia drama on Jing Ke's assassination attempt on the King of Qin in ancient China helped re-introduced martial arts films to North America after a decade plus drought.

Berwin Song

Editor, Time Out Singapore

1. The Monkey King Dir Wan Laiming, 1965
One of the greatest animations of all time (along with some of the greatest source material), this depiction of the Monkey King is always what I picture when people mention Journey to the West (to me, the slightly creepy live-action adaptations and even the Gorillaz’s Jamie Hewlett never had the same charm).

2. Hero Dir Zhang Yimou, 2002
I had to have a martial arts movie in here! Whether or not it panders to Western tastes, for me, this absolutely gorgeous film is the pinnacle of visual wuxia epics.

3. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994
4. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000
5. Lost on a Journey Dir Ye Weimin, 2010
6. Oxhide Dir Liu Jiayin, 2005
7. Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest Dir Yang Fudong, 2007
8. 30x30 Dir Zhang Peili, 1988
9. Disturbing the Peace Dir Ai Weiwei, 2010
10. Wasted Orient Dir Kevin Fritz, 2005

Kevin Niu

Editor, Time Out Beijing (Chinese Edition)

1. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993
A flawless work. There is no better cinematic reflection on that time period.

2. The Big Road Dir Sun Yu, 1935
3. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934
4. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994
5. The Sun Also Rises Dir Jiang Wen, 2007
6. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997
7. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003
8. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986
9. No Man's Land Dir Ning Hao, 2013
10. Peacock Dir Gu Changwei, 2005

Feng Yunshang

20140330090013564 copy
Columnist, Time Out Beijing (Chinese edition); Producer, Lacuna (醉后一夜)

1. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

Film as a means of expression and art form came from the West. This great movie used film to express the feelings of China.

2. The Legend of Sealed Book Dir Wang Shuchen, Qian Yunda, 1983
You can’t be picky about any aspect of this film from the story and characters, to the voice dubbing and art.

3. Prince Nezha's Triumph Against Dragon King Dir Wang Shuchen, Jingda Xu, Yan Ding Xian, 1979
4. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993
5. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994
6. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000
7. King of The Children Dir Chen Kaige, 1988
8. The Making of Steel Dir Lu Xuechang, 1997
9. The Troubleshooters Dir Mi Jiashan, 1988
10. Swordsmen in Double Flag Town Dir He Ping, 1991

Li Yaoyao

Film editor, Time Out Beijing (Chinese Edition) 

1. The Sun Also Rises Dir Jiang Wen, 2007
2. Prince Nezha's Triumph Against Drago Dir Yan Dingxian, Wang Shucheng, Xu Jingda, 1979
3. Red Sorgum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987
4. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000
5. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993
6. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994
7. Keep Cool Dir Zhang Yimou, 1997
8. Feng Shui Dir Wang Jing, 2012
9. Wo Ai Chang Fa Piaopiao (I Love Long Hair Fluttering - no offical English title available) Dir Lin Lisheng, 2000
10. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986

Li Hongyu

20140330090013564 copy

Film columnist, Time Out Beijing (Chinese edition) 

1. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003
2. Black Snow Dir Xie Fei, 1990
3. Mr Zhao Dir Lu Yue, 1998
4. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997
5. Father Dir Feng Xiaogang, 1996
6. Purple Butterfly Dir Lou Ye, 2003
7. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993
8. One and Eight Dir Zhang Juntao, 1984
9. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994
10. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000
Chinese actors, including She, A Chinese star Huang Lu, and In the Heat of the Sun's Xia Yu, share their ten favourite Chinese Mainland films of all time with Time Out as part of our 100 best Chinese Mainland Films. Read their full lists below:

Huang Lu


Actress, Blind Mountain (Grand Prix Prize Bratislava Film Festival), She, A Chinese (Golden Leopard Winner Locarno Film Festival)

1. Ermo Dir Zhou Xiaowen, 1994

I can remember the underside of a foot, drinking water before donating blood, the small store selling television sets, and at the end of the film, the rows of wooden benches. Seeing as I’m really forgetful, the fact that I could remember so many scenes shows how great an impression the film left on me.

2. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000

While I was still in school, I saw a pirated version of this morally ambiguous film Devils on the Doorstep. The room was filled with the sound of everyone’s laughter and it continued for over an hour.  Then, when the massacre scene started, the entire classroom was silent. A real movie is one that can induce emotions in everyone.

3. The Emperor and the Assassin Dir Chen Kaige, 1998

Every single detail of this film reflects the unique quality of a Chinese historical epic. I want to give a point of praise- it’s as if this film and the later released The Promise were not shot by the same person.

4. Let The Bullets Fly Dir Jiang Wen, 2010

Watching this movie is one of the rare times when you realise that a film is much better than the novel it was based on. I believe that this is a reflection of the director’s success.

5. Keep Cool Dir Zhang Yimou, 1997

At least back then, Zhang Yimou had artistic ambitions and wanted to argue with society about issues, although I’m still not sure if this flash of contentiousness and anger comes from star Jiang Wen or if it represents a peek into Zhang’s true identity.

6. Crazy Stone Dir Ning Hao, 2006

If not for Ning Hao, how many talents in commercial films would be completely stifled by university…

7. A World without Thieves Dir Feng Xiaogang, 2004

A very complete story. It’s already very hard to come by in China. In particular, I liked the final scene when Rene Liu is eating roast duck with tear-filled eyes.

8. The Making of Steel Dir Lu Xuechang, 1997

This film can be compared to In the Heat of the Sun. Their titles both suggest a positive outlook. After being approved by the government film bureau one was more satirical than the other…

9. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003

The director lived abroad for several years washing dishes in order to save enough money to return to Beijing. Upon his return, he couldn’t afford an apartment so he used his savings to shoot a movie and ended up winning a Silver Bear award. Because of the shooting process and the events that led up to the movie being made, it makes the film all that more inspiring.

10. Wonder Boy Dir Song Chong/Weng Luming, 1988

The only reason I selected this film is because there are no other more interesting films which can accurately express the huge voice of China’s children—there’s a scene in the movie when a child uses magic powers to manipulate the classroom bell so he can go home earlier.

Xia Yu

Actor, In the Heat of the Sun, Shadow Magic, Waiting Alone

1. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994
2. Devils on the Door Step Dir Jiang Wen, 2000
3. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997
4. Black Snow Dir Xie Fei, 1990
5. Waiting Alone Dir Wu Shixian, 2005
6. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986
7. The King of Masks Dir Wu Tianming, 1996
8. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993
9. The Sun Also Rises Dir Jiang Wen, 2007
10. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003

Feng Shaofeng


Actor, Double Xposure, White Vengeance, Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

1. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994

2. Farewell, My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993

3. Prince Nezha's Triumph Against Drago Dir Yan Dingxian, Wang Shucheng, Xu Jingda, 1979

4. If You Are the One Dir Feng Xiaogang, 2008

5. Let The Bullets Fly Dir Jiang Wen, 2010

6. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994

7. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003

8. Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons Dir Huang Yinghua, 2013

9. The Grandmaster Dir Wong Kar Wai, 2013

10. Peacock Dir Gu Changwei, 2005

Film professors, theorists and renowned authors share their ten favourite Chinese Mainland films of all time with Time Out as part of our 100 best Chinese Mainland films. Read their full lists below:

Bérénice Reynaud 

Film historian at California Institute of Arts; author of Nouvelles Chines, Nouveaux Cinémas (Paris, 1999)

I am suspicious of lists. In spite of ourselves, insidiously, they tend to reproduce a 'status quo of unforgettable masterpieces.' Yet it’s not through such highlights that cinema functions. It took decades for Vertigo to replace Citizen Kane on the BFI list. Hitchcock and Welles are equally 'good' directors. The real meaning of the substitution is that, in Welles’s film, the director occupies centre stage, the film is about the construction of the male ago – albeit rotten, selfish and misguided. In Vertigo the director appears fleetingly at the margins, and a fake blonde occupies centre stage; the film is clearly about the deconstruction of a (fragile) male ego, and the way men and women treat each other as objects of their private fantasies. The (re)constructed blonde – not the ageing mogul – becomes the icon.   

