Grab some bak kwa and pineapple tarts and gather your folks around the telly to catch these Chinese cinema gems.
The party’s winding down, the food’s getting cold and most of your happily inebriated guests are on their merry way home. But still, there’s a smattering of close friends and a couple of cousins who aren’t quite ready to cease the festivities. Well grab some bak kwa, (a far superior alternative to popcorn) plonk yourselves in front of the telly, leave the mess until tomorrow and catch a flick from our list of the best Chinese movies.
In The Mood For Love (2000)
Two words: Tony Leung. Wong Kar-wai’s romantic drama tells the tale of star-crossed lovers struggling to come to terms with unfaithful spouses and their own burgeoning extra-marital urges. The film is a visual treat, offering the viewer lush colours and clever camerawork. If you’re a fan of film noir, you’ll probably notice Wong’s not-so-subtle homages to the genre as well.
In The Mood For Love, directed by Wong Kar-wai, starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung.
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
This action-drama’s plotline has so much drama and we’re so here for it: Flyer Daggers is a Robin Hood-style rebel group that steals from the rich and give to the poor. Two police officers (played by Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro – swoon) are tasked to capture the group. They meet a blind dancer (Zhang Ziyi) who’s a suspect in the investigation but things get a little complicated when they both fall in love with her. The plot is filled with plenty of twists and action scenes to keep you on the edge of your seat. If you’ve never seen this, now is the time!
House of Flying Daggers, directed by Zhang Yimou, starring Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro
All’s Well, Ends Well (1992)
Love it or hate it, this story about three brothers and their crazy love lives go down as one of the best CNY classics in the 90s. Join the trio as they try to win the hearts of their in-laws and SOs with crazy antics, slapstick comedy and major ROFL moments. Trivia: it was one of the highest grossing Cantonese movies and is followed by six sequels.
All’s Well, Ends Well, directed Clifton Ko, starring Leslie Cheung, Stephen Chow, Raymond Wong, Maggie Cheung
IP Man (2008)
You can’t skip Wilson Yip’s martial arts masterpiece, IP Man. The movie tells the story of legendary Wing Chun grandmaster, Yip Man (also master to Bruce Lee) and his early life in the Japanese occupied prefecture of Foshan. If you’re a practitioner of martial arts yourself, you’ll definitely appreciate the authenticity and choreography displayed in this film.
IP Man, directed by Wilson Yip, starring Donnie Yen.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Set in the Qing Dynasty, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon brought the martial-arts genre back into Hollywood’s spotlight, paving the way for future movies like Hero. 15 years on, this classic remains one of the modern exemplars of the genre. Action junkies have lots to look forward to in this film, including THE most beautifully choreographed fight scene between Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, directed by Ang Lee, starring Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-fat, Chang Chen and Cheng Pei-pei.
A Chinese Ghost Story (2001)
In this part rom-com, part horror, part martial arts film, Leslie Cheung plays a traveling tax collector, takes shelter for the night in an abandoned temple. When he meets the lovely maiden Nip Siu-sin, he immediately falls for her. In a nutshell, she turns out to be a ghost forced to serve a cruel demon, and he resolves to save her from the evil spirit with the power of love and his martial arts skills. If you didn’t watch this over and over as a kid, start now.
A Chinese Ghost Story, directed by Ching Siu-Tung, starring Leslie Cheung, Joey Wong and Wu Ma.
Shaolin Soccer (2001)
If you think our first three entries to this list seem a little too heavy for a casual post-party flick, we hear you. As far as laid-back Chinese comedies go, Shaolin Soccer is our go-to movie. Expect over-the-top action, physical comedy and hilarious one-liners. Perhaps our favourite thing about Shaolin Soccer is that it’s a movie that makes no attempt to take itself seriously. And how could it? It’s the story of a Shaolin monk who takes his mastery of the martial arts out of the dojo and onto the pitch.
Shaolin Soccer, directed by Stephen Chow, starring Stephen Chaw, Zhao Wei, Ng Man-tat, Patrick Tse and Danny Chan Kwok-kwan.
