Top 10 Chinese-Language Films That Should Be In The Criterion Collection

Taste of Cinema writer David Zou sets out his Chinese-language wish list for Criterion. Will the likes of Farewell My Concubine and A Better Tomorrow make it into the Criterion Collection?

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In the Mood for Love, Yiyi, Hard Boiled, do you miss those amazing Chinese-language films and directors like Wong Kar-wai, John Woo, Edward Yang? There are so few Chinese-language films in the Criterion Collection, the last one I can remember is Spine #453 Wong Kar-wai’s whiplash, double-pronged Chungking Express. That is quite a while ago. The Criterion Collection has released films from Asian countries like India, Iran, Japan, Korea in the last two years but not a single Chinese-language film. Being Chinese myself, I’m so puzzled that so many great Chinese-language films have as yet been ignored by Criterion. It is therefore my duty to shout out loud for those ignored classics.

Here are 10 Chinese-language films that deserve Criterion Collection treatments in my humble opinion:

10. Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong, 1990)


Awards: Five Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor

Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: I know you love the visual style of his films, this is the first time Wong Kar-wai works with his cameraman Christopher Doyle and you know what you can expect in this film. Many critics in China think it is his best.

9. A Better Tomorrow (John Woo, Hong Kong, 1986)


Awards: Hong Kong Film Awards Best Picture

Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: Stylish fight sequences are not the only thing John Woo’s films have. They also feature the director’s favoured themes such as brotherhood – I can’t imagine a gangster film being so encouraging. The film moved me a lot. You will love the character played by Chow Yun Fat in it.By the way, this is a film that saved John Woo’s career, without it there would be no Hard Boiled or Killers.

8. Infernal Affairs (Wai-keung Lau, Alan Mak, Hong Kong, 2002)


Awards: Seven Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor

Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: Most will know this film as the source of Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning The Departed. For me, Infernal Affairs is even better than Scorsese’s remake. It’s the culture thing. This film marks the return of the gangster genre in Hong Kong cinema.

7. The Wedding Banquet (Ang Lee, Taiwan, 1993)


Awards: Five Golden Horse Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: Has Ang Lee done any films about homosexuality before Brokeback Mountain? The answer is “yes”. This is the second film of his Father Knows Best Trilogy before he went to America, and you can already see how good he is at dealing with cultural differences evident between East and West.

6. Raise the Red Lantern (Yimou Zhang, China, 1991)


Awards: Silver Lion at Venice Film Festival

Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: Zhang Yi Mou was so good once. After the film To Live his career went downhill. He learned cinematography in film school and Raise the Red Lantern is the best one to showcase his talent as a visual director. You think you have seen enough femme fatale in those noirs? Try this one.

5. Yuen Ling-yuk (Stanley Kwan, Hong Kong, 1992)


Awards: Five Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Actress and Best Cinematography

Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: This is the best Chinese documentary ever. Both the actress Maggie Cheung and the character she plays are legendary. This is also the most artistic documentary I’ve ever seen. If you like Chinese women, see this one.

4. Devils on the Doorstep (Wen Jiang, China, 2000)


Awards: Grand Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival

Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: This is the greatest film ever made about Japanese occupation in China during World War II and one of my top 10 war films of all time. Wen Jiang is the most talented director in current Chinese film business. Black and white film Devils on the Doorstep will make you laugh hard first and then think of profound things about humanity.

3. A City of Sadness (Hsiao-hsien Hou, Taiwan, 1989)


Awards: Two Golden Horse Awards including Best Director and Best Actor

Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: Hsiao-hsien Hou is quite popular in Europe but less known in the USA. This is a very serious film dealing with the most radical political matters in Taiwanese and Chinese history. I really think the Criterion Collection should collect at least one of this director’s works.

2. Farewell My Concubine (Kaige Chen, China, 1993)


Awards: Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival

Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: Every Palme d’Or should get the Criterion Collection treatment shouldn’t it? This film is considered to be a peak for the fifth generation directors in mainland China, and many Chinese film buffs still list it as their favorite Chinese film of all time.

1. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, Taiwan, 1991)


Awards: Golden Horse Award Best Picture

Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: This film is actually planned for release by Criterion. However, rumour has it that permission/licensing problems are causing a delay. The latest news about it is that the Martin Scorsese foundation has already restored it, and I do hope Criterion get the license in the near future so the world can have a look at this great Chinese epic film.

So which Chinese-language films have charmed you before? And which ones would you like to see get the Criterion treatment? I’d like to know your opinions.

Written and compiled by David Zou. David, who hails from China, writes about Chinese and East Asian cinema at his website Taste of Cinema.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    DEZMOND Reply

    My fave Chinese film is THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER.
    FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE is very important, because it was one of the first films to open the doors for Asian movies abroad when it had success at Cannes if I remember correctly.

  2. Avatar
    iluvcinema Reply

    I am not too familiar with this area of international cinema, unfortunately, but all of these titles look pretty good. The one film I recall is The King of Masks, which I saw several years ago, and it was adorable!

  3. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    I’m only familiar with picks #7,8 and 9 on this list, so I can only agree with those being given any kind of Criterion treatment – although I’d love to see The Killer (by John Woo) get some kind of remastering job done; that film has been treated appallingly on both DVD and BluRay. I’ve just ordered my copy of Red Cliff on Blu as well (the full length version) and can’t wait to see it.