Yet it will be decades before, say, Ousmane Sembene’s Emitai, or Souleymane Cissé’s Yeelen, or Glauber Rocha’s Black God, White Devil, or Jia Zhangke’s Still Life gets to be Number One (Ozu’s Tokyo Story is Number Three). And maybe even more decades before Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman (the only film directed by a woman in a list of fifty) has a chance of becoming Number One.  

So far, the list has ignored non-white women directors. When we erect a pantheon, we unconsciously mention 'important' films – and important films are made by important (white) men. 

And yet… we all know, deep in our souls, that cinema moves, evolves, becomes richer, more formally interesting once it integrates the visions, the interests, the dreams, the internal and external landscapes, the voices of hitherto under-represented populations. So, instead of solidifying past masterpieces, I think that the current dynamism of Chinese cinema is best gauged by celebrating the impact female filmmakers have had on it.   

Even when limiting oneself to women born in the People’s Republic of China and having made films primarily in China and with Chinese money, there are much more amazing women directors than what a 10-best list could offer. Most notably, the entire oeuvre of Peng Xiaolian should be mentioned, for her tireless dedication to representing the multiple facets of the female condition, from peasants (Women’s Story/Nüren de Gushi, 1987) to urban dwellers (Shanghai Women/ Jiazhuang Mei Ganjue, 2002). However, instead of trying to be 'fair' or exhaustive, I have tried to locate ten works that made Chinese cinema 'move ahead.' I have eliminated recent first films made by extremely talented young women who have not directed a second feature yet, for example, because it is usually with 'the second film' that it’s possible to gauge in which direction a director is headed. I have also made a point of integrating genres that are usually not included in 'lists' – such as documentary and animation. Furthermore, I have listed the film chronologically, not by order of preference.

* Selections are chronological.

1. The Monkey King Dir Wan Laiming, 1965

As much ado is made about the 3D restoration of this splendid animated gem, it is important to remind audiences that, in addition to one of the famous 'Wang Brothers,' the film was co-directed by a woman, Tang Cheng (1919-1086), one of the most experienced artists of the animation department at the Shanghai Film Company, originally trained as a painter. Tang was modest, often in poor health, and the release of The Monkey King was postponed due to the Cultural Revolution. The 'co-directing' credits scattered about her illustrious career may have been the result of her aversion to the spotlight. A true animator, she loved working hidden in her studio. Now is the time to recognise her contribution.

2. Woman-Demon-Human Dir Huang Shuqin, 1987

Huang Shuqin is the middle link of a prestigious dynasty of Shanghai filmmakers. Her father, Huang Zuolin (1906-1994), was originally a stage and opera director before becoming, in 1946, one of the founders of the Wenhua Film Company, where he directed such landmark films as Phony Phoenixes (Jiafeng Xuhuang, 1947) and The Watch (Biao, 1949). Her son, Zheng Dasheng, studied at the Chicago Art Institute, staged Kunqu operas and directed an award-winning documentary as well as several respected art films. No wonder that, in her most accomplished and resonant work, she expresses the plight of an exceptionally gifted young woman who strives, in a performing art world dominated by men (her father, her teacher, her inconsequential husband), to accomplish her dream: playing on-stage, in full opera make-up, the role of the demon Zhong Kui who marries off his sister. Femininity as double masquerade, indeed…

3. On the Beat Dir Ning Ying, 1995

Shot with non-professional actors mostly playing themselves, this second installment of the sharply-directed Beijing Trilogy (that also includes For Fun/Zhao Le, 1992) and I Love Beijing/Xiari Nuanyangyang, 2000) lovingly and wittingly reconstructs the everyday travails of a group of beat cops in Beijing. 

