Chinese films are one of the cornerstones of media in East Asia. However, its popularity is on the steady rise in the West. From the standard martial arts flicks to romance or period dramas, this list of nineteen best Chinese movies is an incredible way to start your movie marathons.
1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Chinese 2h IMDb
Director: Ang Lee
Stars: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang
Let’s get to one of the classics to start the list. Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, might be the most popular martial arts film worldwide. Starring some of the most well-known faces in Chinese cinema, the film showcases Michelle Yeoh’s and Chow Yun-Fat’s talents.
The story follows Yu Shu Lien, a female warrior on the hunt for the thief who stole Li Mu Bai’s legendary sword. On the trail of the burglar, the two manage to find something more. As the film derives its plot beats from the Chinese epic, it’s an entertaining dive into traditional Chinese cinema.
2. The Battle at Lake Changjin (2021)
Chinese 2h 56m IMDb
Director: Kaige Chen, Dante Lam, Hark Tsui
Stars: Jing Wu, Jackson Yee, Yihong Duan
Despite being a new film, The Battle at Like Changjin has been the highest-grossing film in Chinese cinema since 2021. The film details the battle between the People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) against the Koreans during the Korean War. It’s an incredibly harrowing film, showcasing the different point-of-view in the faces of war.
The film is not as popular in the West as in the local audiences. With its $200 million budget, the movie has a gross of $900 million, making it a blockbuster hit.
3. Hi, Mom (2021)
English 2h 8m IMDb
Director: Ling Jia
Stars: Ling Jia, Xiaofei Zhang, Teng Shen
As prevalent in Asian culture, the family theme has been an integral part of the cinema. Ling Jia’s Hi, Mom is a familial tale that tackles the bond between a mother and a daughter. The film’s comedic storytelling and raw emotional beats garnered critical and commercial acclaim in China.
The film follows Li Huan Ying (Xiaofei Zhang) as she finds herself traveling back in time. To improve her life, she sets on to befriend her mother, Jia Xiao Ling (Ling Jia). The film mixes comedy with tearjerker moments, making it a fun and poignant film about maternal love.
4. Ne Zha (2019)
Chinese 1h 50m IMDb
Director: Yu Yang
Stars: Yanting Lü(voice), Joseph(voice), Mo Han(voice)
Burning with passion, Yu Yang’s Ne Zha sits as the highest animated Chinese film in the country’s history. The film grossed $700 million and received many accolades. With its bombastic animation and moving tale, the movie sets on a journey inspired by Chinese folk legends.
The film details the story of Ne Zha as he struggles to find his footing in the face of destiny. With the partition of a demon and spirit bead, he should be the one to help establish a new dynasty. However, Ne Zhan finds himself as the devil incarnate with the switch of the beads.
5. The Wandering Earth (2019)
Chinese 2h 5m IMDb
Director: Frant Gwo
Stars: Jing Wu, Chuxiao Qu, Guangjie Li
If you are looking for a Chinese sci-fi film, The Wandering Earth is an excellent place to start the journey. We all know that the sun is the primary source of human and plant life on Earth. So, what would happen if the sun died out?
The Wandering Earth follows the 2500-year journey of Earth from the Solar System to a neighboring star. With the unruly harshness of space, humans must showcase their tenacity and resourcefulness to humankind. With its high-stakes premise, you will surely be at the edge of your seat.
6. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Chinese 1h 39m IMDb
Director: Stephen Chow
Stars: Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, Qiu Yuen
Kung Fu Hustle might be one of the films synonymous with Chinese cinema. Filled with comedic scenes and well-choreographed action sequences, you are in for a fun martial arts film. You can guarantee a brilliant performance in every scene with incredible actors such as Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, and Qui Yuen.
The film follows Sing as he desperately wants to join the local Axe Gang. After trying to extort an apartment in the slum, he finds himself in the middle of the war between the Axe Gang and the residents, who are martial arts masters.
7. The Mermaid (2016)
Chinese 1h 34m IMDb
Director: Stephen Chow
Stars: Chao Deng, Show Lo, Yuqi Zhang
If you want a romantic-comedy flick with a fantasy flair, this film by the well-known Chinese actor Stephen Chow is a must-watch. The film creates a fun, whimsical, and gush-worthy romance story with a side of romance and commentary about the state of nature.