Just two years after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Zhang Yimou’s take on the martial arts genre exploded into Hong Kong cinemas. The film stars Jet Li as the nameless protagonist who seeks an audience with the King after slaying the assassins who made an attempt on the latter’s life. The movie showcases some spectacular cinematography and martial arts choreography that’s exemplified by the duel in the Yellow Forest.
Hero, directed by Zhang Yimou, starring Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Zhang Ziyi, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung.
Infernal Affairs (2002)
Andrew Lau’s acclaimed crime-thriller takes viewers into Hong Kong’s underground world of triads and undercover policeman. The premise is a simple one, undercover cop meets a cop who’s actually a triad member, without either of them being any the wiser. The film is widely regarded as a benchmark for Asian filmmaking for its cinematic, story and technical prowess. Martin Scorsese was impressed enough by it that he directed its Western remake: The Departed, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson.
Infernal Affairs, directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, starring Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong Chau Sang, Eric Tsang and Edison Chen.
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
If the shenanigans in Shaolin Soccer cracked your ribs, you’ll love Stephen Chow’s next flick. This martial arts comedy tells the tale of two friends and their attempt to join the Deadly Axe Gang. Of course, nothing goes as their way and they soon find themselves on a hilarious misadventure chock full of mystical assassins and secret Kung Fu Masters.
Kung Fu Hustle, directed by Stephen Chow, starring Stephen Chow, Danny Chan, Yuen Wah, Yuen Qiu and Eva Huang.
A loosely related sequel to In The Mood For Love, 2046 presents audiences with four different story arcs that feature Chow Mo-wan’s (the protagonist of In The Mood For Love) continued quest for love. The final story arc recounts a Japanese passenger falling in love with an android in Wong Kar-wai’s bizarre, dystopian vision of the future. Typical of his style, the arcs are disjointed and presented in a non-chronological order.
2046, directed by Wong Kar-wai, starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Faye Wong, Gong Li, Takuya Kimura, Zhang Ziyi and Carina Lau.
Red Cliff (2008)
Red Cliff makes our list for its sheer visual appeal. The film is a fictionalised recounting of the Battle of Red Cliffs in 208 AD and features massive set pieces with thousands of soldiers. If you enjoyed movies like 300, Troy and Braveheart for their spectacular fight scenes, Red Cliff’s penultimate battle will definitely get your adrenaline pumping.
Red Cliff, directed by John Woo, starring Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen and Zhao Wei.
Enter The Dragon (1973)
Did you really think we’d put together a list of Chinese movies and not include the quintessential Bruce Lee flick? Unlike most of the films on this list, Enter The Dragon was filmed in English, so your buddies who don’t speak Mandarin won’t have to strain their eyes reading subtitles. While definitely a Hong Kong film, Enter The Dragon takes many cues from Western cinema making it much more accessible than films like Hero and Red Cliff.
Enter The Dragon, directed by Robert Clouse, starring Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly, John Saxon, Bolo Yeung and Shih Kien.
We know it’s an all-Chinese list but couldn’t help including these two…
Okay, it isn’t independent Asian cinema, but it would be a dishonour on your family (and your cow) if you’ve never watched Mulan. The plot follows one of China’s most beloved ancient fables about how a girl disguises herself as a man to take her ailing father’s spot in the Chinese military. Spoiler: she eventually saves China. Plus, the Disney version with Mushu the dragon and that adorable cricket is great to watch with kids.
Mulan, directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook, voiced by Ming-Na Wen, B. D. Wong, Eddie Murphy and Lea Salonga
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
A Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast and a plot set in Singapore? 2018 saw a milestone moment for Asians in mainstream cinema (although its representation of Singapore, minorities and class did stir up a lot of debate). Others dismissed it as just another rom-com – but it did win best film at 2019’s Critics’ Choice Awards. It’s a fun film to watch if you just wanna avoid awkward convos with that long-lost cousin. Also fun for spotting absurd moments like when every time they’re driving, it’s via the same stretch of the ECP.
Crazy Rich Asians, directed by Jon M. Chu, starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh.