I have spent a lot of time this year watching films by 5th Generation directors, and have now seen over 150 (depending on how you count it). I had said I would post my personal guide previously, but didn’t come through. Sorry, I’m too lazy
Here it is though, in incomplete form (I had planned to add more detailed summaries and have brief thoughts under every movie).
ICheckMovies list for this project
ICheckMovies list for other relevant films mentioned in this guide
Be warned: the takes you'll see here will often go against consensus.
The 5th Generation was the group of new filmmakers who began studying film in the aftermath of the Cultural revolution. At its core was the Beijing Film Academy’s diverse group of 1982 graduates, but there are peripheral groups/individuals that are often also included. This group was responsible for drastically expanding the scope of mainland Chinese film, creating some of the most important works of world cinema, and laying the groundwork for the audacious 6th Generation & dGeneration films made in their wake. The core period of the movement is considered to end with the infamous events in Beijing of 1989. The group had a strong set of predispositions: within the core period there was a heavy focus on socialist realism based on the work of writers marginalised by the cultural revolution and narratives that were critical of the state, bureaucracy, prevalent conservative traditionalist attitudes. Many early works were war films, films for children, or absurdist satire, with much of the movement placing emphasis on rural narratives. Fourth Generation directors are not included in this.
Why the 5th Generation?
- the films of the 5th Generation marked the first time certain topics and themes had been interrogated in such a public way in China
- they also marked the first time mainland Chinese films had achieved such wide attention internationally.
- brought a diverse group of filmmakers to the fore, by far the most influential and accomplished of any cohort of Chinese filmmakers
(that I have seen 5+ films from or have completed their feature filmography, alphabetically ordered)
1. ‘King of the Children’ AKA 《孩子王》 (1987)
2. ‘Caught in the Web’ AKA 《搜索》 (2012)
3. ‘Yellow Earth’ AKA 《黃土地》 (1984)
4. ‘The Big Parade’ AKA 《大閱兵》 (1986)
Often misconstrued as a propaganda film, Chen has said this film is attempting to examine individual/collective dynamics at an abstract level, and the literal narrative is entirely facade. Also makes for a stunning visual experience, with Zhang Yimou’s cinematography at its absolute peak here.
5. ‘Life on a String’ AKA 《邊走邊唱》 (1991)
6. ‘Farewell My Concubine’ AKA 《霸王別姬》 (1993)
7. ‘Legend of the Demon Cat’ AKA 《妖猫传》 (2017)
The fact that this film isn’t celebrated by neo-elitist/revisionist/contrarian internet users everywhere is proof that vulgar auteurism is all posturing.
8. ‘Temptress Moon’ AKA 《風月》 (1996)
- ‘Sacrifice’ AKA 《趙氏孤兒》 (2010)
- ‘Forever Enthralled’ AKA 《梅兰芳》 (2008)
- ‘Monk Comes Down the Mountain’ AKA 《道士下山》 (2015)
- ‘The Emperor and the Assassin’ AKA 《荊柯刺秦王》 (1998)
- ‘Together’ AKA 《和你在一起》 (2002)
- ‘The Promise’ AKA 《無極》 (2005)
- ‘Killing Me Softly’ (2002)
1. ‘Years Far From War’ AKA 《远离战争的年代》 (1987)
2. ‘Army Nurse’ AKA 《女儿楼》 (1985, with Li Xiaojun)
- ‘Wind From Eight Sides of The World’ AKA 《江湖八面风》 (1991)
There were a bunch of things that made me curious about this before seeing it. Amongst other things, this seems to be the most well known Hu film of the 90's, a transitional period between her groundbreaking art films of the 90s and her classic television period (and subsequent widely derided return to features). The film itself is another 5th Generation Qing Dynasty Kung Fu film that has ambitions far larger than its budget. It's a real shame here, as this could have been a lot better with a more resourced production and any of the big 5th Gen cinematographers behind the camera. We follow an oddball group vying for opportunity, profit and power when the Emperor becomes vulnerable after a military defeat forces him into hiding with limited armed support. Like other early 5th Gen martial arts films, far more effort is invested in narrative than choreography, but it still works. The light-hearted genre film playfulness is still enough to win me over in the end.