The film details the story of a mermaid Shan (Yun Lin), as she sets on to assassinate the developer Liu Xuan (Chao Deng). With the rise of current projects in the area, Shan’s home is threatened. However, she falls in love with Xuan as their bond continues to grow.
8. Ip Man (2008)
Chinese 1h 46m IMDb
Director: Wilson Yip
Stars: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan
Ip Man details the story of one of the most popular martial arts masters in the history of China. This biographical flick mixes entertaining action with the real-life socio-economic problems of the time.
With the direction of Wilson Yip and the incredibly brilliant acting of Donnie Yen, the film sits as one of the most well-received Chinese films worldwide.
The story is set in Fo Shan, China, in the 1930s. With the Japanese invasion, Ip finds his home and family in a much decrepit state. Ip Man and his people must find a way to fend for themselves.
9. House of Flying Daggers (2004)
Chinese 1h 59m IMDb
Director: Yimou Zhang
Stars: Ziyi Zhang, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau
It’s no secret that the House of Flying Daggers is one of the most popular martial arts classics of the early 2000s. It’s no surprise that this film is ripe with gripping action and poignant inspiration from Chinese folktales. Its director Yimou Zhang also directed some action classics such as Raise the Red Lantern and Jet Li’s Hero.
House of Flying Daggers follows the story of Mei, a member of an opposing rebel group, and Jin, a police officer. Set in the Tang Dynasty, the film showcases the intricate culture of the era while showing an entertaining story.
10. Lust, Caution (2007)
Chinese 2h 37m IMDb
Director: Ang Lee
Stars: Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tang Wei, Joan Chen
With the rise of the Japanese occupation in Shanghai, many were tired of the corrupted system. This film is an exceptionally romantic film that incorporates war politics in its front. The film creates an intriguing allure with a contrast between lust and war.
Lust, Caution revolves around the complicated relationship between. Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) and Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). Wong Chai Chi is on a mission to assassinate Mr. Yee, who has ties to the Japanese forces. However, as the characters spend time together, she slowly falls in love with the man she must kill.
11. Two Stage Sisters (1964)
Chinese 1h 52m IMDb
Director: Jin Xie
Stars: Fang XieYindi CaoNan Deng
Set in the pre-revolutionary era, two opera singers find themselves drifting apart. Chunhua (Fang Xie) and Yuehong Xing (Yindi Cao) are young singers on the rise in their careers. However, with the turmoil of the revolution, the two find themselves on conflicting ends.
The film deals with the complex topic of Chinese history. Set in a chaotic time in China, it’s a film that not just entertains but also offers a deeper look into the Chinese values of the era. Two-Stage Sisters is an excellent addition to your must-watch list if you love historical period films.
12. Hello Mr. Billionaire (2018)
Chinese 1h 58m IMDb
Director: Da-Mo PengFei Yan
Stars: Teng Shen, Vivian Sung, Lun Ai
A down-of-his-luck minor league goalkeeper finds himself a billionaire. Unbeknownst to him, Wang Duo Yu (Teng Shen) has a rich uncle that recently died a billionaire. With Wang Dou Yo’s name on the will, he must spend one billion a month to get the 30 billion his uncle left for him.
Directors Da-Mo Peng and Fei Yan’s comedic genius is showcased in this absurd yet entertaining flick. With performances from Teng Shen and Vivian Sung, you are in for a hilarious yet emotional film.
13. Farewell My Concubine (1993)
Chinese 2h 51m IMDb
Director: Kaige Chen
Stars: Leslie Cheung, Fengyi Zhang, Gong Li
Ripe with inspiration from the political and sociological time in China in the twentieth century, Farewell My Concubine is an incredibly poignant film. The movie details the story of two-stage brothers as they grow and develop their bond together. In the middle of their bond is a woman who might pose a threat in their bond.
Farewell, My Concubine is one of the films that sets Chinese cinema into a worldwide success. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival of 1993, it’s no secret that the film garnered many accolades and critical acclaim.
