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The Top 10 Chinese films selected by the Chinese in 2021

In 2021, the global box office reached RMB 137.6 billion, recovering to 51% of its pre-epidemic level. Among them, China ranked first in the world with a box office of RMB 45.67 billion, accounting for 33% of the global box office. Three of the top ten global box office films of the year are Chinese films. We will present the highest rated Chinese-language film in 2021 by Douban, China's largest cultural product review site, for foreign readers.

As the year 2021 passes, Douban.com has released its annual list of film.

Founded in 2005, Douban.com is the largest cultural product review website in China. It is a Chinese version of Yelp+IMDB for multicultural products. Users can comment on Douban for films, books, TV shows, games and other content and express their opinions.

As such, its annual list is one of the most important lists in the Chinese cultural market sector. We can use these lists to understand the preferences of young Chinese consumers for cultural products in different areas.

Douban released two major lists in its annual movie list for 2021. One is the highest rated Chinese-language film and the other is the highest rated foreign-language film. In this article, we will translate the contents of these two lists for our foreign readers.

The focus of this presentation will be on the list of Chinese language films. Because most of the films on the list have not been shown in cinemas in the English-speaking world, and it is difficult to find presentations about them overseas.

The COVID epidemic of 2020 has had a huge impact on the film industry worldwide. In 2021, the film industry finally began to rebound thanks to the efforts of all sectors of society and film industry practitioners.

In 2021, the global box office reached RMB 137.6 billion, recovering to 51% of its pre-epidemic level. Among them, China ranked first in the world with a box office of RMB 45.67 billion, accounting for 33% of the global box office. Three of the top ten global box office films of the year are Chinese films. The total number of screenings in China reached 119 million, with 1.2 billion moviegoers, up 106% year-on-year.

All the films that made the list and those that failed to make the list have undoubtedly made their contribution to this, which is very memorable.

It is worth noting that although Douban’s annual list is very influential in China, it has never made its scoring criteria public. As a result there will be situations where high rated films do not rank as well as low rated films.

In addition, Douban’s annual ranking does not reference box office and sales, so as a supplementary reference, we will add the 2021 Chinese film market box office ranking in the second half of this article.

Just like our previous article, not all of these films have a official translation, which means we have to do some literal translation. It may not be very accurate.

The highest rated Chinese-language film in 2021

1.Xiong shi shao nian/I am what I am

Douban score: 8.3
Evaluated by 151319 people
Type: Drama,Comedy, Animation
Length: 1h 44min

imdb | douban

This film is arguably the dark horse on the list. The movie was released on December 17, and in less than half a month it took the top spot on the list of highest rated Chinese-language films.

The main character of the story is Juan, who was born in a small southern village. He lived in silence with his best friend, Mao and Gou, until one day he saw the heroism of others in the lion dance. Unwilling to be ordinary, he decided to learn lion dance and wanted to make a name for himself.

So Juan and his friends found a retired lion dance master, Qiang, and began to undergo rigorous training. After a series of choices and efforts, they finally made it to the lion dance competition.

It has been so well received by Chinese audiences, mainly because of its simple yet moving story. Past box office successes of Chinese animated films are mostly based on ancient mythological content such as “Journey to the West”. This is a rare, realistic animation depicting the stories of ordinary people.

It is worth mentioning that the image of the main characters in this film, unlike the traditional animation handsome or beautiful. Although the creative team said that the role was created after several visits to Guangdong and other places. However, the characters’ squinting eyes, hanging eyes, wide eye spacing and collapsed noses have led many Chinese viewers to say that these are stereotypes that deliberately vilify the image of the Chinese. These controversies have also brought the film a lot of troubles.

2.Gu wei/Little Big Women

Douban score: 8.1
Evaluated by 55818 people
Type: Drama,Family
Length: 2h 3min

imdb | douban

The film was only shown in China, Taiwan and China-Taiwan streaming media, and was not released in China.