    I’ll have to hunt down and check out some of the other films here I have not yet seen! Great list, David! Welcome to Top 10 Films!!

  4. Avatar
    David Reply

    @DEZMOD: yes,you can say FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE is one of the first films to open the doors for MODERN Asian movies abroad.The first Asian film that won worldwide acclaim should be Kurosawa’s Rashomon,when it won both Golden Lion and Oscar Best Foreign Language Film in the 1950s.

    @iluvcinema: It looks like you like Chinese face masks art!!Check out all those 10 films I listed,they will not let you down.

    @Rodney: Thanks for your warm welcome!!so you are a John Woo fan,uh?Red Cliff is not as good as I expected,but still worth watching.

  5. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    Devils on the Doorstep! Glad you mention that movie. It seems like very few people have seen this awesome, awesome film.

  6. Avatar
    David Reply

    @Castor: YES,this is a film that has been ignored by many foreigners,that is why I want Criterion to release it and give it more exposure.

  7. Avatar
    amy Reply

    These are all excellent picks, David! I would personally put Concubine and Red Lanterns on the top of my list xD I had been particularly interested in watching more Ruan Ling-yu films, but they’re a little hard to come by. xD

  8. Avatar
    David Reply

    @Amy: Thanks,Amy.I believe you have seen The Goddess starred Ruan Ling-yu? This film is the pinnacle of Chinese silent cinema.I had the pleasure to watch it in an art cinema when I was in Beijing.

  9. Avatar
    carcaroth Reply

    Only briefly mentioned but “To Live” also deserves a release. Also all the above, in case of a future release, deserves a Blu-ray version!

  10. Avatar
    Anthony Reply

    Dongchun de rizi (aka The Days, 1994) is screaming out for a release. It had the briefest of theatrical runs in the UK and a one-off TV screening in 1996, but since then nothing, Criterion or otherwise. I would love to have the chance to see it once again.

  11. Avatar
    amy Reply

    David, I’ve only seen clips of her films. I’ve been trying to find them with subtitles, because… sadly, I can’t do it without them. LOL But yeah, since I heard of her I wanted to check out her work…

  12. Avatar
    Will Reply

    Yes! Criterion is sorely lacking in Chinese films. I’ve seen a good majority of these and they would fit nicely into the collection. They already have two Wong Kar-Wai films, and I’m surprised they haven’t picked up more, especially Days of Being Wild.

    I’d also add Fruit Chan’s Made in Hong Kong which won the HK Best Picture award, but is largely unknown in the West. It’s a fantastic movie that should definitely get a larger release.

  13. Avatar
    David Reply

    @cararoht: The novel of “To Live” is great,but they changed the ending in the film.so the rest of the film is pretty good,but I do hate the ending.

    @Anthony: I’m so glad you mentioned Xiaoshuai Wang,one of the promising directors of The Sixth Generation Directors in China. That film is definitely Criterion-worthy.

    @amy again:Yeah,her films are just too early,the cinema experience I mentioned in my last reply is a double feature – Yuen Ling-yuk and The Goddess,what a night!!

    @Will: YES,every Wong Karwai film worth a CC release,Fruit Chan is not as well-known as him,but definitely should get a CC treatment too!!

  14. Avatar
    Will Reply

    Oh! I can’t believe I forgot to mention that I would absolutely lose it if Criterion put out a Shaw Brothers film. That would be awesome!

  15. Avatar
    David Reply

    @Will: I noticed that you wrote about Shaw Brothers films in your blog,they produced many great martial art films,I was about to list King Hu’s film in my list,he was very famous under the company at that time.

  16. Avatar
    Matt Reply

    I want Farewell My Concubine to come out on Criterion so badly. What are the chances of this happening? I wrote to Criterion and they haven’t responded to me yet.

  17. Avatar
    mark Reply

    Ni hao

    City of Life and Death, about the Japanese invasion and subsequent rape of Nanking, should definitely be on the list. It is arguably one of the great cinemamatic masterpieces of the past half decade (widescreen, B+W, no CGI, sets that even Tarkovsky would have been proud of, as compelling a WWII story as Schindler’s List). Plus the performances are great.

    Bit of a gripe here, but should films that were produced in the British run Hong Kong be included in a list of classic Chinese films? More like hybrids, I would have thought.

    Xie xie for your time.

    Zai jian.

  18. Avatar
    mark Reply

    I take that last comment back – I just noticed it’s Chinese language films, not Chinese films per se.

    Dui bu qi

  19. Avatar
    Gerry Reply

    Jiang Wen: In the Heat of the Sun
    Jia Zhangke: Pickpocket/Platform/Still Life
    Tian Zhuangzhuang: Horse Thief, Blue Kite
    Chen Kaige: Yellow Earth, Life on a String
    Wang Xiaoshuai: Beijing Bicycle
    Li Yang: Blind Shaft
    Wu Nien-Jen: A Borrowed Life
    Tsai Ming-Liang: Vive L’Amour, What Time is it There?, Hole
    Peter Ho-sun Chan: Enemies, A Love Story
    Stanley Kwan: Rouge
    Lee Ang: Eat, Drink, Man, Woman

    Above are some Chinese movies worthy of Criterion (or vice versa), whose neglect of Chinese, as well as Korean, cinema is shameful considering the abundance of Japanese films in their catalog.

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