RadiiChina's 100 Films to Watch to Help You Understand China

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The history of cinema has shadowed the history of modern China, turning a lens on more than a century of radical upheavals that have given form and substance to the People’s Republic as it stands today. In the spirit of exploring this vast and complex country through the layer of its big-screen output, RADII presents our list of 100 Films to Understand China. This is not a ranked list of 1-100 — we’re not trying to tell you the 100 “best” or “most important” films to come out of China. Our goal is to give a round and deep profile of the country through the medium of films made here in the last 100 years or so.

This list is a syllabus of movies across the spectrum of time, space and quality that, taken together, provide a snapshot of today’s China, the forces that shaped it, and the directions in which it’s moving looking forward. We’re focusing primarily on films made in mainland China, since these come from a different cultural context and industrial framework than films made in Hong Kong or Taiwan.

In assembling the list we reached out to filmmakers, producers, distributors, curators, critics, experts and industry insiders, who gave us an eclectic mix of mainstream titles, cult classics, and deep cuts. They provided these via the category headings that we provided and therefore do not necessarily endorse all of the selections you’ll find here.

To make it easier to navigate, we’ve divided the 100 films up into 10 categories with 10 movies each:

- Pre-war Shanghai;
- The Mao Years;
- Opening Up;
- Indie & Arthouse;
- Documentaries;
- Wuxia;
- Pop(corn) Culture;
- China Today;
- Bad Films;
- Animation.

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  1. 1 new

    Pan si dong

    1927, in 0 top lists Check
  2. 2 new

    Gu du chun meng

    1930, in 0 top lists
    Check
  3. 3 new

    Yinhe shuangxing

    1931 — a.k.a. Two Stars in the Milky Way, in 0 top lists Check
  4. 4 new

    Shen nu

    1934 — a.k.a. The Goddess, in 9 top lists Check
  5. 5 new

    Xin nu xing

    1935 — a.k.a. New Women, in 1 top list Check
  6. 6 new

    Fengyun ernu

    1935 — a.k.a. Scenes of City Life, in 1 top list Check
  7. 7 new

    Ma lu tian shi

    1937 — a.k.a. Street Angel, in 7 top lists Check
  8. 8 new

    Shi zi jie tou

    1937 — a.k.a. Crossroads, in 1 top list Check
  9. 9 new

    Bu liao qing

    1947, in 0 top lists
    Check
  10. 10 new

    Xiao cheng zhi chun

    1948 — a.k.a. Spring in a Small Town, in 10 top lists Check
  11. 11 new

    Wu Xun zhuan

    1950, in 0 top lists Check
  12. 12 new

    Ping yuan you ji dui

    1955, in 0 top lists Check
  13. 13 new

    Jia

    1957 — a.k.a. Family, in 0 top lists Check
  14. 14 new

    Qing chun zhi ge

    1959 — a.k.a. Song of Youth, in 0 top lists Check
  15. 15 new

    Wu duo Jinhua

    1959 — a.k.a. Five Golden Flowers, in 0 top lists Check
  16. 16 new

    Hong se niang zi jun

    1961 — a.k.a. The Red Detachment of Women, in 1 top list Check
  17. 17 new

    Wutai jiemei

    1964 — a.k.a. Two Stage Sisters, in 6 top lists Check
  18. 18 new

    Jue lie

    1976 — a.k.a. Breaking with Old Ideas, in 0 top lists Check
  19. 19 new

    Lan feng zheng

    1993 — a.k.a. The Blue Kite, in 7 top lists Check
  20. 20 new

    Yang guang can lan de ri zi

    1994 — a.k.a. In the Heat of the Sun, in 3 top lists Check
  21. 21 new

    Cuo wei

    1986 — a.k.a. Dislocation, in 0 top lists Check
  22. 22 new

    Bei kao bei, lian dui lian

    1994 — a.k.a. Back to Back, Face to Face, in 1 top list Check
  23. 23 new

    Tou fa luan le

    1994, in 0 top lists Check
  24. 24 new

    Ermo

    1994, in 1 top list Check
  25. 25 new

    Min jing gu shi

    1995 — a.k.a. On the Beat, in 0 top lists Check
  26. 26 new

    Jidu hanleng

    1996 — a.k.a. Frozen, in 1 top list Check
  27. 27 new

    Xiao Wu

    1998, in 4 top lists Check
  28. 28 new

    Mang jing

    2003 — a.k.a. Blind Shaft, in 4 top lists Check
  29. 29 new

    Khyi rgan

    2011 — a.k.a. Old Dog, in 0 top lists Check
  30. 30 new

    Wan wu sheng zhang

    2015 — a.k.a. Ever Since We Love, in 0 top lists Check
  31. 31 new

    Niu pi

    2005 — a.k.a. Oxhide, in 3 top lists Check
  32. 32 new

    The Panda Candy

    2009, in 0 top lists
    Check
  33. 33 new

    Guanggun'er

    2010 — a.k.a. Single Man, in 0 top lists Check
  34. 34 new

    Tape (Jiao Dai)

    2010 — a.k.a. Tape, in 0 top lists Check
  35. 35 new

    Self Portrait: At 47 Km

    2012, in 0 top lists
    Check
  36. 36 new

    China Concerto

    2012, in 0 top lists
    Check
  37. 37 new

    Bai ri yan huo

    2014 — a.k.a. Black Coal, Thin Ice, in 1 top list Check
  38. 38 new

    Mirrors and Feathers

    2017 — a.k.a. The Widowed Witch, in 0 top lists
    Check
  39. 39 new

    Jia nian hua

    2017 — a.k.a. Angels Wear White, in 0 top lists
    Check
  40. 40 new

    Da xiang xi di er zuo

    2018 — a.k.a. An Elephant Sitting Still, in 2 top lists
    Check
  41. 41 new

    Bumming in Beijing: The Last Dreamers

    1990, in 1 top list Check
  42. 42 new

    Tiexi qu

    2002 — a.k.a. Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks, in 9 top lists Check
  43. 43 new

    San Yuan Li

    2003, in 0 top lists
    Check
  44. 44 new

    Wo sui si qu

    2006 — a.k.a. Though I Am Gone, in 0 top lists Check
  45. 45 new

    Xianshi shi guoqu de weilai

    2009 — a.k.a. Disorder, in 1 top list Check
  46. 46 new

    Petition

    2009, in 1 top list Check
  47. 47 new

    Village Diary

    2013, in 0 top lists
    Check
  48. 48 new

    Never Release My Fist

    2015, in 0 top lists
    Check
  49. 49 new

    We the Workers

    2017, in 0 top lists
    Check
  50. 50 new

    People's Republic of Desire

    2018, in 0 top lists
    Check
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Last updated on May 3, 2021; source