Little Big Women tells the story of Lin Xiuying, the owner of a famous restaurant in Tainan, who ran the restaurant alone to raise her three daughters after her husband left without saying goodbye.

On the day of Lin Xiuying’s 70th birthday, she received the news of her husband’s death. While preparing for her husband’s funeral, she unexpectedly met another woman who had accompanied her husband in his old age.

As the story progresses, the extreme side of Lin Xiuying’s character is gradually revealed. And through the depiction of the conflict between her and her daughters, the reason why her husband ran away from her in the first place is revealed.

After viewing the film, some viewers felt that it is justifying a husband who did not care about his family. Another part of the audience believed that it was her character that caused her husband to leave home. Perhaps it is the collision of these two points of view that makes the movie have a high degree of discussion.

3.Ni hao, Li Huan Ying/Hi, Mom

Douban score: 7.8
Evaluated by 1176081 people
Type: Drama,Comedy,Fantasy
Length: 2h 8min

imdb | douban

This movie is directed by Jia Ling, a famous Chinese comedian, and her debut as a director. It was released in mainland China on February 12, 2021, just in time for the Chinese New Year, the most important traditional holiday in China. It was also the box office champion of the Chinese New Year season.

The story is about a day in 2001 when Jia Xiaoling (by Jia Ling), who has just started college, experiences a big ups and downs in her life. Her mother, Li Huanying, suddenly suffered a serious accident and was admitted to the hospital. In Jia’s emotional breakdown, she unexpectedly goes back to 1981 and meets her mother in her youth.

With her forward-thinking, Jia becomes best friends with her young mother and unfolds a series of stories that make people laugh and cry.

The movie is based on Jia Ling’s experience when she was young. Although it was her directorial debut, it was not well received before its release. But the real emotions in it touched the audience and won numerous praises after its release. The film also won her the Junlu Award for Best Debut Film at the 16th China Changchun Film Festival.

4.White Snake

Douban score: 8.1
Evaluated by 34664 people
Type: Drama,Fantasy,Musical
Length: 1h 41min

imdb | douban

This film is a special presence in the whole list, it is the first 4K panoramic sound Cantonese opera movie in China. Cantonese Opera is a traditional Chinese opera form.

The story is based on the Chinese folk tale “White Snake“, a legend of Romance that is well known in China. In the story, the hero Xu Xian saved a small white snake in his previous life, and this small white snake cultivated for a thousand years and finally took human form, is the heroine Bai Suzhen.

The monk Fahai believes that people and demons are different and cannot fall in love, and brought Xu Xian back to the Jinshan Temple. Bai Suzhen cast a spell to summon water to flood the Jinshan Temple, only to save her husband.

Although Chinese audiences are already familiar with the story, the film perfectly combines traditional opera with modern technology. The staging, composition and color palette make every frame of the film look like a traditional Chinese painting.

It gives audiences a completely different audio-visual experience, which is the main reason for its popularity.

5.Classmates Minus

Douban score: 7.9
Evaluated by 77282 people
Type: Comedy,Drama
Length: 2h 2min

imdb | douban

It is also a film from Taiwan, China, and was not released in mainland China.

It tells the story of four high school friends: Dian Feng is an insurance salesman who buys a new house with a meager salary. Because his girlfriend is pregnant, he will enter the life stage of marriage. Bi Jie has eys of Yin and Yang and is engaged in the funeral industry. He missed out on marriage because he had been taking care of his bedridden grandmother for a long time and wanted to find a good woman to marry through marriage introduction. Guan Tou came to his senses after a suicide by swallowing pills and took over the job at the household office. He reunited with the goddess of his heart, school girl Minus, in the course of his work. Tian is a director who is not successful. He was seen by a politician by chance and started his journey to the election.

Four small, unassuming characters unfold their ordinary yet intertwined stories.