They ride bicycles, armed with unglamorous batons, battle their way through the wintery blue-grey tones of the capital city on the cusp of real estate redevelopment, and dream of Sly Stallone. Yet their only hope at five minutes of fame revolves around applying the law to register family dogs, round up unregistered pets, destroy rabid strays, and deal with badass customers. Until frustration mounts, and the unavoidable (?) career-breaking blunder happens. Like Claire Denis, Ning Ying knows how to film men in motion, and how to extract the language hidden in men’s bodies.

4. Blush Dir Li Shaohong, 1994

A visually sumptuous film, shot mostly in elegant tracking one-shot sequences, Li’s fourth feature retells post-Communist Chinese history from the point of view of two women, Qiu Yi (Wang Ji) and Xiao E (He Saifei), who were 'liberated' against their wishes in 1949. 

Close friends in the brothel where they worked together, they now have to be 'rehabilitated' and turned into useful members of society, with uneven results. Qiu Yi escapes to the house of a former patron, Lao Pu (Wang Zhiwen), while Xiao E ends up as another kind of 'working girl' – this time in a textile factory. Adapting yet another novella by Su Tong (of Raise the Red Lantern fame), Blush draws an impossible love triangle that implodes as the economic situation of the subjects drastically shifts, and powerfully suggests the uneasy fit between women’s interests, emotions and sensuality and the political/patriarchal order.

5. Out of the Phoenix Bridge Dir Li Hong, 1997

Jump-started by Wu Wenguang, Duan Jinchuan and Jiang Yue in the early 1990s, the 'New Documentary Movement' renewed the way Chinese cameras approached 'reality.' 

Li Hong gave this quiet revolution a powerful female voice, when she lived several months in a tiny room no bigger than a closet with four girls from a remote village in Hunan province who had come to Beijing to work as noodle vendors or domestics. Li kept filming minute moments of these invisible lives, confronted her own preconceived ideas and learnt that it is 'difficult to touch the real', as Johan van der Keuken used to say.

Gradually the piece refocuses from the young women’s material conditions of existence to their intimate emotions, to the stories of family pressures, enduring poverty and lost loves that are hidden in the snowed back alleys of the faraway Phoenix Bridge.

6. Fish and Elephant Dir Li Yu, 2001

A film so necessary that nobody expected it, that it took the world by storm and was shown in more than 65 international festivals: the first Chinese underground lesbian narrative feature. 

A film all the more remarkable for having launched a singular career, that of a director who knew, from the get-go, that she wanted to combine her documentary background with her passion for telling the stories of women in China. 

The chronicle of the making of a couple – a zoo keeper with a widowed mother intent on marrying her off, and a street vendor who leaves her boorish boyfriend for her newfound love – it goes beyond the tropes of the militant lesbian film to look at relationships among women in a changing society, a task undergone by Li in the rest of her work. 'A mother-daughter relationship is a same sex relationship,' she once said. As an added bonus, in a fictionalised version of herself, the film stars Shitou, who was to become a major queer activist and a filmmaker of her own right. And the elephant? Female of course…

7. Letter from an Unknown Woman Dir Xu Jinglei, 2004

Enters Xu Jinglei, muse and role model for the new urban generation, an actress of subtle but enduring glamour who started her career with daring young directors (Zhang Yuan, Zhang Yang, Zhang Yibai). 

An independent woman, she wrote, directed and acted in her first feature, My Father and I/Wo He Baba in 2003. One year later, Letter, revolving around the love affair en abyme between Xu’s character and the cad played by Jiang Wen, was a much bigger, more ambitious production, transferring Stefan Zweig’s original novella to Republican China while completely bypassing Ophüls. 

Where the Hollywood film presented a female victim, Xu’s heroine suffers but bites; she never becomes a respectable housewife, but a witty courtesan, and the film is suffused with delicate touches accurately expressing minute aspects of the female condition.