Note: The english name here is my translation.
- ‘Confucius’ AKA 《孔子》 (2010)
- ‘On the Other Side of the Bridge’ AKA "Am anderen Ende der Brücke" (2002)
Hu Mei... in Austria? This English language film is only notable for being a weird thing to have been made. As a viewing experience it's one more unprofound, overly-sentimental, narrative heavy "epic romance" in the dustbin of history.
1. ‘Dislocation’ AKA 《错位》 (1986)
This quick-paced absurd comedy follows a company man who builds a robotic double of himself so he no longer has to attended corporate meetings. This is is augmented by a vision of a late capitalism mediocrity apocalypse complete with architecture satirising bourgeois fantasies of opulence, intimations of disastrous environmental catastrophe beyond city limits & occasional bursts of surreal techno-philosophy. The progression between ‘The Black Cannon Incident’ and this is somewhat like that of ‘Mad Max’ to ‘Mad Max 2’ in that everything unique and interesting about the first is honed and pushed further, and the filmmaking is so much more adept and assured. I think user “wasabi” on this forum nailed it: greatest Chinese sci-fi film.
2. ‘Back to Back, Face to Face’ AKA 《站直啰！别趴下》 (1994, with Yang Yazhou)
3. ‘The Wooden Man’s Bride’ AKA 《五魁》 (1994)
4. ‘Samsara’ AKA 《轮回》 (1988)
5. ‘The Black Cannon Incident’ AKA 《黑炮事件》 (1985)
- 'Stand Straight, Never Give In' AKA 《站直啰，别趴下》 (1993)
- ‘Surveillance’ AKA 《埋伏》 (1997, with Yang Yazhou)
- ‘Gimme Kudos’ AKA 《求求你表扬我》 (2005)
- ‘Xi’an’s Finest’ AKA 《睡不着》 (2000, with Liu Huining)
- ‘The Marriage Certificate’ AKA 《谁说我不在乎》 (2001)
I have direct experience with this and I still couldn't get into it
- ‘The Founding of a Republic’ AKA 《建国大业》 (2009, with Han Sanping)
Truth be told, I kind of enjoyed this. If you can stand formulaic propaganda, there are some things to appreciate here.
- ‘Mao Zedong 1949’ AKA 《决胜时刻》 (2019, with Ning Haiqiang)
- ‘The Founding of a Party’ AKA 《建党伟业》 (2011, with Han Sanping)
1. ‘Bloody Morning’ AKA 《血色清晨》 (1990)
2. ‘The Case of the Silver Snake’ AKA 《银蛇谋杀案》 (1988)
3. ‘Family Portrait’ AKA 《四十不惑》 (1992)
4. ‘Baober in Love’ AKA 《恋爱中的宝贝》 (2004)
5. ‘Blush’ AKA 《红粉》 (1994)
This is Li Shaohong's entry into the wave of low-key epics the 5th Generation made in the 90s ('The Blue Kite', 'Farewell My Concubine', 'Raise The Red Lantern', 'The Wooden Man's Bride') and it is every bit as good as those other films. Gorgeously shot and rife with subtext and metaphor, this a good choice for getting into 5th Gen films beyond the most famous stuff.
6. ‘Stolen Life’ AKA 《生死劫》 (2005)
- ‘The Red Suit’ AKA 《红西服》 (1997)
- ‘The Door’ AKA 《门》 (2007)
- ‘A City Called Macau’ AKA 《妈阁是座城》 (2019)
- ‘Liberation’ AKA 《解放了》 (2019, with Chang Xiaoyang)
Li Shaohong finally makes a film celebrating the Communist Party like so many others on the more prominent end have done. It's part of the set of films made for the 70th anniversary of the events of 1949, in this case the Battle of Tianjin. Of course, there are some things to heavily criticise; the effects are unevenly distributed (some moments even seem amateurish), they should have dubbed Wallace Cheung's poor Mandarin like they did for Philip Keung, and there are two 5 minute stretches that are simply intolerable. But the densely plotted, no-breathing-space jumble of events is enthralling and Zeng Nianping's digital cinematography is amazing. I'd watch any movie shot like this.
