150 of the Best Chinese-Language Films of All-Time

I’ve been doing some cataloguing lately, trying to organize my books and movies and make some kind of plan for how I’m going to attack the Chinese Cinema over the next year or so. Three and a half years ago, I started a chronological Johnnie To project that, by design, immediately ballooned into a comprehensive exploration of Chinese-language film. In that time, I’ve made it seven films into To’s career and 327 films into China in general. It’s increasingly absurd to consider it To-specific, and I’d love to rename it (I never liked the name anyway) but the prospect of renaming and tagging all those old posts is daunting. Anyway, I’m hoping to spend this year taking a long look at Shanghai cinema of the 1920s-40s (at least as much as is available) and Hong Kong films of the 1950s. As well I’d like to catch up with the rest of the films I haven’t seen from Filipe Furtado’s letterboxd list of Favorite Hong Kong Films, which has served as an essential guide for me since the Summer of Sammo. And as I was thinking about where to go next, I thought it might be useful to sum up where I’ve been, and so here’s a list of 150 great Chinese films. The list is ordered chronologically.

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The Big Road (Sun Yu, 1935)

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The Spring River Flows East (Cai Chusheng & Zheng Junli, 1947)

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Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu, 1948)

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The Enchanting Shadow (Li Han-hsiang, 1960)

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The Love Eterne (Li Han-hsiang, 1963)

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Dragon Gate Inn (King Hu, 1967)

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The One-Armed Swordsman (Chang Cheh, 1967)

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The Story of a Discharged Prisoner (Patrick Lung Kong, 1967)

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Golden Swallow (Chang Cheh, 1968)

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The Heroic Ones (Chang Cheh, 1970)

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A Touch of Zen (King Hu, 1971)

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Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (Chor Yuen, 1972)

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Hapkido (Huang Feng, 1972)

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The Way of the Dragon (Bruce Lee, 1972)

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The Fate of Lee Khan (King Hu, 1973)

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The House of 72 Tenants (Chor Yuen, 1973)

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Dream of the Red Chamber (Li Han-hsiang, 1977)

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The Sentimental Swordsman (Chor Yuen, 1977)

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The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Lau Kar-leung, 1978)

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The Contract (Michael Hui, 1978)

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Crippled Avengers (Chang Cheh, 1978)

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Dirty Ho (Lau Kar-leung, 1979)

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Legend of the Mountain (King Hu, 1979)

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Dangerous Encounters-First Kind (Tsui Hark, 1980)

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The Victim (Sammo Hung, 1980)

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The Happenings (Yim Ho, 1980)

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Security Unlimited (Michael Hui, 1981)

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Nomad (Patrick Tam, 1982)

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The Miracle Fighters (Yuen Woo-ping, 1982)

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Boat People (Ann Hui, 1982)

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Shanghai Blues (Tsui Hark, 1984)

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Wheels on Meals (Sammo Hung, 1984)

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The 8-Diagram Pole Fighter (Lau Kar-leung, 1984)

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The Time to Live, the Time to Die (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1985)

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Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985)

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Yes, Madam (Corey Yuen, 1985)

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A Better Tomorrow (John Woo, 1986)

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Peking Opera Blues (Tsui Hark, 1986)

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The Terrorizers (Edward Yang, 1986)

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Righting Wrongs (Corey Yuen, 1986)

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Rouge (Stanley Kwan, 1987)

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City on Fire (Ringo Lam, 1987)

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Eastern Condors (Sammo Hung, 1987)

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A Chinese Ghost Story (Ching Siu-tung, 1987)

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An Autumn’s Tale (Mabel Cheung, 1987)

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School on Fire (Ringo Lam, 1988)

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Painted Faces (Alex Law, 1988)

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The Killer (John Woo, 1989)

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

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Pedicab Driver (Sammo Hung, 1989)

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A Better Tomorrow III: Love and Death in Saigon (Tsui Hark, 1989)

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My Heart is that Eternal Rose (Patrick Tam, 1989)

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God of Gamblers (Wong Jing, 1989)

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Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-wai, 1990)

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Bullet in the Head (John Woo, 1990)

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Song of the Exile (Ann Hui, 1990)

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All for the Winner (Jeffrey Lau & Corey Yuen, 199)

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A Moment of Romance (Benny Chan, 1990)

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A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991)

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Once Upon a Time in China (Tsui Hark, 1991)

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Centre Stage (Stanley Kwan, 1991)

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Tricky Brains (Wong Jing, 1991)

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Hard-Boiled (John Woo, 1992)

