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Why They are Chosen the Top 20 Chinese-language Movies on (an IMDb-like Website in Chinese)

Though I started with the idea of writing a recommendation on the 20 best Chinese movies in my own eyes, the article  turns out to become an introduction to hundreds of thousands of Chinese people’s preference on a website named, the most popular IMDb-like website in simplified Chinese. With over half of my choices differing from the ones voted by populous users, I realized that personal choices vary, but mass appeal tells us some cultural, socialogic, aesthetic… connotations. Any individual’s selection could be strongly influenced by his own experience, background, education (or sub-education like mine)..., etc. So I quit my original idea, moving on to write, translate and edit this article you are going to read.

This series of articles may crawl along and I don't write in English efficiently. Thanks for understanding.

 Here comes the list! On 6th, May, 2012, the top twenty Chinese-language movies on are:


Many of you may be a little bit surprised. You may have only heard of or watched a few of them, especially if you are not living in China. Where are those dazzling kung fu? Where are those exotic Chinese costumes? Where are those elebrities like Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Zhang Zi Yi, Tony Leung? Aren’t they Chinese actors? Do I have a bad memory? To answer these questions, let’s look at the Top 10 Chinese Movies on IMDb by 28th, April, 2012.

You know, China is a country with Great Wall. I managed to get the above information by a cached page on a Hong Kong-based search engine. So I don’t have the latest information, and I don’t know which movies are the next 10 most popular ones on IMDb. Though the two sets of data don’t match in size, it is enough to show that Chinese speakers and non-Chinese speakers choose totally different movies as their favorites. It is so different that none of Top 20 is in IMDb Top 10, vice versa.

Most of the IMDb top 10 are of action or historical genres. And the plots all take place in either ancient times or World War II. Western film distributors prefer to import movies with something outlandish. The more exotic, the better. So in the IMDb Top 10 Chs list, kung fu can be found as the a basic component in 8 movies (The two exceptions are Lust, Caution and City of Life and Death,  both of whose plots take place in World War II), and out of the 8 kung-fu-based ones, Chinese scenic splendors are another basic component in 6 movies. Lust, Caution and The City of Life and Death survive in the list because Western cinema has finished the cultivation of drawing World War II film fans. Western audience can easily be empathized by Lust, Caution which is significantly alike Black Book, or by City of Life and Death which is like Schindler’s List. Because of this business reason, tons of remarkable Chinese movies have never had any opportunity to be on in Western cinemas. If I were a western distributor, I would do the same thing. Businessmen are obliged to earn money, with no interest to satisfy a small group of intellectuals’ curiosity. This case happens in China too.The local distributor only promote movies with direct visual and aural stimulation, like Avatar, Transformer,Inception, Titanic 3D, Harry Porter.... the movies exotic enough to us Chinese. Only 5 out of the Top 25 movies on IMDb of all languages met the Chinese public in the mainland cinemas.

You may also heard of some titles which won some major international film festivals. They are:

The professionals of European Big 3, Berlin International Film Festival, Cannas International Film Festival and Venice International Film Festival, didn’t do a much better job than amateur film enthusiasts on IMDb. Out of all Chinese movies which won a Golden Bear, a Golden Palm or a Golden Lion, only one is among the Top 20. It is Farewell My Concubine(1994), and it’s the No.1.

Let’s look at the mark that the IMDb 10 and the European Big 3 Winner 10 get on

What a disaster!  All the IMDb Top 10 Chs get lower marks on, being far away from the Top 20 Chinese-language movies, and only 4 of  0 European Big 3 Winners, Farewell My Concubine (9.4, No.1), The Wedding Banquet (8.6, very close to Top 20), City of Sadness (8.6, very close to Top 20), Red Sorghum (8.1) are above 8 points on

Compared with IMDb user’s preference of splendid scenic attraction and staggering kung fu duels, European  professionals fall into anther stereotype. They only choose the movies which show subtle humanity in a simplified module, regardless of the validity of the plot, because they don’t really know what’s going on in China and they don’t really want to know.

The Wedding Banquet story takes place in modern cities, discussing the bond between different generations in a family. City of Sadness is about an individual's fate against the political environment. Both of the two themes are very universal and valid in Chinese people's everyday life whether or not they live on the west or the east of the straight. The two movies get 8.6 on, which is very close to the Top 20 Chinese movies there. Farewell My Concubine (9.4)  and Red Sorghum (8.1) stories take place in the 20 century, during the Chinese-Japanese War and the Great Culture Revolution, which are something that every modern Chinese knows very well and  their grandfathers, fathers, or they themselves experienced not many years ago. The rest 6 films are all below 7.7. The plots of  them are all in very specific structures not happening in real life nowadays, located in a very remote place (very often, a village) with a very highly-simplified fragile set of conflict. This kind of conflict may be very strong for foreign professionals, but too weak for natives to follow. A plot like this unfolds gradually and perfectly to a foreigner, but too predictable to us Chinese.

 So, let’s jump off the two stereotypes. Here are some more information about the Top 20 Chinese-language Movies on, the 'real' Chinese movies, which reflect how real Chinese consider their real life by voting real Chinese movies which are not produced for overseas market or international film festivals.

Wow, now, we have drama, cartoon, comedy, romance, teen, crime, action, homo, and even western and slice of life! Not kung fu, kung fu, kung fu.I will write a short review along with some culture reference for every movie on this list. Considering that I am not skilled enough in English writing, It will take me some time to get it done. It will be a great pleasure if someone who speaks Chinese and is willing to watch these movies would like join me.

You can leave a short comment under every title on, and you can also thumb the others’ short comment up. Here are a selection the short comments with remarkable thumbs-up on these 20 movies on the website.

Guess. Guess what these movies tell.

No copyright reserved. I put Chinese titles on the first form in order for anybody who'd like to see these films to get them printed and show it to a DVD shop assistant, or to send them to your family or friends who live abroad assuming you are adventuring in a mysterious kung fu country. lol. That will be my great honor.

I will be back in several days.

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Comment by Richard Roman on May 8, 2012 at 20:44

Fntastic post Martin - maybe we can get Steve who runs the film club to possibly have a Chinese matinee afternoon........................

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