There are a couple of things that come to mind when someone says “Chinese films”. The first is definitely martial arts, the second is the master of this art- Bruce Lee, and the third is the global star who took action movies to a completely different level- Jackie Chan. Even though Chinese action movies continue to make money at the international box office, there is so much more to its cinema that needs to be dug out and savoured. The past decade has seen a rise in the trend where the audience want to move beyond martial arts (which in no way means that they’ll ever let go of it) and see more substance. Here is the list of the best Chinese movies of the decade (2010-2019):
17. Drug War (2012)
‘Drug War’ follows the relationship between a crime lord and a police officer. Police Captain Zhang arrests Timmy Choi, a drug lord, who has been evading the law for so long that the charges on him now will only lead to a death penalty. Of course, Choi doesn’t want to die, so he makes a deal with the cops. He agrees to give them the bigger fish, his partner who has a stronger hold on the business. Choi is sent back to inform on him, but as time passes, Zhang becomes suspicious of Choi’s intentions.
16. A Simple Life (2011)
‘A Simple Life’ follows the life of a man who sees a role reversal with his maidservant when she falls on hard times. Chun-to has worked for Roger Leung’s family for decades. She has been a dedicated worker, but now, her health has begun to deteriorate. When she suffers a stroke and asks to be put into a nursing home, Roger takes it upon himself to take care of all of her needs. A new understanding is forged between them, bestowing a different perspective for life on him.
15. A Time for Consequences (2015)
No best Chinese films list is complete without an action-packed martial arts movie. ‘A Time for Consequences’ also known as ‘Kill Zone 2’ fits perfectly in this category. A sequel to the highly successful 2005 film, it features a new path, devoid of any connections with the previous storyline, for the protagonist. It follows a cop whose cover is blown, due to which he is sent to a Thai prison. While figuring out how to get out of there, he comes across a heinous scheme underway.
14. The Coffin in the Mountain (2014)
Life has a peculiar way of bringing everyone together. We might not know it but the things that turn our lives around might also have a drastic effect on the course of other people’s story. ‘The Coffin in the Mountain’ presents one tragedy through three perspectives to show us how one bad thing for a person can be a great thing for another. One of the characters is a man who doesn’t want anything to do with his crime lord of a father. But when he accidentally kills a man, he is forced to reconsider his decision. The next in the picture is a victim of domestic violence who decides to murder her husband. The third piece of the puzzle is a simple villager whose son gets entangled in this mess.
13. The Piano in a Factory (2010)
Optimism is very important to keep you going in your hardest of times. It also keeps you clear-headed, helps you make rational decisions under pressure. If you lack this quality and want someone to inspire you, then you should look at the life of Chen Guilin, the protagonist of ‘The Piano in a Factory’. Set in the 1990s, the film begins with a heart-break for Chen. Not only does he lose his job, but also his wife leaves him for another, richer man. When it comes to divorce, the custody of their daughter becomes a contesting matter. To see who can provide the child better, Chen and his wife are asked to procure a piano for their daughter.
12. Ip Man 2 (2010)
Ip Man is the legendary martial artist who is known for his expertise in the art of Wing Chun Kung Fu and has mentored great masters, the most famous of them Bruce Lee. His life events were adapted for the screen for the first time in 2008 with ‘Ip Man’, starring Donnie Yen. The film received international success and has since then, has seen a number of sequels, with another on the way in December 2019. ‘Ip Man 2’ follows up on the success of its predecessor and gives us another action-packed film which gives us greater insights into the struggle of the man to keep alive the art of Wing Chun. This time, he has to face off the competition of other martial artists in British Hong Kong.
11. Kaili Blues (2015)
It is hard to figure out what genre ‘Kaili Blues’ actually fits in. While it has the air of a mystery, the characters sunken in the world of crime or recovering from it, there is also an undercurrent that demands deeper understanding. We know the endgame of the protagonist, but what exactly is it that drives him. The nature of his surroundings adds another layer to the story. The protagonist is a man who has left behind his life of crime and now works at a quiet clinic. When he discovers that his young nephew is on the brink of something that can throw him in the same world that he fought his way out of, he decides to visit him. A lot of lessons are learnt on the way.
10. Unbeatable (2013)
‘Unbeatable’ tells the story of a man who rediscovers the purpose of his life after mentoring someone who harbours the same dream he once had. Ching Fai had been a champion of the boxing world, but the success got to his head and he got involved with the criminal world when he fell on financially trying times. Unable to pay the loan he owes to the Triad; he is chased out of his hometown and flees to Macau. Trying to make a living as a taxi driver, he crosses paths with a young man who is starting out as a boxer and needs guidance.
