Culture

These Chinese Films Were Rated as The Top 10 by the Chinese Themselves in 2020

In this article, we focus on the most popular Chinese language movies this year. In addition, the most popular foreign language films in China and the box office rankings of Chinese film market are also given. It's been a tough year for the global film industry, so let's show respect for these films.

Last week, douban.com, a Chinese cultural goods review website, released its annual film list.

Founded in 2005, Douban is the largest cultural goods review website in China. It is Yelp`s Chinese version for movies, TV dramas, books and musics. All users can rate those works on Douban and write down their own comments.

As a result, its annual list is one of the most important ones in the field of Chinese cultural market. Douban’s annual list can clearly describe the trend of young Chinese consumers’ interest in movies, books and TV dramas.

This year, we will fully translate its annual list of films and books for foreign readers’ reference. In the film field, Douban has released two lists, one is the list of Chinese-language films, and the other is the list of foreign-language films. Both rankings are based on website’s own data, mainly from Chinese mainland users’ reviews.

We will focus on the introduction of the list of Chinese-language movies, as most of the films on the list have never been shown in cinemas in the English-speaking world, and there are few introductions about them overseas.

The ranking of films in this article comes from Douban, but the introduction to each film is written by PandaYoo. It may be different from the version on IMDB or Douban, because we want to make foreign readers understand the reasons why these movies are on the list as much as possible.

It has been a crumbling year for film industry practitioners around the world.

As for the Chinese market, cinemas in China were closed for 178 days due to the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic in early 2020. On July 20, 2020, cinemas in China were allowed to reopen. According to statistics, only 299 movies were released in China in 2020, down 40% from the previous year. To make matters worse, Chinese cinemas sold only 480 million tickets during the year, down 70% last year. Therefore, it is particularly important to record the achievements of this year’s films.

It is worth noting that although Douban’s list is very influential in China, it has never made its evaluation criteria public.

You may see that works with lower scores have better rankings than works with higher scores. At the same time, Douban’s ranking does not refer to box office or sales, so as an additional reference, we will supplement the 2020 Chinese film market box office ranking in the second half of the article.

The highest rated Chinese-language film in 2020

1. A Sun

Douban score: 8.5

Evaluated by 184900 people

Type: Crime, Drama, Family.

Length: 2h 36min

imdb | douban | netflix

I would like to call it the Chinese version of “Manchester by the sea“. At least they expresses the same feeling.

The film is about the daily life of a family in Taiwan. There are two sons in the family. One of them is a top student and the other is a gangster. There is no particularly intense plot conflict, but with the accumulation of “daily events” such as school pressure, puppy love, unintended pregnancy, student gang conflict, loan sharking and soft drug dealing, the family is in a quandary. No one’s life can move forward. 

Some tragedies happen in the best part of the film, and the plot ends many years after that, the survivors finally understand each other.

It generally shows what a typical non-middle-class family will encounter in Taiwan today, and only a little dramatic expression was added. “Real rather than dramatic helplessness” is one of the main reasons why the film has won high praise from Chinese audiences.

The film was released in Taiwan in November 2019 and won several awards in that year’s Golden Horse Awards. The film was not shown on the Chinese mainland market, but it still attracted the attention of netizens.

2. One second

Douban score: 7.8

Evaluated by 123700 people

Type: Drama, History

Length: 1h 44min

imdb | douban

The film, adapted by famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou based on his early experience. It is called “a love letter to the art of film” by Chinese netizens.

The film tells the story of three ordinary Chinese who have a great love for movies when they are tracking the cine film of a news movie before China’s reform and opening up.

The hero escaped from prison to watch a news film (in an era when television was not popular, China used to make news program into film and broadcast it in rural areas) because he believed there was a “one second” clip of his deceased daughter in the film. But he missed, so he began to look for the original copy of the film. In the process, he clashed with the other two protagonists of the movie.

The movie describes the hardships of Chinese filmmakers and film lovers in that turbulent era. That is a period of history that many Chinese people do not want to recall, but in this film, it shows everything on the side.

The film was released on Chinese mainland in November 2020, and many low-scoring reviews on Douban suggested that the movie was asked to delete many clips before its official release.

3. Balloon

Douban score: 7.9

Evaluated by 35000 people

Type: Drama

Length: 1h 42min

imdb | douban

The film, made by Tibetan screenwriter and director Pema Tseden, tells a small story of the conflict between Tibetan traditional culture and modern society.

The story takes place in the 1990s, the protagonist’s family already has three children, and because of the large number of children, her family is very poor. In order to stop getting pregnant, the heroine went to town to ask the doctor for condoms, but the children in the family played with condoms as balloons.

This is considered unacceptable in conservative Tibetan culture. As a result, many roles are involved to resolve the culture conflict. In the process, the heroine became pregnant again and gave birth to her fourth child, which further worsened the family’s financial situation and relationship between she and her husband.

The film is well received because it describes the conflicts faced by Chinese ethnic minority families in a fusion era through a very specific and micro story. To some extent, it succeeds in turning the conceptual literal picture of “clash of civilizations” into a clearly visible personal story. The macro narratives such as Tibetan traditional culture, one-child policy, the poverty of a single family and the rapid development of the whole society are shown as a year-long family quarrel in this film.