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Once Upon a Time in China II (Tsui Hark, 1992)

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Swordsman II (Ching Siu-tung, 1992)

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Full Contact (Ringo Lam, 1992)

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Iron Monkey (Yuen Woo-ping, 1993)

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Green Snake (Tsui Hark, 1993)

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The Tai-Chi Master (Yuen Woo-ping, 1993)

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The Legend of Fong Sai-yuk (Corey Yuen, 1993)

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The Bride with White Hair (Ronny Yu, 1993)

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The East is Red (Ching Siu-tung & Raymond Lee, 1993)

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He Ain’t Heavy… He’s My Father (Peter Chan, 1993)

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Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai, 1994)

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Ashes of Time (Wong Kar-wai, 1994)

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Drunken Master II (Lau Kar-leung, 1994)

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Fist of Legend (Gordon Chan, 1994)

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A Borrowed Life (Wu Nien-jen, 1994)

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Wing Chun (Yuen Woo-ping, 1994)

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He’s a Woman, She’s a Man (Peter Chan, 1994)

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Good Men, Good Women (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1995)

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Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-wai, 1995)

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The Blade (Tsui Hark, 1995)

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Comrades, Almost a Love Story (Peter Chan, 1996)

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Mahjong (Edward Yang, 1996)

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Viva Erotica (Derek Yee, 1996)

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Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997)

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Too Many Ways to Be №1 (Wai Ka-fai, 1997)

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Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1998)

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Expect the Unexpected (Patrick Yau, 1998)

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The Mission (Johnnie To, 1999)

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King of Comedy (Stephen Chow & Lee Lik-chi, 1999)

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Tempting Heart (Sylvia Chang, 1999)

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Platform (Jia Zhangke, 2000)

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In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)

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Yi yi (Edward Yang, 2000)

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Time and Tide (Tsui Hark, 2000)

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Devils on the Doorstep (Jiang Wen, 2000)

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Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2001)

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What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)

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Shaolin Soccer (Stephen Chow, 2001)

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My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, 2002)

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Golden Chicken (Samson Chiu, 2002)

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Chinese Odyssey 2002 (Jeffrey Lau, 2002)

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Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002)

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Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau & Alan Mak, 2002)

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Running on Karma (Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, 2003)

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PTU (Johnnie To, 2003)

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Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang, 2003)

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2046 (Wong Kar-wai, 2004)

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Throw Down (Johnnie To, 2004)

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Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow, 2004)

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The World (Jia Zhangke, 2004)

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House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou, 2004)

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20 30 40 (Sylvia Chang, 2004)

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SPL: Sha Po Lang (Wilson Yip, 2005)

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Exiled (Johnnie To, 2006)

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Still Life (Jia Zhangke, 2006)

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Isabella (Pang Ho-cheung, 2006)

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The Shopaholics (Wai Ka-fai, 2006)

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The Sun Also Rises (Jiang Wen, 2007)

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Sparrow (Johnnie To, 2008)

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Red Cliff (John Woo, 2008)

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Oxhide II (Liu Jiayin, 2009)

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Written By (Wai Ka-fai, 2009)

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Accident (Soi Cheang, 2009)

The Counselor, Master Huang by You GE, Yun-fat CHOW

Let the Bullets Fly (Jiang Wen, 2010)

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Love in a Puff (Pang Ho-cheung, 2010)

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Thomas Mao (Zhu Wen, 2010)

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Gallants (Derek Kwok & Clement Cheng, 2010)

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Wuxia (Peter Chan, 2011)

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Ex (Heiward Mak, 2011)

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Romancing in Thin Air (Johnnie To, 2012)

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When Night Falls (Ying Liang, 2012)

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Memories Look at Me (Song Fang, 2012)

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Three Sisters (Wang Bing, 2012)

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Four Ways to Die in My Hometown (Chai Chunya, 2012)

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Tai Chi Zero (Stephen Fung, 2012)

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Blind Detective (Johnnie To, 2013)

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A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke, 2013)

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Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (Stephen Chow & Derek Kwok, 2013)

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Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-liang, 2013)

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Yumen (JP Sniadecki, Huang Xiang & Xu Ruotao, 2013)

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The Midnight After (Fruit Chan, 2014)

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Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 (Johnnie To, 2014)

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Journey to the West (Tsai Ming-liang, 2014)

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The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015)

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Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke, 2015)

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SPL 2: A Time for Consequences (Soi Cheang, 2015)

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Kaili Blues (Bi Gan, 2015)

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Murmur of the Hearts (Sylvia Chang, 2015)