8. The Love of Mr An Dir Yang Lina, 2007

Yang Lina, a former actress trained at the People’s Liberation Army Art Academy, introduced 'personal documentary' in China. Her work represents an interesting variation on the actor’s narcissism: she keeps her image out of the frame, but tantalisingly close, at the border, in the same diegetic space as her subjects with whom she freely converses. The Love of Mr An affectionately follows the romantic life of an 89-year-old Beijinger, who has two passions: practicing ballroom dancing in the park; and his dancing partner, the 50-something Xiao Wei. Both Mr An and Xiao Wei, however, are married to other people. 

Yang Lina becomes a confidante, a benevolent accomplice as the true nature of the two partners’ emotional involvement is put to the test.

9. Oxhide II Dir Liu Jiayin, 2005

In 2004, at 23, the immensely gutsy, talented and stubborn Liu Jiayin stunned the world by shooting Oxhide with a small DV camera but in Cinemascope in her parents’ 50-square-metre apartment. Oxhide II pushes the previous film’s formal radicalism one step further: keeping the Cinemascope ratio, Oxhide II breaks down an even smaller domestic space into nine shots of uneven lengths and varied angles that go around a workshop/dinner table in 45 percent increments.  

Tension is contained within each frame’s rigorous composition: every gesture, every verbal exchange reorganises the balance of power between the three protagonists (Mum, Dad and the filmmaker-daughter), as they make and eat dumplings in real time. Meanwhile, they articulate, through cutting remarks, the neurosis-prone dynamics of the one-child-family.

10. All Apologies Dir Tang Xiaobai, 2012

Tang’s third feature confirms the promises of her earlier work, starting with the epoch-making Conjugation (Dong Ci Bian Wei, 2001), the first film shot (underground) in China about the aftermath of Tiananmen Square. 

The film is a subtle study of the subterranean way two couples are tragically connected through the death of a child. Tang’s work has consistently demonstrated an obsession with people who are kept in the margins, yet tantalisingly close to making it. This tension is expressed topographically as well as in terms of class difference. 

When tragedy strikes, a hard-working construction foreman, Yonggi (Cheng Taisheng) is convinced that a life is owed to him, and that he is entitled to take what he wants or needs. And a young woman from a more humble background, Qiaoyu (Yang Shuting) is no less convinced that it is her duty to pay for her husband’s mistake and misfortune.

Peter Rist 

Film professor, Concordia University; prolific writer on Chinese film

I made two rules for myself: only one film per director, and give more of a historical perspective - nothing made in the last ten years. 

As hard as it is to select ten films, it seems to me that if I have to rank them, I would do so, chronologically. It is important to pay attention to old films, and so my topped rank film will be the oldest. I chose Wild Rose, even though it may not be the best, but it is really typical of Sun Yu’s charm, and the era’s left politics, young male and female characters working together for the common good. 

* Selections are chronological.

1. Wild Rose Dir Sun Yu, 1932 

2. Street Angel Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937 

3. Crow and Sparrow Dir Zheng Junli, 1949 

4. Woman Basketball Player No.5 Dir Xie Jin, 1957 

5. The Cowboy’s Flute Dir He Luding 1934 

6. The Horse Thief Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986 

7. King of The Children Dir Chen Kaige, 1988 

8. Bloody Morning Dir Li Shaohong, 1990 

9. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000 

10. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003

Wong Ainling


Noted film scholar, writer, and programmer; contributor The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinema 

To me, the Chinese cinema of the '30s sparks of audacity and originality, still unparalleled in other times. It matures into the '40s, my three picks of that decade are all ‘small’ films revolving around couple relationships, but stretching far beyond, especially Fei Mu's Spring in a Small Town. I've watched it innumerable times, and every time it still surprises me. 

Of the post-1949 works, Dream of the Red Chamber is a perfect amalgamation of two seemingly opposing art forms - the traditional Chinese opera and the modern film medium, an extinct genre. Of the rest, Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Horse Thief is possibly the most forgotten film, but I believe that it will eventually come out of obscurity.