The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in August 2019 and was released on Chinese mainland on November 20, 2020. Its director, Pema Tseden, won the “most Media attention Director” award at the 2020 Shanghai Film Festival.

4. The Eight Hundred

Douban score: 7.6

Evaluated by 57600 people

Type: action, History, War, Drama

Length: 2h 29min

imdb | douban

The film is adapted from the four lines of warehouse defense, a real battle that took place in the Chinese battlefield in World War II.

The defense of Sihang Warehouse took place from October 26 to November 1, 1937, and marked the beginning of the end of the three-month Battle of Shanghai in the opening phase of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Defenders of the warehouse held out against numerous waves of Japanese forces and covered Chinese forces retreating west during the Battle of Shanghai.

800, which means 800 warriors, but in fact only 423 Chinese soldiers took part in the battle at that time. But its commander, Xie Jinyuan, deliberately invented the figure of 800 in order not to let the Japanese know the actual number of soldiers stationed in the area. This defensive warfare was so fierce that only about 100 Chinese soldiers survived.

The film is basically adapted from the real situation of the battle, showing the stories of several different levels of Chinese soldiers in the defense force.

This is almost the first film to be released in the People’s Republic of China about the army of the Republic of China fighting against Japan during World War II. And it is filmed by well-known film companies and directors from the people’s Republic of China.

As a result, this has sparked controversy on Chinese mainland and Taiwan area. Some netizens on Chinese mainland believe that the film exaggerates the role of the Republic of China army in the War of Resistance against Japan, while netizens in Taiwan do the opposite.

Other critics argue that the film’s overly dramatic performance deviates it from real history.

The film is the first commercial film in Asia to be shot with an IMAX camera. It is amazingly expressive in the picture, showing the cruelty of the battle. The film is released on Chinese mainland on August 21, 2020.

Guan Hu, the director of the movie won an honorary award at the 2020 Pingyao International Film Festival.

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5. Wet Season

Douban score: 7.6

Evaluated by 35500 people

Type: Drama

Length: 1h 43min

imdb | douban

Wet Season is an art film jointly shot by Taiwan(China) and Singapore.

Lin Shuling, the heroine of the film, is a Chinese teacher who emigrated from Malaysia to Singapore. She has been married to her husband for several years, but she is still unable to have children.

Her father-in-law had a stroke and the burden of care fell on her shoulders. Coupled with the indifference to Chinese education in Singapore’s education system, her enthusiasm for teaching has also been dealt a blow. At this time, she and Guo Weilun, a student who is keen on martial arts, had ambiguous feelings during the process of making up lessons and picking up.

The film was released in Singapore in November 2019 and was not shown on Chinese mainland, but attracted the attention of Chinese moviegoers for winning an award at the 2020 Pingyao International Film Festival.

At the Pingyao International Film Festival, the organizing committee spoke highly of the film:

With a very mature lens language, the film shows the complexity of many issues in Singapore and Malaysia society. The female midlife crisis, immigration and Singapore's contempt for Chinese education are clear and integrated in the narrative level in the film. Continuing the creative context of previous family sketches, the director has shown a relatively rare image control among young directors in the whole Chinese-speaking world.

6. My Prince Edward

Douban score: 7.7

Evaluated by 15380 people

Type: Drama, Romance

Length: 1h 32min

imdb | douban | hoopla

The film’s heroine, Cheng Lifang, works in a wedding shop in the famous Golden Plaza in Hong Kong. Although she deals with the bride every day, she has been in a relationship with her boyfriend for seven years but is still unmarried.

It was not until her boyfriend proposed that Cheng remembered that she had “faked marriage” with a strange Chinese mainland man 10 years ago to make money, helping the man gain Hong Kong citizenship.

Over the past ten years, she has long forgotten this “husband” and has never divorced.

The story continues to move forward between Cheng’s trivial work preparing for the wedding and the search for her “fake husband”. But in the end, her boyfriend found out Cheng’s secret.

The screenplay of this film is excellent. It depicts the fear of marriage among modern Hong Kong women, the aimless lifestyle of Hong Kong men, and the trend of Chinese mainland society to keep pace with money.

But at the same time, no character is a collection of stereotypes, and each character has its own vivid story and convincing motivation. Many Chinese mainland netizens mentioned in the film that few Hong Kong films have been as successful as Progress in shaping a typical Chinese mainland character without using those stigmatizing stereotypes.

The film was released in Hong Kong, China on June 11, 2020, and its director, Huang Yilin, won the new director award at this year’s Hong Kong Academy Awards.

7. Suk Suk

Douban score: 7.7

Evaluated by 11090 people.

Type: Drama, LGBT

Length: 1h 32min

imdb | douban

This is a Hong Kong film focusing on elderly gay men.

The film’s two protagonists, Pak, 70, and Hoi, 65, are gay men who have never come out.

Pak, a taxi driver who emigrated to Hong Kong from Chinese mainland when he was young, has been married to his wife for more than 40 years and has a son and daughter. He has a typical “happy family” in Hong Kong society.