The film’s director, Huang Xinyao, has directed films such as “A Sun” and “The Great Buddha+“. The former was the top Chinese-language film in 2020 on Douban, while the latter was on the Douban Top 250 list. Therefore, the new movie he directed is also highly anticipated by the audience in 2021.

6.Xuan ya zhi shang/Cliff Walkers

Douban score: 7.6
Evaluated by 592995 people
Type: Crime,Drama,Thriller
Length: 2h

imdb | douban

This movie is directed by the famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou. It is a spy film that tells the story of the people’s heroes during the war against Japan in China.

In the 1930s, four communist agents who had trained in the Soviet Union formed a task force and returned to China to carry out a covert operation codenamed “Dawn”. They entered Northeast China by parachute and prepared to meet with their comrades.

Due to the betrayal of the traitor, the enemy posed as a companion to contact them in an attempt to obtain more information. The four main characters begin to fight with the enemy, trying to get out and complete the action.

The film was released in mainland China on April 30, 2021. The actors were all quite amazing in the movie, but some viewers gave it a lower rating because the plot logic gradually got out of control in the second half.

7.Ji Xiang Ru Yi/The Reunions

Douban score: 7.7
Evaluated by 103208 people
Type: Drama,Family
Length: 1h 20min

imdb | douban

The film was released in mainland China on January 29, 2021. Its director, Da Peng, is also a comedian, which is similar to Ni hao, Li Huan Ying.

The way this film came to life was somewhat unusual: it started with the 48-minute short film “Ji Xiang” and added behind-the-scenes content from the shooting of the short film “Ru Yi“. Only then did it expand into a full-length film for mass release in Chinese theaters.

It focuses on the story of a girl, Wang Qingli, who comes to Beijing from a small city in the northeast to work. Her father’s name is Wang Jixiang, who got sick in his middle age and has dementia. Her mother insisted on divorcing and taking her away.

On the eve of the Chinese New Year, Qingli returned to her home in the Northeast, but her grandmother suddenly passed away. This forced her to face the separation of life and death, as well as the conflict in the family.

Although director Da Peng has directed many films, most of them have a poor reputation. The film, however, won the praise of the audience with its close story and moving plot.

8.Wu sheng/The Silent Forest

Douban score: 7.8
Evaluated by 26656 people
Type: Drama
Length: 1h 44min

imdb | douban

This is the third film on this list which was shot in Taiwan, China. It was released in Taiwan, China on October 15, 2020, and was available for streaming on February 3, 2021. It also has not yet been released in theaters in mainland China.

Zhang Cheng, a deaf teenager, transfers to Qicong School, and find that school violence is taking place in the last row of the school bus. The girl he had a crush on, Bei Bei, was covered in bruises from the bullying. The aggressor, Xiao Guang, however, is very arrogant. As the story develops he discovers that the perpetrator, Xiao Guang, was also a victim.

Focusing on the special group of deaf children, the film shows a depressing and realistic world. It invites people to reflect on school violence, sexual abuse and other issues.

The movie is based on real events and it is known to the audience viewers as the Chinese version of “Silenced“.

9.Chai dan zhuan jia 2/Shock Wave 2

Douban score: 7.5
Evaluated by 494695 people
Type: Action,Crime,Thriller
Length: 2h 1min

imdbdoubanAmazon Prime Video

The movie is a sequel to the movie Shock Wave, which was released in 2017, and it was released in mainland China on December 24, 2020.

The film continues the story of the previous film, the main character Pan Chengfeng is a former bomb disposal expert. He had to retire from the military after a mission in which he had a leg blown off.

One day, five years later, he was unconscious at the scene of a bombing somewhere in Hong Kong. He lost his memory and was suspected by the police. Pan contacted his best friend and ex-girlfriend. While fleeing, he ascertained the truth of the case.

The is a typical commercial film of the crime genre, and most viewers did not have great expectations before watching the movie. The director has made it stand out in the same type of movie with its plot flip and thrilling and exciting images.

