Every day while CFI’s Hollywood readers take in the business of the Chinese film industry, the actual movies can sometimes seem exotic or remote. But in major US cities, mainstream Chinese films are increasingly available: thanks to Wanda’s purchase of AMC and distributors like China Lion, they get American theatrical releases practically simultaneous to their premieres at home. Though they receive virtually no publicity outside the non-Chinese community, these films are more than worth seeking out by anyone serious about engaging the Chinese industry, understanding the Chinese sensibility and familiarizing themselves with China’s talent pool. Periodically, CFI will review and point readers in the direction of noteworthy US releases of contemporary commercial and independent Chinese titles.
In the first installment of an occasional feature, CFI looks at Chinese films that a Netflix subscriber can watch.
Netflix has created a new time of film viewing, with an almost on-demand experience available for the movie watcher, without the need to go to the cinema or video store (the what?).
For the Chinese film fan — or for the film industry professional trying to bone up on the best of the recent oeuvre — Netflix is a good resource, but it’s not a great one. While our list below has some great titles that can be watched immediately, there are also some glaring holes in Netflix’s programming choices. Acclaimed directors including Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine), Tian Zhuangzhuang (The Blue Kite), and Jiang Wen (Let The Bullets Fly) aren’t represented at all (Let The Bullets Fly is available on DVD but not streaming). Jia Zhangke has one film, but offerings also include a documentary about him. You’ll see some of Stephen Chow’s work, but not the record-setting The Mermaid. Martial arts master Tsui Hark? No, no.
In any case, here’s a bit of a starter kit of what’s available and what we think is missing from their collection.
Whether you loved 2016’s The Great Wall or didn’t, Zhang Yimou remains one of the most prominent and durable names in Chinese film in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Two of his films — the Oscar-nominated Hero and the Christian Bale-vehicle The Flowers of War are both available on Netflix, but how sad that none of his earlier — dare we say, best? — films are not. Red Sorghum and Raise The Red Lantern — sorry, we drifted off there just thinking about them, which is all we can do because Netflix doesn’t offer them at the moment. Start with those two and hope for more, and better, to come.
The selection of films featuring China’s richest film figure Fan Bingbing is…interesting. Three titles are available: 2016’s Skiptrace, which teamed Fan up with Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville, in a movie that did well commercially in China but was savaged critically. You can also see her turn in the propaganda film The Beginning of the Great Revival. Then again, don’t. Finally, there’s White Haired Witch, in which Fan plays, yep, the titular white-haired witch. Whither Lost in Beijing? Of course you can also watch her as Storm in X-Men: Days of Future Past. But that doesn’t really count and it isn’t available to stream anyway (DVD only).
Recently re-signed to Creative Artists Agency in China, comic actor and director Xu Zheng can be found on Netflix, but like his colleagues above, he isn’t represented by his best work. Xu’s break-out movie Lost in Thailand is still lost, but its sequel, Lost in Hong Kong, can be streamed. Some good comedy work comes through in Ning Hao’s Breakup Buddies. Also are available are two forgettable movies featuring Xu, The Great Hypnotist and Meet The In-Laws! Never trust a film with an exclamation point in the title.
WHAT DOES THE GRADE MEAN?
Here are some recent & modern-era vintage Chinese and Hong Kong films for comparison
- PLATFORM (2000, dir Jia Zhangke)
- THE WORLD (2004, dir. Jia Zhangke)
- DRUNKEN MASTER 2 (1994, dir. Lau Kar Leung & Jackie Chan)
- KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004, dir. Stephen Chow)
- LET THE BULLETS FLY (2010, dir Jiang Wen)
- THE MERMAID (2016, dir. Stephen Chow)
- A TOUCH OF SIN (2013, dir. Jia Zhangke)
- STILL LIFE (2006, dir. Jia Zhangke)
- MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (2015, dir. Jia Zhangke)
- LITTLE BIG SOLDIER (2010, dir. Ding Sheng)
- EXTRAORDINARY MISSION (2017, dir. Alan Mak & Anthony Pun)
- MR SIX (2015, dir. Guan Hu)
- A WORLD WITHOUT THIEVES (2004, dir. Feng Xiaogang)
- SUZHOU RIVER (1999, dir. Lou Ye)
- HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (2004, dir Zhang Yimou)
- RAISE THE RED LANTERN (1991, dir. Zhang Yimou)
- DUCKWEED (2017, dir. Han Han)
- I BELONGED TO YOU (2016, dir. Zhang Yibai)
- THE GREAT WALL (2016, dir. Zhang Yimou)
- OLD STONE (2016, dir. Johnny Ma)
- CRAZY STONE (2006, dir. Ning Hao)
- GO, LALA GO (2010, dir. Xu Jinglei)
- KUNG FU YOGA (2017, dir. Stanley Tong)
- RAILROAD TIGERS (2016, dir. Ding Sheng)
- THE WASTED TIMES (2016, dir. Cheng Er)
- CHONGQING HOT POT (2016, dir. Yang Qing)
- MONSTER HUNT (2015, dir. Raman Hui)
- JOURNEY TO THE WEST: THE DEMONS STRIKE BACK (2017, dir. Tsui Hark)
- SOME LIKE IT HOT (2017, dir. Song Xiaofei & Dong Xu)
- BORN IN CHINA (2016, dir. Lu Chuan)
- TINY TIMES (2013, dir. Guo Jingming)