Hoi was also married, but his wife died a long time ago. He lived with his son, but his son discovered his father’s secret. Pak and Hoi met and were attracted to each other, but could not admit it because of traditional morality.

In recent years, due to the affirmative movement, many realistic LGBT films in the United States and Europe have attracted attention. However, in the whole East Asia, which is bound by traditional culture, there are still relatively few works of art that seriously discuss this social issue.

The Chinese title “叔·叔” of this movie translates directly to “uncle uncle”. Compared with Dear EX (2018) from Taiwan, Suk Suk is more commendable. It shows not the beautiful part of LGBT love, but pain, embarrassment, aging and helplessness. It is usually difficult to attract the public to the cinema. It tries to explore the problems that these people really encounter in society, rather than just telling another romantic gay love story with a happy ending.

As a result, the film received high praise and became one of the most award-winning Chinese films in 2020.

8. Almost a Comedy

Douban score: 7.4

Evaluated by 437270 people

Type: Comedy, Romance

Length: 1h 51min

imdb | douban

The film, from Mahua FunAge, a famous comedy film production company in China, mainly tells the story of three Chinese young people with different views on love.

The film is called Almost a Comedy because it describes many social problems faced by young people in contemporary China in the form of comedy. The film follows the usual style of Mahua FunAge and is more like a sitcom than a movie.

I will not introduce this film too much, because unless overseas audiences have a deep understanding of Chinese language and society, it may be difficult to understand the jokes in this film. Just as it is difficult for Chinese to understand most American talk shows.

The film was released on Chinese mainland on December 20 and won the best screenplay award at the China Changchun Film Festival. However, according to media reports, many of its lines are not written in advance by the writers, but are temporarily added during the performance of the actors.

9. My People, My Homeland

Douban score: 7.4

Evaluated by 359270 people.

Type: Comedy

Length: 2h 33min

imdb | douban

This is a film made to celebrate the 71st anniversary of the founding of The People’s Republic of China.

We have written a detailed review of the film because it has achieved excellent results in terms of box office and evaluation, which is completely different from other films for the purpose of political publicity.

The film depicts the stories of the seven most common Chinese characters in different times, and their viewability is greatly improved through the dramatic plot.

Although by the standards of foreign audiences, the film may still be regarded as a political propaganda film. However, because of the excellence of his story, most Chinese audiences do not agree with it. As a result, it appeared on Douban’s list.

10. Leap

Douban score: 7.3

Evaluated by 250830 people

Type: Sports, Drama

imdb | douban | Amazon Prime Video

The film is based on the story of the famous Chinese volleyball player, volleyball coach Lang Ping and the Chinese women’s volleyball national team.

It describes the history of the Chinese women’s volleyball national team winning the world championship for the first time in 1981 to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when the Chinese women’s volleyball team beat the Brazilian women’s volleyball team to win the championship.

The protagonist Lang Ping was the real best-known female volleyball player in China. She became a volleyball coach after she retired. In the real world, she served as head coach of the US women’s volleyball national team and led the US women’s volleyball team to defeat China in 2008.

In 2013, she returned to China at the end of her contract with the US sports team and led the Chinese women’s volleyball team to the championship again.

This experience gives the character a complex story and even makes the film a drama rather than a documentary to some extent. Gong Li, a well-known Chinese actress who plays Xianniang in Disney’s 2020 film Mulan, plays the protagonist Lang Ping, in the film. Her excellent acting have been rated by Chinese netizens as “possessed by Lang Ping”.

The film was released on Chinese mainland in September 2020 and later won several awards at the Golden Rooster and hundred Flowers Film Festival.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Douban’s ranking does not refer to the actual box office of the film (some films are not even released on Chinese mainland). Therefore, we pass this 2020 Chinese mainland movie box office ranking from Cat’s Eye data to further improve this point:

RankTitleTotal box office(In millions of USD)Douban Score
1The Eight Hundred466.3657.6
2My People, My Homeland424.3717.4
3Legend of Deification240.41856.8
4The Sacrifice168.2676.5
5Leap125.43457.3
6Caught in Time80.556.5
7Adoring76.5216.0
8Love You Forever75.1985.5
9Sheep Without a Shepherd68.4367.7
10Tenet62.7277.7
Data as of December 21, 2020

Douban not only gives a list of Chinese-language films in 2020, but also gives a list of foreign-language films that have attracted the most attention of Chinese netizens. But I think for most readers, we don’t seem to need a specific introduction to these English movies, so I’ll simply put the rest of the list here.

RankTitleDouban scoreEvaluated by (People)Release Date on Chinese Mainland
119178.5380000August 7, 2020
2Ford v Ferrai8.6168300August 7, 2020
3Jojo Rabbit8.4241400July 31, 2020
4Dark Water8.587604Not shown
5The Gentlemen8.3139030Not shown
6Little Women8.1309100August 25, 2020
7Richard Jewell8.280100January 10, 2020
8The Man Standing Next8.199670Not shown
9The Croods: A New Age8.199310November 27th, 2020
10Tenet7.7457200September 4, 2020

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