*Selections are chronological

1. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934 

2. The Big Road Dir Sun Yu, 1935 

3. Modern Couple Dir Zhu Shilin, 1944 

4. Long Live My Wife Dir Sang Hu, 1947 

5. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

6. Dream of the Red Chamber Dir Yuan Qiufeng, 1962 

7. Two Stage Sisters Dir Xie Jin, 1964 

8. The Horse Thief Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986 

9. Back to Back, Face to Face Dir Huang Jianxin, 1994 

10. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000

Jason McGrath

Associate professor, University of Minnesota; author, Postsocialist Modernity: Chinese Cinema, Literature, and Criticism in the Market Age

1. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

It is perhaps becoming as much of a cliché to call Spring in a Small Town the greatest Chinese film ever as it long has been predictable to see Citizen Kane top critics' polls as the best film of all time; one wishes to name something else just for the sake of being surprising. However, unlike in the instance of Citizen Kane, it really is hard to make a case for another work surpassing Fei Mu's achievement. 

The film just gets more fascinating with repeated viewings, and so many of its features--the subtle circular structure, the disturbing yet intimate voiceover narration, the elliptical editing, the simultaneous evocation and suppression of an almost frightening erotic passion--all seem to have little precedent nor few successors in Chinese cinema (at least not for several decades). That is why it deserves its place at the top of the list: Fei Mu's achievement was simply so singular for its moment in film history, whereas all the other greatest films had some contemporaneous analogues.

2. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000

Rarely has a film so beautifully captured both the dreams and the pathos of a very particular era of Chinese cultural history, and there are no better exemplars of 'Sixth Generation' filmmaking or the 'Asian slow cinema' aesthetic that has had such global significance.

3. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985

Launching the careers of Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou [as cinematographer], Yellow Earth remains almost the earliest and perhaps still the greatest achievement of the 'Fifth Generation'. It still feels extremely focused and pure in the intention of its cultural, historical, and aesthetic intervention, coming as it did before any of that generation had yet become famous or particularly aware of being subjected to the orientalist gaze of the international art-film audience. 

4. West of the Tracks Dir Wang Bing, 2003

This epic documentary achieves both extraordinary beauty and devastating honesty in revealing the human cost of post-socialist China's economic transformation. It is probably one of the best documentaries ever made, anywhere.

5. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934

Possibly the most consistently and wholly realised of the several masterpieces of the 1930s 'golden age' of Shanghai cinema, featuring one of the finest performances of one of the worlds greatest silent film actors, Ruan Lingyu.

6. Oxhide II Dir Liu Jiayin, 2005

One of the great minimalist masterpieces in the history of narrative cinema. Liu's systematic cycling of camera position through nine extraordinarily long shots almost place the work in the camp of structural film, but what equally remains with the viewer is the humanity of her (never over-sentimentalised) family preparing and enjoying a nice dumpling dinner together.

7. Street Angel Dir Yuan Muzhi, 1937

From the avant-garde city-symphony montage during the opening credits to the endearing romantic comedy dynamic between the very young Zhao Dan and Zhou Xuan, no film better captures the odd mix of formal experimentation, social criticism, and deployment of classical Hollywood conventions of the 1930s Shanghai left-wing film movement.

8. Crow and Sparrow Dir Zheng Junli, 1949

Unjustly overlooked in favor of grand melodramas from the late 1940s such as Spring River Flows East, Crows and Sparrows is that rare film that gets just about everything right, featuring an outstanding script, creative camerawork and editing, and superb performances, all while unforgettably capturing the essence of its unique historical moment--in which fear of class oppressors turns to anger and resistance, and then finally to the joy of liberation.

9. Chicken Poets Dir Meng Jinghui, 2002

A personal favorite that inexplicably seems to have made few waves in Chinese film history. Theatre director Meng Jinghui takes to feature-length narrative cinema with an exhilarating experimental abandon while also putting together a moving fable about the loss of the idealism of youth as well as the commodification of culture in contemporary China.

10. Disorder Dir Huang Weikai, 2009

A one-hour experimental film using found footage, Disorder documents the physical, ethical, psychological, and environmental dislocations of urban China today in a way that is both mesmerizing and absolutely terrifying.

