Best Chinese Movies of the 90s, Ranked

In mainland China in the 1990s, some of the greatest contemporary directors were making their mark on the local film scene. While Wong Kar Wai and directors like Edward Yang, Tsai Ming-Liang and feature film master Hou Hsiao-hsien were active in Hong Kong and Taiwan, a new generation of Chinese directors emerged in Beijing. Some are now well known today, like Zhang Yimou and Jia Zhangke, but others made their staple films in the 1990s, like Tian Zhuangzhuang, Chen Kaige, and Zhang Junzhao. These filmmakers were known as Fifth generation of Chinese cinema and began to make their art after the Cultural Revolution.

As a result, many of their films often dwelt on themes of human existentialism and why people exist. Using characters who were fairly ordinary people, they built on the social realism that the previous generation of Chinese storytellers embodied in their work, creating films that captured worldwide attention. Some say the movement partially ended with the protests and the Tiananmen Massacre, as censorship increased and several key filmmakers left the country. These are the best mainland Chinese films of the 1990s.

6 Live

1994 Live is an adaptation of a well-known novel by Chinese novelist Yu Hua. Directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Ge You and Gong Li, a frequent collaborator of Zhang’s and a top actress in the 90s, the film is a quick look at contemporary Chinese history. Ge and Gong portray a couple living during the Chinese Civil War, when the man, who was the son of a wealthy man, loses everything. When drafted into the army, he is captured by the communists and can only return home once they win. Years later, when the Great Leap Forward begins, only more difficulties await the family. Live is a look at the difficulties faced by ordinary citizens in these times of rapid change.


5 Qiu Ju’s Story

Zhang Yimou and Gong Li collaborated in 1992 The story of Qiu Jiu, a comedy drama about a woman seeking justice. Qiu Jiu (Gong) is a peasant woman living on farms with her husband and is about to give birth any day now. When the leader of their community kicks her husband in the groin, it renders him unable to work. After the local police do nothing about the situation except to pay a fine, Qiu Ju travels to the big city in search of a lawyer to take on her husband’s case. Qiu Ju’s Story is a glimpse of rural life in China as filmed in Shanxi with a hidden camera, so several scenes in the film truly depict daily life as it happened.

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4 Raise the Red Lantern

Raise the Red Lantern is an adaptation of the 1990 novel Wives and concubines by Su Tong, and it would later become a ballet in the National Ballet of China. In 1920s China, a young woman (Gong Li) married a wealthy man after her father died and left the family completely bankrupt. She will be the man’s fourth concubine, and although she is at first treated very well when she arrives home, she quickly discovers that the concubines, and the wife, are treated completely differently and must fight to have the right. opportunity to be essentially seen and cared for. Visually, Raise the Red Lantern is an alluring film, creating a special mood through cinematography unmatched by many films today.

3 The blue kite

The blue kite was released by Tian Zhuangzhuang in 1993 before experiencing a new stage and a new style of cinema in the 2000s. The film is divided into three episodic stories: “Father”, “Uncle” and “Stepfather”, each corresponding at a particular time in Chinese history. The narrator is originally a young boy, but in the first story the backdrop is the Hundred Flowers Countryside. When her father is sent back and killed in a labor camp, her childhood and coming of age are marred by the Great Leap Forward and the impending Cultural Revolution. The blue kiteAs Live and Farewell my concubinecriticizes the Communist Party and seeks to use it as a metaphor for poison, because it tarnishes the unity of this family and rots it to the core.

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2 In the heat of the sun

Director Jiang Wen, best known for his appearance in A thugpublished In the heat of the sun in 1994. It, too, is based on a book, albeit loosely. A teenager from 1970s Beijing, whose nickname is “Monkey”, wanders the streets of the city day after day with his friends. Due to the Cultural Revolution, their local schools are unable to provide education and their parents are often absent. Unlike some hard-hitting films made by fifth-generation filmmakers, In the heat of the sun uses Jiang’s personal experiences to create an authentic film with moments of nostalgia, rather than outright dissatisfaction with Chinese history.

1 Farewell my concubine

With Leslie Cheung, Zhang Fengyi and Gong Li, Farewell my concubine is a powerhouse of a movie. By NY Timesthe film was initially banned in China due to how it negatively portrayed the Cultural Revolution, but would become the first Chinese film to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Farewell my concubineThe protagonist of is Cheng Dieyi (Cheung), a young man who, after being abandoned by his mother, is trained to play female roles in Chinese operas. As he grew older and performed in operas with Duan Xiaolou, he began to embody his character, falling in love with his male co-star. As a love triangle begins, the Chinese Civil War unfolds, setting these artists on a dangerous path due to their profession. An epic tale of unrequited love that weaves the turmoil of the period into its narrative, this is not a film to miss.

About Bernice D. Brewer

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