1. ‘Storm Under the Sun’ AKA 《红日风暴》 (2007, with Louisa Wei)
It's unsurprising that a director and acclaimed documentarian who has constantly and unambiguously drawn on personal experience in her films would be at her best when engaged in unflinching examination of one of the most formative events of her life. Don't expect 'Sans Soleil' here though, this is essentially a television documentary that wastes no times in abstraction. Poetic, evocative and deeply sympathetic look at a time, place and series of events that are hard to fathom.
Note: the 2014 English language cut (also narrated by Peng) seems to have cut out more than half the runtime, which is surprising considering the density of the original release. I haven't watched it, but am hopeful that it is at least a good summary.
2. ‘Red Persimmons’ AKA 《満山紅柿》 (2001, with Shinsuke Ogawa)
3. ‘Women’s Story’ AKA 《女人的故事》 (1987)
- 'Shanghai Story' AKA 《美丽上海》 (2004)
This is my first experience with one of Peng's Shanghai titles, and I was mostly in awe. Opening with a creative framing device, the film then winds down into a steadily paced family drama. It all generally brings a sort of casual charm; the narrative feels to real to have been penned by a writer, and the actors all inhabit their roles admirably. Joey Wang is particularly good, she is absolutely spellbinding in her last film role, and every moment she is onscreen is impossible to ignore. This was co-written and shot by Jong Lin, who had previously worked on the early films of Ang Lee, and there are strong commonalities both in story and style. I didn't like everything about this though, and one scene in particular was very questionable. Towards the end, there is a scene where the movie seemingly posits that an 8 year old girl should be held accountable for "denouncing" her imprisoned father in a letter when pressured by authority figures. This is even more uncomfortable with the knowledge that this is likely autobiographical for Peng Xiaolian. As a minor aside, the unconvincing mix of accents from the leads is easily picked by even by a foreigner like myself, and the film feels less Shanghainese as a result.
- ‘Me and My Classmates’ AKA 《我和我的同学们》 (1985)
- 'Please Remember Me' AKA 《请你记住我》 (2017)
This is really depressing to watch. It's obvious that this was intended as a final film, and it is filled with moments that are likely autobiographical or at the very least deeply personal. Unfortunately, this doesn't preclude it from unmitigated disaster. Far from having the emotional resonance the premise promises, this film hits you with a lifeless thud akin to mistakenly walking into a pane of glass. It's deeply ironic how much Peng mythologises Zhao Dan and decries the lack of charisma in contemporary acting, because the only thing in this film with an iota of screen presence are the archival clips of his films. Perhaps most tragically, the case made here for Shanghai cinema really does the opposite of what was intended; when the film finished I couldn't help but think "if this is what Shanghai has to offer, Beijing's dominance is probably for the best"
1. ‘The Warrior and the Wolf’ AKA 《狼灾记》 (2009)
2. ‘The Blue Kite’ AKA 《蓝风筝》 (1993)
3. ‘On The Hunting Ground’ AKA 《猎场扎撒》 (1985)
4. ‘The Horse Thief’ AKA 《盗马贼》 (1986, with Pan Peicheng)
5. ‘The Street Players’ AKA 《鼓书艺人》 (1987)
6. ‘The Go Master’ AKA 《吴清源》 (2006)
7. ‘Springtime in a Small Town’ AKA 《小城之春》 (2002)
8. ‘Delamu’ AKA 《马古道：德拉姆》 (2004)
9. ‘Li Lianying: Imperial Eunuch’ AKA 《大太监李莲英》 (1991)
10. ‘The Courtyard’ AKA 《小院》 (1980, student short film co-directed with other BFA students)
This is it, the first film of any sort we have from the 5th Generation. A B&W short featuring contributions from a number of future giants of Chinese cinema. There is a tremendous energy here, it feels massively influenced by New Wave cinema from around the world, particularly Europe. There's probably a great unwritten article weighing the threads of Godard's Maoist period with Tian's utter rejection of that mode of filmmaking by way of the Bazin -> Truffaut throughline. This feels supremely radical, and the editing has a weight to it that I've never seen in any Chinese film before the 80s. Suffice to say this is excellent, and I wish I could rank it higher up, but it is very hard to contend with Tian's later features.