9. Mountains May Depart (2015)
‘Mountains May Depart’ focus on three crucial stages in the life of a woman. The first part begins in 1999 when a young Tao has to make a decision that will decide the course of her life. Should she marry the man she doesn’t love but who can change her financial situation? Or should she listen to her heart and marry the man who doesn’t have material wealth? Torn between love and life, she makes a difficult choice. The second and the third section focus on her marriage and the conflicted relationship with her son.
8. Let the Bullets Fly (2010)
‘Let the Bullets Fly’ is an action-comedy that is set in the Warlord era of the 1920s. It begins with a man named Ma Bangde, on the train to Goose Town, where he is to take over as the governor. However, the derailing of the train leads to the death of his bodyguards as well as his trusted advisor. When it is revealed to be the plan of the bandits, Ma comes up with an idea to keep himself alive. He tells the bandit chief that the governor has died and he is the advisor; and if the chief takes over as the governor of the town, he will help him drain its finances.
7. Ne Zha (2019)
This fantasy adventure animation film became the second highest-grossing film of all time in China. It also became the first animated feature from China to be sent as an entry for Best Foreign Feature in the Academy Awards but wasn’t nominated. It is based on the novel called ‘Investiture of the Gods’, one of the Chinese classics that creates an intense world of gods and demons. The basic premise has an evil force balancing a good one. There are two beads- each of them carrying the essence of the good and the bad, and Ne Zha is supposed to be the one that has the good bead. However, a mix-up happens and the saviour of the world turns into devil incarnate.
6. The Nightingale (2013)
The scale of Chinese cities can be overwhelming. Home to the highest population on Earth, its urban life is electric and vigorous. Many Chinese films make use of this scenario, but there is also a polar opposite side of the country that is just as, if not more, alluring than city life. ‘The Nightingale’ shows you that side while indulging you into deep contemplation about life and family. The story follows a man and his grand-daughter who start on a journey to fulfil the promise that he had made to his wife. Their only other companion is a bird in the cage.
5. Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)
The crime dramas, especially murder mysteries, are something that Hollywood likes to create in abundance. Despite this, the Asian cinema seems to have gotten a better grasp on turning dark stories even murkier. Look towards Korean films and you’ll know what I am talking about. Chinese cinema, too, presents itself as the frontrunner by producing films like ‘Black Coal, Thin Ice’. The chain of events, here, start in 1999 when a police officer survives a deadly shooting while apprehending a serial killer. He never manages to get over the trauma and is thrown back in that frenzy after a couple of years when he discovers that the murders with the same MO are happening again.
4. Dearest (2014)
Child abduction is one of the most prevalent crimes in China. It has been a problem since ancient times, and despite the strict laws passed against it in recent years, it continues to be a nightmare for parents. ‘Dearest’ is based on a true event where a young boy is abducted and his parents relentlessly try to search for him. As we witness their struggles, which open us up to the dire situation in the country, we also get to see what happens with the children and the people who abduct them. In the end, the whole thing becomes a complicated mix of characters and their justifiable emotions.
Read More: Best Murder Movies of the Decade
3. Aftershock (2010)
The 1976 Tangshan earthquake was massively devastating, claiming the lives of around 250,000 people. ‘Aftershock’ uses this premise to tell the story of a girl whose life takes a completely different turn after she is stuck in her apartment along with her brother. The film was received very well critically and was a major hit at the box-office. At the centre of it is Fang Deng. The night of the disaster, she and her twin brother are caught in the debris of their apartment, and during the rescue, their mother is informed that she can only save one of them. With a heavy heart, she chooses the boy; but the girl survives and is adopted by another family. Years later, Fang Deng decides to find out what happened to her mother and brother.
Read More: Best Korean Dramas of the 2010s
2. Under the Hawthorn Tree (2010)
Zhang Yimou’s biggest venture came in the form of Matt Damon starrer ‘The Great Wall’. It turned out to be a critical disaster, and one might have been forced to question the director’s talent, but that’d only be when you haven’t seen his other films. Everyone makes mistakes, right? If you want to explore more of Yimou’s works, you should start with ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’. Based on a true story, it is set during the Cultural Revolution in China. While the country goes through a great shift in its ideology, a romance blossoms between two people from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
Read More: Best Teen Movies of the 2010s
1. A Touch of Sin (2013)
As geographically vast as China is, its history and politics have seen huge upheavals too. Rarely is the reflection of the country’s current state of affairs seen in a film as clear as it is depicted in the stories of ‘A Touch of Sin’. Directed by Jia Zhangke, who quite often indulges in the exploration of the state and its bureaucracy through his works, this film is an anthology of four stories. Each of them focuses on what might seem like a random act of violence to an outsider, but the connection between them gives a proper context to it. From the bustling streets of a city to the quiet surroundings of the countryside, it presents China in a whole different form.
Read More: Best Korean Movies of the 2010s