Discover the best Chinese films of 2020, spanning from war flicks to animations, documentaries to dramas, and everything in between.
10. Lost in Russia
Lost in Russia, the latest in Xu Zheng’s phenomenally successful “Lost In” series, kicks off our pick of the greatest Chinese films of 2020. (prior locales include Thailand and Hong Kong). As a mother and son story, the film is uplifting and funny at the same time in a shallow Russian setting.
A middle-aged Russian businessman, Xu Ivan, is played by Xu Zheng, who is also the film’s director and star. His mother, Lu Xiaohua, has taken his passport while he’s going through divorce proceedings, so Xu can’t go to New York. Xu and his mother become stranded on the K3 Beijing-Moscow Trans-Siberian train while attempting to retrieve Xu’s lost passport. Lu aspires to perform at a concert celebrating 70 years of Sino-Russian friendship in Moscow, a journey that will take six days by rail. Xu and Lu have a lot of time to squabble and bond.
Lost in Russia’s depiction of mother-son relationships will resonate with anyone from a Chinese or other country with comparable family dynamics. The typical Chinese mother, Lu, is embodied in her domineering demeanor. Lu’s maternal devotion for Xu Ivan extends to the point where she manipulates him. In addition to frequently pestering Xu about when he’ll have a grandchild, she purposefully seized Xu’s passport. Xu feels that her concert on WeChat is a WeChat scam because of her decision to travel by train instead of plane to Moscow.
Lost in Russia was not universally embraced by Chinese netizens. Some, perhaps older Chinese critics, argued that Xu Zheng’s story was really a complaint about his own mother. The film’s conflicting reception may be owing to the generation divide depicted. Many Chinese consumers were able to make their own impressions about the film thanks to Huanxi Media’s US$91 million arrangement with Bytedance to stream it for free on TikTok and other Bytedance platforms after COVID-19 shut down China in early 2020. After all, being trapped at home with their overbearing mothers during the worst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, Lost in Russia was a welcome respite.
9. My People, My Homeland
Following My Individuals, My Homeland, a collection of five short films depicting the lives of various people throughout China, is our pick for the greatest films made in China in 2020. There were a number of famous directors, writers, and cast members involved in the production of the picture.
The five shorts tell the stories of an uncle-nephew pair seeking medical treatment; a group of villagers, reporters, and scientists investigating a UFO; a village coming together to help their Alzheimers-stricken teacher recover his memories; a group of e-commerce sellers returning to their village; and an art student who gives up his studies and returns to his home village, among other stories,
In 2020, My People, My Homeland was one of China’s top-grossing films, earning about $400 million in ticket sales. The brief stories provoked tears from some netizens, a tribute to how empathic some of the sequences were in the film.
8. The Eight Hundred
Our ranking of the finest Chinese films of 2019 could not have been complete without the Chinese government’s assistance in postponing the release date of The Eight Hundred to 2020.
When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, a group of Republican (Nationalist) Chinese soldiers were assigned to defend Shanghai’s Sihang Warehouse (the Chinese theater of World War II). Over 400 soldiers held a warehouse across the river from the foreign concessions in Shanghai in the hope that their heroic actions would be noted by Western media and put pressure on Imperial Japan to reach a peace solution.
Assemble and Saving Private Ryan are two examples of American war films that have more emotional depth and character development than Chinese war films like The Eight Hundred, although The Eight Hundred has an impressive arsenal of special effects and explosives. The Eight Hundred has a lot to say about politics in addition to the action. At times, we are shown sights of Chinese soldiers living in poverty and dying for their nation while decadent Westerners sit back and watch from the comforts of their own homes. Many Chinese people who escaped to the concessions originally enjoyed their newly opulent and safe lives, but many later risked their lives to save their stranded compatriots in a show of allegiance to the homeland..
With or without a political message, The Eight Hundred is undoubtedly China’s most commercially successful film of the year and perhaps even of all time. That made it the top-grossing film of the year in China and the world as a whole, with a total take of more than $400 million.
7. Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue
Director Jia Zhangke, one of China’s most celebrated independent filmmakers, is back with his latest film, Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (). It’s his first film in a decade and the final chapter in a trilogy about contemporary Chinese artists that also includes Dong and Useless. Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue chronicles the literary history of post-World War II “New China,” weaving together the lives of four writers who represent distinct eras of the People’s Republic of China’s history. The documentary, like Jia’s narrative films, admirably highlights what is left behind in the aftermath of China’s rapid modernization: rural life, local dialects, and recollections of past tragedies like the Cultural Revolution.
However, Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue, Jia’s latest feature film, is not as accessible as his other works, but it doesn’t diminish its quality. For this reason, the film is a worthy inclusion to our list of top Chinese films of 2020 for its depiction of China’s agrarian, rural history and its current, industrial economy.
