Has anyone seen the latest Matt Damon film, The Great Wall?
This epic stinker features Damon’s character playing a European mercenary who teams up with the commander of the Wall, performed by China’s Jing Tian.
Together they try to stop a mystical yet ferocious beast, the Taotie, from overrunning the Wall and potentially mankind.
Sounds uninspired? It is.
While the special effects are excellent, the plot is predictable and the scriptwriting is awkward at best. And the battle scenes are virtually straight out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
With roughly a 50/50 split between English and Mandarin dialogue, it’s blatantly obvious that the movie has been manufactured for both Chinese and American audiences.
Yes, it makes sense to create a bridge between Hollywood and China’s burgeoning film market. But can’t it be done with better movies?
This question leads us to our favorite movies – modern-day ‘classics’ that will make you laugh, cry and even learn about the history of China.
Here are our top 3 China-related movies of all time.
Third – Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Loved by audiences the world over, no one would have imagined that this computer-animated flick was going to be such a hit.
The hero of the story, a giant panda named Po, is what makes this movie so special. For all his failings, you just can’t help but adore him!
Jack Black, who plays Po, was born for this role. He injects the right amount of humor and earnestness the whole way through.
The star-studded cast also features Hong Kong legend Jackie Chan. Need we say more?
With its successful mix of action, drama, mysticism – and of course humor – the success of Kung Fu Panda has spawned a franchise of movies and spin-offs covering almost a decade.
Second – Raise The Red Lantern (1991)
This period drama set in the 1920s revolves around four women, three of whom are mistresses (or concubines) and the lengths they go to in order to have the master stay the night with them.
Once the master, whose face is never shown close-up, decides on his preferred concubine for the night, numerous red lanterns are lit up and attached outside the concubine’s home.
Raise The Red Lantern was filmed in this compound in Shanxi province, eastern China.
The newest concubine, a teenager named Songlian, can’t come to grips with her new life. She slowly starts to unravel and this causes much drama in the compound.
The movie gives you a glimpse into the rather depressing life of a concubine. Unable to do anything for themselves, not even cook a meal, the concubines have nothing left to do but to gossip, betray and plot against each other.
Raise The Red Lantern is the movie that Zhang Yimou is most well-known for. It’s a far cry from The Great Wall, which he also directed.
The movie was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 1992. It became only the second Chinese film to earn this gong (the first was Ju Dou in 1990, also directed by Zhang Yimou).
You can watch the full movie with English subtitles on YouTube.
First – The Joy Luck Club (1993)
Based on a novel by Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club is an incredibly heart-warming story about the complex relationships between women and their mothers.
The movie focuses on four Chinese-American families who live in San Francisco. They meet regularly to eat, tell stories and play the Chinese game, mah-jong.
The Joy Luck Club movie is based in San Francisco, USA as well as China.
The film reveals the hidden pasts of the mothers who grew up in China and how this influences the experiences of their American-raised daughters.
It’s a wonderful display of both Chinese and American cultures as each character tries to understand their family bonds and one another.
If you’re teaching advanced English in China, the historical elements and clash of cultures provide great discussion points in your classroom.
What also makes this movie special is the stellar performance of the relatively unknown cast. It truly is a fly-under-the-radar yet top-notch movie.
And, like all great movies, it ends in a tear-jerker!
We’d also like to give an honorable mention to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) for opening up the West’s eyes to Chinese martial arts and Chinese-themed movies more generally. The cinematography is superb.
Do you agree or disagree with our top 3 China-related movies of all time? We’d love to hear your thoughts.