11. ‘The Red Elephant’ AKA 《红象》 (1982, student film co-directed with other BFA students)
This is the first feature from the 5th Generation, and it's small. Obviously an amateur project, it's most interesting for where it sits in history. Here we can see how the often forgotten strand of children's films prevalent among early 5th Gen works draws formative influence from things like "The 400 Blows". There are also rough flashes of what was to come, but this is best for once you've already covered all the classics first.
- ‘Unforgettable Life’ AKA 《特别手术室》 (1989)
- ‘Our Corner’ AKA 《我们的角落》 (1980, student film co-directed with other BFA students)
- ‘Rock Kids’ AKA 《摇滚青年》 (1988)
A film examining supposed cultural shifts through the lens of the most generic and poorly aging music of the 80s. I’m not sure what happened here, likely a project designed to make money, though purportedly a legitimate filmmaking endeavour. Every bit as painful and contrived as you might imagine.
1. ‘Joyous Heroes’ AKA 《欢乐英雄》 (1988)
This film brings a lot of disparate elements together in what seems like alchemy. It is a humanist drama following a large group of characters caught between the Kuomintang, the Communist party, and mountain bandits. At times verges on a Chinese western, at times more like if ‘Red Sorghum’ was a revenge movie.
2. ‘Evening Bell’ AKA 《晚钟》 (1988)
Regarded as the most important of Wu’s films, this movie follows a small group of Chinese soldiers returning home after Hirohito’s surrender as they find a platoon of Japanese soldiers who have descended into depravity. The broad brush strokes the movie paints with make it all the more potent.
3. ‘The Big Mill’ AKA 《大磨坊》 (1992)
Wu's run of visceral and visual masterpiece's continues into the 90s, and this is perhaps the darkest yet. Framed from the perspective of an old man lost in his memories (played adeptly by Liu Zhongyuan who is still alive!!), we veer into darker and darker territory, hitting pitch black with a series of scenes obviously drawing on Apocalypse Now and straight up horror. The progression of the narrative is delineated by the titular Big Mill in a way similar to (but more powerful than) the cutting down of the tower in "Evening Bell". Tao Zeru is here as the antagonist, a vicious town leader who has lost his legs, and is carried everywhere by his followers on a throne. Awesome to behold.
4. ‘Sun Mountain’ AKA 《太阳山》 (1992)
This would be a fairly standard melodramatic inter-generational sob-story were it not for the palpable commentary of the still open-wound of the China-Taiwan relationship, and the agile aesthetic & tonal shifts that punctuate each chapter of the narrative. And Tao Zeru, his partnership with Wu Ziniu is one of the great actor-director collaborations, and he’s at his best here.
5. ‘Sparkling Fox’ AKA 《火狐》 (1994)
6. ‘The Last Day of Winter’ AKA 《最后一个冬日》 (1986)
7. ‘Don’t Cry, Nanking’ AKA 《南京1937》 (1995)
8. ‘The Living and the Dead’ AKA 《阴阳界》 (1988)
- ‘Secret Decree’ AKA 《喋血黑谷》 (1984, with Li Jingmin)
- ‘Hero Zheng Chenggong’ AKA 《鄭成功》 (2001)
- ‘The Candidate’ AKA 《候补队员》 (1983, with Chen Lu)
- ‘National Anthem’ AKA 《国歌》 (1999)
This is obviously a party mandated film, but it's actually a somewhat enjoyable one. Played with conviction and directed with the still potent abilities of a director who would abandon theatrical features all too soon, this is sort of at the precipice between the artful state cinema projects of the past (including some of China's best cinema period!) and the embarassing stuff that Huang Jianxin would soon stoop to.
1. ‘Trapped in a Frozen River’ AKA 《冰河死亡线》 (1986)
This film reminds of that quote about ‘The Searchers’ that the landscape is almost a character, with its breathtaking setting of a semi frozen branch of the Yellow River bringing life to its natural thriller concept. Surprisingly features substantial commentary on the one child policy. Rudimentary filmmaking aside, this is a fantastic debut.