Paul Clark


Film academic; one of the most authoritative scholars on Chinese film

1. Red Sorgum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987  

Red Sorghum comes top because it was more than just a film. It was a cultural phenomenon that indirectly spawned the emergence of Chinese rock music and gave a big boost to youth culture. 

2. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

3. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994 

4. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993 

5. Oxhide Dir Liu Jiayin, 2005 

6. Army Nurse Dir Hu Mei, 1985 

7. The Big Road Dir Sun Yu, 1935 

8. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994 

9. The Horse Thief Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986 

10. The Black Cannon Incident Dir Huang Jianxin, 1985

Zhen Zhang


Associate film professor, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University 

1. New Women Dir Cai Chusheng, 1935

The swan song of Ruan Lingyu, Chinese silent cinema's 'goddess' and answer to Greta Garbo.  Based on the life of writer Ai Xia who committed suicide in 1934, Ruan's own tragic suicide shortly after the release of the film underscores further the intertwinement of cinema and the fate of women in modern China. 

One of the cherished classics from the first golden age of Chinese cinema, the film's pathos-ladden final scene and Ruan's life that uncannily mirrored her screen performance were reenacted in Stanley Kwan's Center Stage (1992), starring Maggie Cheung.

2. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

3. Songs at Midnight Dir Maxu Weibang, 1937 

4. Princess Iron Fan Dir Wan Laiming, 1941 

5. Two Stage Sisters Dir Xie Jin, 1964 

6. Sacrifice of Youth Dir Zhang Nuanxin, 1985 

7. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993 

8. Rain and Clouds Over Wushan Mountains Dir Zhang Ming, 1996 

9. Old Men Dir Yang Lina, 1999 

10. Platform Dir Jia Zhangke, 2000

Michael Berry

Professor, East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies at University of California; author A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film

1. Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1997

An explosive feature film debut that powerfully captured the moral decay, physical transformation, and social malaise of contemporary China through the eyes of a small town pickpocket. Beyond the film's expose of official corruption, social alienation, and the calamities of development lies a stirring realism and a tragic humanism. 

Combining the observational qualities of underground documentary cinema with a tragic, almost operatic structure, Pickpocket re-wrote the rules for independent filmmaking in China and introduced the world to one of the most dynamic filmmakers working today. 

2. Summer Palace Dir Lou Ye, 2006

3. The Blue Kite Dir Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993

4. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

5. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934

6. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985

7. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994

8. In the Heat of the Sun Dir Jiang Wen, 1994

9. Blind Shaft Dir Li Yang, 2003

10. Though I Am Gone Dir Hu Jie, 2006

Zhou Bin

Editor, The Poetics of Cinema (Chinese edition)

1. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948

2. The Monkey King Dir Wan Laiming, 1965

3. The Butterfly Lovers Dir Sang Hu, Huang Sha, 1954

4. Two Stage Sisters Dir Xie Jin, 1964

5. February Dir Xie Tieli, 1964

6. New Year Sacrifice Dir Sang Hu, 1956

7. My Memories of Old Beijing Dir Wu Yigong, 1982

8. Hibiscus Town Dir Xie Jin, 1986

9. Sacrifice of Youth Dir Zhang Nuanxin, 1985

10. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985

Li Daoxin 


Professor of Film, Beijing University; Prominently published in Chinese film journals

1. The Goddess Dir Wu Yonggang, 1934 

The pinnacle of Chinese silent film highlighting Ruan Ling Yu's peerless elegance. 

2. The Spring River Flows East Dirs Cai Chusheng, Zheng Junli, 1947 

Early Chinese cinema's epic masterpiece 

3. Spring in a Small Town Dir Fei Mu, 1948 

4. Third Sister Liu Dir Su Li, 1960 

5. Yellow Earth Dir Chen Kaige, 1985 

6. Red Sorgum Dir Zhang Yimou, 1987 

7. Farewell My Concubine Dir Chen Kaige, 1993 

8. To Live Dir Zhang Yimou, 1994 

9. The Pickpocket Dir Jia Zhangke, 1998 

10. The Assembly Dir Feng Xiaogang, 2007