As a result, we hope that those unfamiliar with Chinese culture and literature will be inspired to do further research and learn more about this ancient culture and literature so that they can appreciate Jia’s current work to its fullest.
Is Swimming Until the Sea Turns Blue a task you’d like to take on? If you’d like to read our full review, click here!
6. Wild Grass
Zhou Dongyu and Ma Sichuan had very distinct professional paths following their performance in the Chinese girl-friendship smash Soul Mate. Instead of starring in blockbusters like Us After Them and Better Days, Ma had a string of underwhelming films and television shows to his credit. In the hopes of reviving Ma’s career, Wild Grass was widely panned by Chinese audiences (and the box office). Wild Grass, on the other hand, was a well-executed picture that featured beautiful, tragic individuals entangled in a web of disappointment.
It is the story of two ladies who are attempting to establish a better life for themselves in Wild Grass. Ma Yun’s Yun Qiao and Zhong Chuxi’s Li Mai are both dancers who plan to relocate to Japan with their affluent Japanese boyfriends, whereas Ma’s Yun Qiao only wants to leave her violent family behind (Xin Peng). A head-on collision between Li and Qin’s motorcycle and Yun and Qin’s automobile brings the two women face-to-face. Nerve damage has left Li unable to dance again, while Yun and Qin’s futures remain in question following the accidents. Li, a dancing group star who was dumped by her boyfriend, winds up working as a showgirl at a filthy nightclub owned by a local gang. We learn later that this is the same gang that stole money from Qin, further tying their stories together.
We found the film’s concentration on Li and Yun’s terrible lives to be very touching and empathic, despite some critics’ criticisms of the film’s lack of cohesion. While watching, we learn about the hardships that each individual faces as they try to escape their horrible situations. When her dance career is over, Li has no other option but to provide sexual services in order to raise money for her mother’s medical expenses. After being raped by her brother-in-law, Yun boldly moves to the “great city” without a penny to her name. It’s a wonderful thing that these stories come together at various moments in the film, adding to the aesthetic intricacy and depth of the story.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of China’s participation in the Korean War (aka the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea), in which the China People’s Volunteer army drove back hostile US-led forces from the Yalu River. Over a hundred thousand Chinese soldiers were killed in action, however Western sources say that approximately four hundred thousand Chinese soldiers were slain in the war.. The war was the People’s Republic of China’s first military engagement since the end of World War II, and remains China’s largest conflict since.
This battle is an environment in which sacrifice is required. It tells the narrative of a company of combat engineers attempting to hold a bridge in the face of repeated airstrikes from the United States’ military. With a stellar cast including Guan Hu, Frant Gwo, and Wu Jing, Sacrifice is a masterclass in cinematic artistry and patriotic pride. After just 78 days of filming, a team of more than two thousand people worked around the clock to complete all of the visual effects.
No doubt, the film is intended to arouse nationalist sentiment among China’s youth, who are at least a generation away from the struggles their forefathers through in the effort to create a modern China. “To inform the Chinese people today about how we won the war 70 years ago,” director Guan said in a Global Times interview, he felt compelled to make Sacrifice because of his mother’s personal connection to the war.
Sacrifice’s outstanding fighting scenes and focus on individual soldiers’ personalities make it stand out from other Chinese war movies, such The Eight Hundred. Frant Gwo was able to make the characters more believable by interviewing war veterans. In its debut weekend, the picture raked in approximately US$50 million, leading the box office.
4. The Old Town Girls
Neo-noirs in China tend to focus on the lives of working-class individuals in lower-tier cities, unlike many blockbuster movies (My Old Classmate, The Ex-Files, The Truth About Beauty). An industrial city like this one is the setting for the Old Town Girls film. Shui Qing (Li Gengxi) is an adolescent whose free-spirited mother Qu Ting (Wan Qian) abandoned her when she was a child. To make up for the fact that her stepmother hasn’t been there for Shui Qing since she was born, she sets out to reconnect with her biological mother when she unexpectedly shows up in her hometown.
With its focus on those who have been left behind by China’s rapid economic rise and great production quality, The Old Town Girls has earned a spot on our top 10 best Chinese movies of 2020 list. The film’s characters are all pitiful; they live their lives with little hope for the future, only floating along the river of time. Contrast between daylight and darkness is used by the Old Town Girls to highlight the lighter, more enjoyable periods of their life, which only serve as punctuation marks amid their darker, seedier realities.
Despite the plot’s lack of intrigue, the film’s strong character development, rapid pacing, and a slew of surprising turns will keep viewers engrossed. The essence of a good neo-noir picture is not a “feel-good” experience, even if The Old Town Girls isn’t. “Dark and dismal” movies like this are what they’re supposed to be, and The Old Town Girls more than delivers.