14. Dream Home (2010)
Chinese 1h 36m IMDb
Director: Ho-Cheung Pang
Stars: Josie Ho, Ching Wong, Helen To
Ho-Cheung Pang’s Dream Home is a Chinese horror film not for the faint of heart. Ripe with brutal scenes and a chilling thriller, the movie is something you couldn’t watch alone at night.
Dream Home follows the story of Cheng Lai Sheung (Josie Ho) as she strives to provide her family with something they can call home. Growing up poor, Lai Sheung’s family and friends are kicked out of their low-rent apartment. With her adult mind finally snapping, Lai Sheung starts a string of brutal murders.
15. Monster Hunt (2015)
Chinese 1h 57m IMDb
Director: Raman Hui
Stars: Baihe Bai, Boran Jing, Wu Jiang
Monster Hunt is a fun fantasy-adventure film belonging to the Top 20 highest-grossing film in Chinese cinema. It details the story between the monster race and the human race finally intertwining with each other. With the stark contrast between the two races, they must learn how to live with each other.
Raman Hui’s Monster Hunt might be one of the most artistic Chinese films of the late 2010s. It mixes the live-action cinematography with the 3D rendered monsters. A feat in animation, you can see the quality and passion through the monster and human characters.
16. Dying to Survive (2018)
Chinese 1h 57m IMDb
Director: Muye Wen
Stars: Zheng Xu, Yiwei Zhou, Chuan-jun Wang
A very poignant film, Dying to Survive, showcases the journey of Cheng Yong (Xu Zheng) as he starts to smuggle Indian medicine for leukemia into his store.
As his shop gains popularity with those who have leukemia, Cheng Yong finds himself moved by the hope for the future. With the Chinese police on his track, he is torn between helping and protecting himself.
With its social commentary and raw emotions, the comedy-drama film was the third highest-grossing film in 2018. It’s a striking, tear-jerking film that will have you sniff through tissue before the credits roll down.
17. Big Fish and Begonia (2016)
Chinese 1h 45m IMDb
Director: Xuan Liang, Chun Zhang
Stars: Guanlin Ji(voice), Shangqing Su(voice), Timmy Xu(voice)
Big Fish and Begonia is a 2016 animated film with fantastical tones. The story revolves around the sixteen-year-old Chun, who appears to be living in the spirit world. As she grew, Chun always dreamed of exploring the human world. However, it is not what she bargains for as she is almost sucked into a vortex.
With the sacrifice of a young boy, Chun is moved and decides to give him life again. The film is very akin to the traditional Japanese Ghibli tale. It’s whimsical and deals with deep philosophical themes through the guise of a young protagonist.
18. In the Heat of the Sun (1994)
Chinese 2h 14m IMDb
Director: Wen Jiang
Stars: Yu Xia, Wei Chen, Shaobo Dai
Most films about revolution deal with the guise of the two conflicting points. However, Wen Jiang’s In the Heat of the Sun deals with the point of view of four teenagers. With this refreshing film, the look into the hot summer sun in the 1970s has never been so intriguing.
The film is a classic not just in China but in Asian cinema. Even modern, the film still leaves its trail in various awards and critical acclaim. Evident in the 2018 ranking of Non-English Speaking Films by BBC, where the film stood at the 98th spot.
19. Infernal Affairs (2002)
Chinese 1h 41m IMDb
Director: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
Stars: Andy Lau, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong
With the essence of the cat and mouse trails, Infernal Affairs is a film that hinges on thrillers and crime. The story follows Chen Wing Yan (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), a police officer searching for a traitor in the police force. Inspector Lau Kin Ming (Andy Lau), a mafia member that infiltrated the police, is hot on Wing Yan’s tail.
The film is one of the most critically acclaimed films in Chinese cinema. You are in for gripping scenes and gut-punching sequences with an incredible mix of mystery and action.
The Chinese cinema showcases a wide variety of incredible films that can entertain and leave an impact as you watch them. Even though we cannot go through every one of them, this list of the nineteen best Chinese films is an excellent starter and addition to your must-watch list.