100 Best Mainland Chinese Films Poll Spotlights dGenerate Titles
“Oxhide II” (dir. Liu Jiayin)
The sister publications Time Out Beijing and Time Out Shanghai recently conducted an international poll of 88 Chinese filmmakers, scholars, professionals and other experts to compile a list of the 100 greatest films made in Mainland China. They have presented the results in generous fashion, with a multi-page, suspense-building countdown of the 100 films with brief introductions to each. The countdown begins here; the list can also be accessed in complete form here.
We at dGenerate were pleased to see that six titles in the dGenerate collection placed in the poll: Oxhide (#27), Oxhide II (#63), Winter Vacation (#74), Disorder (#80), Karamay (#86), and Fortune Teller (#88). Congratulations to directors Liu Jiayin, Li Hongqi, Huang Weikai, Xu Xin and Xu Tong on making the list. We also congratulate directors Jia Zhangke and Ying Liang, who are also represented in the dGenerate collection, on making the list with their films (Jia alone had seven titles on the list).
Karin Chien dGenerate Films President and Founder
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
Kevin B. Lee dGenerate Films VP of Programming and co-founder
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 Concubine, To Live, Platform 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
Maya Rudolph dGenerate Films writer and contributor
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