YPT has been based in China since its inception, but we’re not just here to pass the time before a trip to the DPRK. The longer we stay here the more we get to know the best of China. Whether it’s the places to visit, the bars to frequent or the films to watch.
So, here’s YPT’s Five Best Mainland Chinese Films
(sorry Wong Kar-wai, Ang Lee, and Bruce Lee fans).
And no, Jackie Chan doesn’t make the list.
#5 A World Without Thieves (2004)
The director Feng Xiaogang is one of China’s most famous. He’s well known for his action or comedy films. This film has all the stars in it; Andy Lau and Ge You amongst others. But, it’s Wang Baoqiang who steals the show. More about him later.
The film is set mostly on the train from Lhasa back to inner China, the highest railway in the world, as Wang Baoqiang’s character attempts to take his many years worth of earnings back to his home where he’s planning on getting married. Believing there are no thieves in the world, he soon becomes the centre of attention!
Ride on this epic train journey with YPT on our Tibet: Roof of the World Tour every July!
#4 In the Heat of the Sun (1994)
You remember the two Chinese lads in Rogue One? One of them was Jiang Wen, one of the most iconic actors and directors in post-reform China. His ‘Red Sorghum’ was a breakout film, and his later films have been very successful. But perhaps the most interesting is In the Heat of the Sun.
You want to see what Beijing was like emptied of parents who’s been sent to the countryside in the Cultural Revolution, and what coming-of-age meant in a time like this? Then this is the film for you.
This is a fascinating look at the urban China of the late Mao period. Who’d have thought the breakdown of the state and your parents moving away would lead to certain freedoms?
If you’re interested in Chinese urbanism and modernity, or just enjoy urban exploration, then we recommend you visit Ordos: China’s most epic ghost city!
#3 Breaking with Old Ideas (1975)
It’s YPT so there’s got to be one ideological introduction to Maoist political theory on the list! Watch this film to try to get some idea of the Maoist project that underpinned everything from the early Yan’an days to the Cultural Revolution.
Mao is still a big figure in China, and that’s not going to change for a while. So while the Chinese state tries to slowly brush his ideas under the carpet, here’s one way to help you understand why Mao decided to turn China and its Communist Party on its head instead of focusing on the urban-based development at all cost promoted by his comrades.
And fortunately, the comrades at the Ministry of Propaganda over at YouTube have the whole film up for you to watch!
Want to understand more about Maoist China? Come along on our Chairman Mao Revolutionary Tour each June, and see his birthplace, mausoleum and spend a few days in Nanjiecun – the last People’s Commune in China.
#2 Blind Shaft (2003) / Blind Mountain (2007)
We can’t choose between these two films, they are both shocking and relevant. Director Li Yang finds comedy in death in the film Blind Shaft, a film set deep in a coal mine in Shanxi province and the big hit film for Wang Baoqiang, whose innocence and naivety is a symbol for the people in a new post-socialist China.
And he finds horror in real life in Blind Mountain, a film about a woman tricked and sold as a bride deep into the heart of rural Shanxi.
These two films remind you that a night out in Sanlitun or a stroll through the French Quarter in Shanghai are more comparable to life in Tokyo, Singapore, Paris or New York than to the heartlands of rural China.
Delve deep into rural China to places few foreigners ever journey through on our China Revolutionary Red Base Tour
#1 A Touch of Sin (2013)
This is surely the standout film from controversial (to the authorities anyway) director Jia Zhangke. His films are renowned for their arch-realism, capturing the mundane nature of life, and so are unpalatable for a lot of people.
But, A Touch of Sin is a fictionalized journey through five real-life stories of recent years in China that is a little easier on the eye. It’s a whirlwind journey, but we think it is a masterpiece of the contradictions of post-Mao China. “Some get rich first” was Deng Xiaoping’s famous slogan, but what happens to those that don’t?
Movie fanatic looking for some travel inspiration? Don’t forget to check out our
‘5 Best Movies to Inspire Travel‘ blog!
If you’ve worked your way through this list and developed a real craving for China, click here to see a list of our China tours.
Don’t forget – from our office in Xi’an we can tailor make any tour or help any project come to fruition, from journalistic, film and TV to family adventures!
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