8 Chinese films to watch and satisfy your state of mind
Coming home after a day of pencil pushing, many of us like nothing better than to settle down and relax with a good movie. While this may sound like an easy activity to wind down the evening with, choosing the right entertainment may cause unwanted mental stress, and is very much dependent on current mood and company.
Rather than resetting to a default movie that may have served well in the past, here are some suggestions for Chinese films to satiate different appetites.
“I need to unplug and vegetate in front of the screen”
Any Stephen Chow film pre-CJ7
Hong Kong actor, director, and madman Stephen Chow is known for his absurd comedies that elicit audible laughter. Since much of his earlier work is less serious and plot-dependent, his films provide an easy medium for relaxation where story development is not essential for enjoyment.
Films such as A Chinese Odyssey, Flirting Scholar, and Forbidden City Cop will never steer viewers wrong.
So why not any films since CJ7? CJ7, while containing much of the comic stylings that Chow is known for, has a much more serious tone to it. A viewer too tired for plot developments will severely under-appreciate the film. As for his more recent work, they all share one fault—no Stephen Chow in front of the camera. [Ed’s note: It’s hard to go wrong with Kung Fu Hustle, though]
“Life sucks now. Remember the good old days?”
Goodbye Mr. Loser
We’ve talked about the Mahua FunAge, the theatrical comedy troupe that have taken their craft to the silver screen with Mr. Donkey et alia, and their first cinematic outing fits the bill perfectly.
In the nostalgic tradition of About Time, Sliding Doors, and Timecop, the story is about a man, unsatisfied with life, who somehow finds himself transported back to his high-school days. Throw in a pinch of slapstick, a teaspoon of melancholy, and a generous dollop of pop culture. Then sit back and marinate in what could have been.
“It’s date night again.”
Be There or Be Square
Ignore the terrible title, because this romantic-comedy from Feng Xiaogang is a classic.
The film follows a Chinese man and woman living in Los Angeles who cross paths at different points in their life. Their relationship skirts the line between friendship and love while disaster consistently attacks from the outside. The movie itself is funny, sweet, and audiences may end the viewing with a strong belief in the concept of “fate.”
“I wish I could live in a different reality.”
Escapism in Chinese cinema is relatively easy. The country produces plenty of content that sets action in a different world. Unfortunately, for science fiction fans, most take the fantasy route.
With this in mind, we could have chosen multiple Academy Awards winner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, dusted our hands, and moved on. Instead, Hero is the choice that readers should make.
While not as acclaimed or widely-seen, Hero’s use of color, landscapes, and action take viewers to fantastic locations more so than Crouching Tiger.
The story is one of assassination, unity, and sacrifice. But ignore that and simply revel in its beauty.
“The kids aren’t in bed yet.”
Monkey King: Hero Is Back
Officially, films shown in China lack ratings, so there is no guidance given for audiences as to which age groups a given movie is suitable for. Thus, in theory, all cinematic offerings are child-friendly.
Despite this, there can be no doubt that certain films have more appeal to children than others. In particular, animated films.
And one of the best animated film brought to audiences by the country that is sustaining the Despicable Me franchise by itself is Monkey King: Hero Is Back.
A fantastic tale of fighting evil against the odds, Monkey King rehashes an old favorite for a new generation. The animation is crisp, the story is classic (cliched), and, given that it is the highest-grossing Chinese animated film, the kids will love it.
“Need to channel my anger somewhere.”
SPL: Sha Po Lang
If Chinese cinema is known for anything, it’s martial arts. But with such a wide variety to choose from which ones should make the cut? Do you go old school with Drunken Master? Or maybe watch the country’s most successful film Wolf Warrior 2?
Neither. SPL is the choice to make.
Starring action mainstays Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung, SPL is the story of a morally questionable police officer’s journey to take down a crime lord. The action scenes are some of the most visceral and kinetic fights seen in cinema and includes a legendary duel—rumored to be improvized—between Yen and Wu Jing (from Wolf Warrior) in his breakout role.
While the movie spawned two sequels (so far), the original is still a gold standard in Chinese action films.
“I’m a cog in a machine and I hate it.”
Mahua FunAge makes their second appearance on the list with Mr. Donkey. Although it still maintains the comedy and wit that the troupe are known for, the movie also descends into the darker side of humanity as corruption and deception takes its toll.
Set in 1942, the film tells the story of a small isolated school that is to be inspected by officials. Unfortunately, in order to gain extra funding, the headmaster has lied about a non-existent English teacher, the titular Mr. Donkey.
What follows is a satirical look at what happens when greed, fear, and corruption take hold. And although the movie is set in the midst of World War II, one may find relevance in any time period. However, it is highly likely that film could not have been made if it were set in the period after the establishment of the National Basketball Association in 1949.
So enjoy the fashion of the time.
“Mindless films are for weaklings.”
Let The Bullets Fly
A darkly comedic Chinese western, Let The Bullets Fly has been the subject of much analysis since its release in 2010. There are multiple theories as to what the film is about, what kind of political commentary (if any) lies behind it, and how it evaded the censors. In fact, many “intellectual elites” will criticize those who claim to “understand” the movie.
Taken at face value, the film is about a group of thieves and conmen who take over a town and are then locked in battle (mental and physical) with a local corrupt businessman. And even if that’s all you get from the film, it’s still a rollicking good time.
Cover image from Mtime