10.Yang ming li wan/Be Somebody

Douban score: 7.5
Evaluated by 365850 people
Type: Comedy,Drama,Mystery
Length: 2h 3min

imdb | douban

One night, a group of film professionals is brought together. They were going to make a movie remake of a sensational murder case and use it to become famous. Little did they know that the villa they were in was the very site of the crime and that the murderer had been invited to the scene by the organizers.

In the process of preparation, the protagonists discover that there is another hidden agenda behind the murder. Through the murderer‘s confessions, they slowly restore the truth of the story, while constantly disproving previous speculations. When the audience thinks they already know the whole story, the movie gives the biggest reversal at the end.

Director Liu Xun Zimo is known to Chinese audiences for his hilarious short films, and this film is his feature film debut. He added the comedic elements that he is good at to the suspense genre, and achieved great results. Many Chinese audiences consider it the best Chinese-language suspense movie of 2021.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Douban’s list does not rank films based on their box office (some films were not even released in mainland China). Therefore, we supplement this with the 2021 box office rankings for mainland China from Cat’s Eye data.

RankTitleTotal box office(In millions of USD)Douban Score
1The Battle at Lake Changjin / Battle of Chosin Reservior/Zhang jin hu905.67847.4
2Ni hao, Li Huan Ying/Hi, Mom905.70687.8
3Detective Chinatown 3849.60365.3
4My Country, My Parents/Wo he wo de fu bei790.37246.9
5F9: The Fast Saga735.55635.2
6Nou fo/Crossfire/Raging Fire709.96667.2
7Zhong guo yi sheng/Chinese Doctors667.07426.9
8Godzilla vs. Kong573.13746.3
9Song ni yi duo xiao hong hua/A Little Red Flower533.2937.3
10Xuan ya zhi shang/Cliff Walkers532.26197.6
Data as of December 28, 2021

As you can see, this mainland China box office list differs greatly from the Douban list of the highest rated Chinese film of the year. There are only two films that appear in both lists. Therefore, we would like to introduce some of the Chinese movies that have not been introduced above, but have appeared in the box office list for your information.

The Battle at Lake Changjin / Battle of Chosin Reservior/Zhang jin hu

Douban score: 7.4
Evaluated by 506421 people
Type: Action,Drama,History
Length: 2h 56min

imdb | douban

To commemorate the 71st anniversary of The War to resist U.S. aggression and Aid Korea, three well-known Chinese directors, Chen Kaige, Xu Ke and Lin Chaoxian, made this film together. It was released in mainland China on September 30, 2021.

71 years ago, the Chinese People’s Volunteers went to fight in Korea. 71 years ago, the Chinese People’s Volunteers went to fight in Korea. Under difficult circumstances, the combat troops on the Eastern Front overcame the enemy with their fearless spiritual will and turned the battlefield situation.

The film not only depicts the bravery of the soldiers, but also shows the cruelty of war. The film has induced the audience to reflect on the war and promote the spirit of anti-war.

Many Chinese audiences who lived through that era resonated with the film and gave it high marks. But the movie is too long and the pace is slightly out of control, which is the reason why some viewers gave it a low score.

Detective Chinatown 3

Douban score: 5.3
Evaluated by 970412 people
Type: Action,Adventure,Comedy
Length: 2h 16min

imdb | douban

This movie is the third installment of the Chinatown Detective series, released on February 12, 2021, during the Chinese New Year. It is the second-highest-grossing Chinese film in the Chinese New Year Season.

The storyline connects the second part, the main characters Tang Ren, Qin Feng was invited by detective Noda to Tokyo to solve the case. The detectives in the “CRIMASTER” world detective ranking heard the news and gathered in Tokyo to compete with each other.

The film invited Tomokazu Miura, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Masami Nagasawa and other well-known Japanese actors to participate in the performance.