When The Old Town Girls appears in theaters in 2021, we hope that audiences will agree with our praise of the film’s performances.
3. The Best is Yet To Come
Jia Zhangke’s protégés, Wang Jing, are responsible for the third best Chinese film of 2020 on our list. The Best is Yet To Come, Wang’s debut feature film, examines China’s long-standing epidemic of discrimination against people who carry the Hepatitis B virus.
An aspiring investigative journalist, Han Dong is the focus of The Best is Yet To Come. He embodies the aspirations of many young Chinese who, in the early 2000s, fled to the big cities in search of a brighter future. A high school dropout who has only published online blogs, Han continues to pursue his dream of being a writer until he gets a job at one of the local papers. When Han comes upon a criminal enterprise that is falsifying Hepatitis B blood tests, he has the chance to become a famous journalist, but he soon runs across roadblocks that force him to choose between doing good and advancing his career.
The Best is Yet to Come, directed by Wang Jing, will be familiar to fans of Jia Zhangke’s cinematography and production design. It’s hard not to feel nostalgic for Beijing in the early 2000s, when things were more hopeful and carefree than they are now, and when filmmakers like Jia Zhangke and Wang Xiaoshuai (of Beijing Bicycle) were making their names for themselves.
There is no word on when The Best Is Yet To Come will be released in China, but it was shown at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year. If the video doesn’t get a green light, it will at least serve as a reminder of the government’s work in combating Heptatis B prejudice, which is why we hope it gets made. In 2010, the Chinese government issued an official ban on employment discrimination based on a person’s history of Hepatitis B infection, but the disease’s social stigma endures. Change can’t come from policy alone, as it must come from people’s hearts when it comes to systemic discrimination of any kind. To some extent, hopefully The Best Is Yet to Come can contribute to this transformation.
2. Jiang Ziya
When it comes to animation, the Chinese animated film Ne Zha won a spot on our list of the top Chinese movies of 2019. Jiang Ziya, the sequel from Beijing Enlight Pictures, tells the story of another another hero from the Chinese epic Investiture of the Gods, which spans one hundred chapters. Individualism is emphasized in Jiang Ziya’s poignant film, which features a hero rescuing a girl who is bound in a nine-tailed demon and defying both the Heavens and his fate.
Jiang Ziya, on the other hand, shows individualism in a uniquely Asian environment, in contrast to Western cinema. When Jiang Ziya acts against gods he believes are unjust, it’s because he has sympathy for people and a strong sense of social responsibility.
Infused with traditional Chinese traditions, mythology, and ideals, Jiang Ziya is a kid-friendly animated film. Even though it packs an emotional wallop that rivals Pixar’s, it also poses moral dilemmas that make it an excellent choice for a movie night with the whole family, where it’s sure to spark some lively discussion. With the quality of Chinese animation currently on display in films like Jiang Ziya, one can only wonder and hope.
This year’s National Day golden week saw Jiang Ziya go head-to-head with My People, My Homeland despite its lack of box office success compared to Ne Zha’s record-breaking opening day.
1. 76 Days
What do you think about the fact that Cinema Escapist’s finest Chinese film of 2020 is a documentary on COVID-19? That, after all, is what we’ll all remember most about 2020.
For the Chinese documentary 76 Days, Wu Hao collaborated with Weixi Chen and an unidentified source to acquire the material. the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak in china is captured on film in a hospital in Wuhan. In spite of the fact that the filmmakers risked their lives in order to obtain the video, the film provides an unvarnished, honest depiction of China’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is, however, one caveat: All of the filmmakers in the film are Chinese, but the producers are American.
To put the pandemic in human words, 76 Days does a great job. The first half of the video is filled with heartbreaking footage of patients’ and families’ emotional suffering as they watch their loved ones succumb to their illnesses. Though Wuhan was devastated by the virus, everyone from doctors to taxi drivers rallied around the city to fight it out. As the film nears its conclusion, we watch the city emerge from its state of emergency, pointing to a hopeful future for the rest of the world.
There was a surprising number of positive reviews of the film on the Chinese film review site Douban, despite the fact that the COVID-19 narrative is highly sensitive in China. The film received an overall 8.1 out of 10 rating from netizens (albeit only from 400 people). All future COVID-19 documentaries should, according to one observer, be like 76 Days, blending heartbreaking scenes of loss with inspiring views of people coming together to battle the pandemic. We couldn’t agree more.
It is our sincere wish that 76 Days would serve as an inspiration to those who believe that the worst days of 2020 brought out the best in humanity.