2. ‘The Red Elephant’ AKA 《红象》 (1982, student film co-directed with other BFA students)
- ‘Sanmao Joins the Army’ AKA 《三毛從軍記》 (1992)
- ‘Kidnaping Karajan’ AKA 《绑架卡拉扬》 (1988)
- ‘The Tribulations of a Young Master’ AKA 《少爷的磨难》 (1987, with Wu Yigong)
This is a mediocre and bombastic adaptation of a Jules Verne story. Something like the poor man’s Hong Kong screwball classic.
- ‘Narrow Escape’ AKA 《绝境逢生》 (1994)
This is weird to watch; it might be the worst 5th Gen film that keeps the core aesthetic/ethos of the movement intact. There are a lot of conflicting themes and inclinations vying for dominance below the surface, but as a finished product, it's basically a blueprint for the "War and Peace" trilogy that Feng Xiaoning subjected the world to. Zhang was obviously on the threshold of casting off the ballast of artistic integrity here. It's fascinating and maybe even essential, but it's also pretty bad.
Note: IMDb calls this "Rescued from Desperate Situation", but "Narrow Escape" is used in the English subtitles on the film.
- ‘Qian Xuesen’ AKA 《钱学森》 (2012)
Feels ripped straight from the pages of the Huang Jianxin 2010s playbook, but actually goes a lot better. A mustard seed of tangible sincerity can move mountains.
- ‘Crash Landing’ AKA 《紧急迫降》 (2000)
- ‘Call For Love’ AKA 《爱情呼叫转移》 (2007)
Although I loathe this movie for both its vapid ideology and lack of filmic craft, I have to acknowledge that it was immensely prescient. Movies crafted in this image are making big money to this day.
- ‘Fit Lover’ AKA 《爱情呼叫转移Ⅱ：爱情左右》 (2008)
Even worse than the first and almost certainly the worst 5th Generation movie. A dismal indictment of everyone involved. Seems to be searching for a lower common denominator than I ever knew was possible.
1. ‘Shining Arc’ AKA 《弧光》 (1989)
This is my favourite of all those listed here, the best film of the 5th Generation and it’s periphery. There is so much going on here; critiques of society, class and tradition, denunciations of the hollow pretensions of bourgeois artists, nuanced exploration of mental illness and our failures to treat it, and much more. A more educated individual than me, could, with enough knowledge, context & research could probably write thick tome exploring just the subtext of this film. It also has an immaculate aesthetic, with cinematography that hits the perfect mood every time. This is elevated to perfection by sporadic bursts of brilliantly unconventional editing. Those moments are some of the greatest I have seen in film as a whole, and capture something indescribably special. Every time I think about this movie I like it more. It’s also fitting that this film is such a masterpiece, because as far as I can ascertain, it was the last 5th Gen film released before tensions in the Tiananmen Square protests came to a head. This is often cited as the end of the movement, which might make ‘Shining Arc’ the last true 5th Generation film.
2. ‘One And Eight’ AKA 《一个和八》 (1983)
3. ‘The Loner’ AKA 《孤独的谋杀者》 (1986)
This movie paints an idiosyncratic portrait of Kung Fu warfare at the tail end of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom revolution waged by neo-Christian cultists (with a sui generis electronic score that I cannot understate the greatness of). Really good.
- ‘Three Daring Daughters’ AKA 《花姊妹风流债》 (1992)
- ‘Come on, China!’ AKA 《加油——中国队！》 (1985)
While I was initially dismissive of this film, I have come around on it. Though cliche, the patriotic narrative hits the right tones and emotional notes, and Xiao Feng's vivid photography here has proved really memorable for me.
1. 'Jungle Escape' AKA 《逃出罪恶世界》 (1986)
This is a strong debut with remarkable parallels to several later films from Wu Ziniu. It follows a division of Kuomintang soldiers marooned in Yunnan in southern China years after the civil war ended, who have stooped to selling (and using) heroin and other debauchery. Recalls Apocalypse Now and even the novels of Joseph Conrad. One of the earliest 5th Generation films to be banned. Notably, it was co-written by Liu Miaomiao.