As you can see, although the film’s box office receipts are quite high, it is the lowest rated Chinese-language film on this list. Most viewers said the film’s plot was disorganized and full of cheesy jokes, and gave it a low rating. But from an objective point of view, it did achieve great commercial success.

My Country, My Parents/Wo he wo de fu bei

Douban score: 6.9
Evaluated by 175226 people
Type: Drama
Length: 2h 36min

imdb | douban

This is a film made to celebrate the 71st anniversary of the founding of The People’s Republic of China. It belongs to the same series as My People, My Homeland in last year’s Douban annual movie list.

The film tells the story of the corresponding era with the coordinates of four different time points: revolution, construction, reform and opening up, and the new era, and enhances its viewability with a dramatic plot.

It may be that the film has some political propaganda purpose by the standards of foreign audiences, but it does have a great story. Many Chinese audiences came to see it because of the reputation of its predecessor, so it also did well at the box office.

Nou fo/Crossfire/Raging Fire

Douban score: 7.2
Evaluated by 368368 people
Type: Action,Adventure,Crime
Length: 2h 8min

imdb | douban

Crossfire is the posthumous work of director Chen Musheng, a typical Hong Kong commercial crime film.

When the Major Crimes Unit is arresting an international drug lord, a group of masked bandits suddenly appear and kill the police officers. Inspector Zhang Chongbang of the Major Crimes Unit witnesses the murder of his comrades and goes after them.

Although the storyline is rather old-fashioned, but the film picture and the fight scene are outstanding, the lead actor’s performance is also quite good, is a qualified commercial film.

During the film’s release, there were no other films in theaters that interested the audience. This is one of the reasons why it did so well at the box office.

Zhong guo yi sheng/Chinese Doctors

Douban score: 6.9
Evaluated by 205659 people
Type: Drama
Length: 2h 9min

imdb | douban

The film is based on real events during the struggle to prevent and control the COVID Pneumonia epidemic.

It is based on the characters of Wuhan medical staff and supporting medical teams from provinces and cities throughout China. With Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital as the core story background, it is a panoramic record of the story during China’s fight against the epidemic.

Against the backdrop of the epidemic in countries around the world, this film, which focuses on the fight against the epidemic, has attracted the attention of Chinese audiences.

Many viewers said they went to the cinema with high expectations, but the film was somewhat deliberately melodramatic, which is why some of the viewers who gave it a low rating thought.

Song ni yi duo xiao hong hua/A Little Red Flower

Douban score: 7.3
Evaluated by 666055 people
Type: Drama,Family
Length: 2h 8min

imdb | douban

A Little Red Flower was released in mainland China on December 31, the last day of 2020.

It focuses on the group of “terminally ill young people” and tells a tender and realistic story around two families fighting cancer and two sets of life trajectories.

The film is not overly sad, not deliberately sensational, and objectively shows the helplessness and suffering of the patients. But it is not depressing, it softly tells us to cherish the moment, to love bravely and to be hopeful.

It’s a very natural, emotionally charged film.

Of course, in addition to the list of Chinese films in 2021, Douban has also released a list of the highest rated foreign-language films. But for most readers, these movies don’t seem to need a specific introduction, so I’ll simply list the list below. It is worth mentioning that one movie was released in mainland China in the last days of 2020. There is also a part that has been released overseas in 2021, but has not yet been released in mainland China. These films also make this list as 2021 films.

RankTitleDouban scoreEvaluated by (People)Release Date on Chinese Mainland
1Soul8.7759475December 25, 2020
2みたいな恋をした(Hanataba mitaina koi wo shita)8.7137732Not Shown
3The Father8.6184168June 18, 2021
4Finch8.4100105Not Shown
5Zack Snyder’s Justice League8.2239820May 3, 2021 (on streaming)
6Persischstunden/Persian Lessons8.1245494March 19, 2021
7The Suicide Squad8.0186491Not Shown
8Dune7.8387837October 22, 2021
9Nobody7.8109703Not Shown
10Free Guy7.5503750August 27, 2021

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