When someone mentions Chinese Cinema, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Raw special effects, ridiculously dramatic scenes, flying swordsmen fighting in fancy and flashy outfits?
In short, perhaps just the kind of cinema that you can enjoy for an hour or more, comfortably seated in one of those noisy Chinese movie theaters.
Yet, the Chinese cinematic art abounds with masterpieces that have the power to change our perspective on lights, streets or social realities that exist (or existed) in this enormous and thrilling country that is China. These directors give us the opportunity to understand a different society through the eyes of interesting and complex characters.
Here’s a list of beautiful movies which will introduce you to the delicate art of portraying a harsh reality, and will make you love China even more!
Raise the Red Lanterns by Zhang YiMou, 1991
In the 1920s, Songlian, a 19 year-old girl is set to be the 4th wife (and the 3rd concubine) of a wealthy old man. Trapped in his family mansion, she enters into the harsh and threatening world of power games and mischievous manipulation orchestrated by the other women of the household, who are all vying for attention and privileges of their husband.
Starring Gong Li, Ma Jingwu, He Saifei
Farewell my Concubine by Cheng KaiGe, 1993
The story of two performers in the Beijing Opera, stage brothers, and the woman who comes between them. At the same time, it attempts to do no less than squeeze the entire political history of China in the twentieth century into a three-hour tour de force.
Starring Leslie Cheung, Gong Li, Zhang Fengyi
In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar-Wai, 2000
Mr Chow and Ms Chan are neighbors. After severals suspicious coincidences, they get to know each other and realize soon that their respective partners are having affairs. A difficult relationship develops, as they agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs.
Starring Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung
11 Flowers by Wang XiaoShuai, 2012
In 1974, in the midst of China’s Cultural Revolution, an 11 year-old boy looks up at the world of adults with little understanding of what is happening around him. A meeting with a murderer on the run pushes him into a world of secrets and lies, and strips him of his innocence.
Starring Liu Wenqing, Jing-chun Wang, Yan Ni
A Touch of Sin by Jia Zhangke, 2013
Dahai, a mineworker, decides to stand up against the corruption of his town leaders. San’er, a migrant worker, discovers the endless possibilities of his gun. Xiaoyu, a sauna hostess, reaches breaking point after being harassed by a wealthy client. Xiaohui works from one job to another, as time goes by, his working conditions gradually worsen.
Four characters, four different regions, four dramatic stories, one reflection on Chinese modern society.
Starring Jiang Wu, Lanshan Luo, Zhao Tao