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Shelly’s Top Ten Mainland Chinese films of the 2000s

Oxhide II (dir. Liu Jiayin)

Oxhide 2 (dir. Liu Jiayin)

On Wednesday, dGenerate Films will publish the results of its poll of Chinese filmmakers and experts on the top Chinese language films of the past decade. While the poll includes all Chinese language films, we’d like to take a moment to focus on films from Mainland China. Here are Shelly Kraicer’s top ten Mainland Chinese films of the 2000s, with some observations on key developments in the field over the past ten years. Shelly will give a slightly different list that includes all Chinese-language cinema for the official poll.


The editors of the dGenerate Films blog have asked me to come up with a list of the ten best Chinese films of the decade (2000-2009). I’ve thought about this for several days, and would prefer to call these the ten films from China that I consider to be the most important from the last ten years. This shifts the emphasis from “best”, from some difficult-do-objectify criterion of excellence to one of significance. Equally non-objective, to be sure, but I feel more comfortable with significance as a subjective criterion. This is for several reasons: one in particular is that “best” seems at least to imply a criterion of professional polish, of mastery, that I would not want to over-value while surveying recent Chinese film.

In fact, the key trend, if I can call it that, of the last decade of Chinese filmmaking seems to be precisely its de-professionalization. Filmmaking has moved beyond the academy, the Beijing Film Academy to be exact, responsible for so many filmmakers superbly trained in their crafts, and towards something much more broadly based and open, dominated by amateur digital filmmaking. These young, often self-trained filmmakers aren’t necessarily making the most well-crafted films out there, but their experiments are often among the most important things happening in cinema in this part of the world.

Rather than ranking films (which is sort of silly: what makes #6 better than #7?), I’d like to group my choices into three larger sets, as follows:

Three masterpieces:

Platform (Zhantai), Jia Zhangke, 2001 Jia’s masterpiece, so far: beautiful moving, profound: the closest cinema in the PRC has come yet to its own grand generational narrative

West of Tracks (Tiexi qu), Wang Bing, 2002 A film that changed the way we see China: a cinema monument that defines the close of an era

Oxhide 2 (Niupi 2), Liu Jiayin, 2009 A structuralist experiment with a narrative core: and Liu makes these two apparent opposites seem simply to be the same: funny and profound.

Seven more that stand out: Suzhou River (Suzhou he), Lou Ye, 2000 Lou’s most accomplished poetic fusion of style and content

Looking for Lin Zhao’s Soul (Xunzhao Lin Zhao de linghun), Hu Jie, 2005 Morally devastating, emotionally eviscerating, a testament to the courage of both its subject and its director

Still Life (Sanxia haoren), Jia Zhangke, 2006 Jia’s formal control contains fabulist touches and a staggeringly comprehensive intellectual apparatus

The Sun Also Rises (Taiyang zhaochang shengqi), Jiang Wen, 2007 Mysteriously beautiful, masterful even in its confusion (or is it ours, facing something so new we don’t yet know how to read it?)

Jalainur (Zhalainuo’er), Zhao Ye, 2008 China’s youngest poet of cinema: light, shadow, colour, steam and snow.

The Search (Xunzhao Zhimei Gengdeng), Wanma Caidan, 2009 So understated is this fable of making cinema (and love) that its sorrow and rage speak softly, all the more powerfully

Petition (Shangfang), Zhao Liang, 2009 China’s other great long form new documentary, with a political daring and commitment to the real that, at the limit, transmutes reality into something shocking (the 316 minute long version)

Other films of great significance this decade:

Orphan of Anyang (Anyang ying’er), Wang Chao, 2001 Seafood (Haixian), Zhu Wen (2001) Fish and Elephant (Jinnian xiatian), Li Yu, 2001 Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest (Zhulin qi xian), Yang Fudong, 2003 Tang Poetry (Tangshi), Zhang Lu, 2004 South of the Clouds (Yunde nanfang), Zhu Wen, 2004 A World Without Thieves (Tianxia wuzei), Feng Xiaogang, 2004 Oxhide (Niupi), Liu Jiayin, 2005 Thirteen Princess Trees (Shisan ke paotong), Lu Yue, 2006 Yasukuni (Jingguo shenshe), Li Ying, 2007 The Other Half (Ling yiban), Ying Liang, 2007 Little Moth (Xue chan), Peng Tao, 2007 Survival Song (Xiao Lizi), Yu Guangyi, 2008 24 City (24 chengji), Jia Zhangke, 2008 Perfect Life (Wanmei shenghuo), Emily Tang, 2008 Sun Spots (Guang ban), Yang Heng, 2009


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