- 'Fake Heroes' AKA 《假大侠》 (1989)
- '1911' AKA 《辛亥革命》(2011, with Jackie Chan)
A lot of Chinese films (particularly those from Hong Kong) around this time were trying to refine aspects of production such as make-up and special effects, and this one gets lost in the sauce. It feels like this narrative was just slapped onto the screen lathered in make-up with great period costuming - and nothing else. Hollow completely devoid of charisma, and often straight up embarrassing.
1. ‘Ju Dou’ AKA 《菊豆》 (1990, with Yang Fengliang)
2. ‘To Live’ AKA 《活着》 (1994)
3. ‘Raise The Red Lantern’ AKA 《大红灯笼高高挂》 (1991)
4. ‘Not One Less’ AKA 《一个都不能少》 (1999)
5. ‘Red Sorghum’ AKA 《红高粱》 (1987)
6. ‘Shadow’ AKA 《影》 (2018)
7. ‘Hero’ AKA 《英雄》 (2002)
8. ‘The Story of Qiu Ju’ AKA 《秋菊打官司》 (1992)
9. ‘A Soul Haunted By Painting’ AKA 《画魂》 (1994, with Huang Shuqin)
- ‘Shanghai Triad’ AKA 《摇啊摇，摇到外婆桥》 (1995)
- ‘Keep Cool’ AKA 《有话好好说》 (1997)
- ‘Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles’ AKA 《千里走单骑》 (2005, with Yasuo Furuhata)
- ‘The Road Home’ AKA 《我的父亲母亲》 (1999)
- ‘Happy Times’ AKA 《幸福时光》 (2000)
- ‘House of Flying Daggers’ AKA 《十面埋伏》 (2004)
- ‘Under The Hawthorn Tree’ AKA 《山楂树之恋》 (2010)
- ‘Coming Home’ AKA 《归来》 (2014)
- ‘Curse of The Golden Flower’ AKA 《满城尽带黄金甲》 (2006)
- ‘Codename Cougar’ AKA 《代号美洲豹》 (1989, with Yang Fengliang)
- ‘A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop’ AKA 《三枪拍案惊奇》 (2009)
- ‘The Flowers of War’ AKA 《金陵十三釵》 (2011)
- ‘Lady Of The Dynasty’ AKA 《王朝的女人·杨贵妃》 (2015, with Cheng Shiqing)
- ‘The Great Wall’ (2016)
1. ‘Ermo’ AKA 《二嫫》 (1994)
2. ‘Common People’ AKA 《关于爱的故事 》 (1998)
This angsty movie about cerebral palsy sufferers trying to carve out a life for themselves feels very 6th generation; it could have easily been made by He Jianjun around this time. A potent expression of about every emotion drawn to painful extremes. Hard to imagine another fictional film getting this real.
- ‘Obsession’ AKA 《疯狂的代价》 (1989)
- ‘The Emperor’s Shadow’ AKA 《秦颂》 (1996)
- ‘Desperation’ AKA 《最后的疯狂》 (1987, with Shi Chengfeng)
- ‘No Regrets About Youth’ AKA 《青春无悔》 (1991)
- ‘Black Mountain’ AKA 《黑山路》 (1994)
- ‘The Trail’ AKA 《狭路英豪》 (1993, with Manfred Wong)
Less watched core directors
1. ‘Mutiny’ AKA 《哗变》 (1988)
I was surprised by how much I loved this debut film. It has strong premise that manages to carve out a distinct space amongst all the Sino-Japanese war films, great aesthetics (the night photography is particularly great) that maintain tension, and Zhang Guangbei in one of the best roles of his career.
- ‘Conned Once’ AKA 《上一当》 (1992, With Liu Baolin)
- ‘Country Teachers’ AKA 《凤凰琴》 (1993)
- 'Turning Point 1977' AKA 《高考1977》 (2009)
note: incorrectly attributed on imdb and other English language websites to "Jiang Haiyan" or "Haiyan Jiang".
- ‘Men Coming to the Execution Ground’ AKA 《老少爷们上法场》 (1989)
This is an early entry into the wave of Qing dramatisations that followed Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor", and it's obvious there are a lot of kinks to iron out. There are many low energy slumps, and there is a bit of an almost goofy "Kidnapping Karajan"-esque misdirection to this, but things really come together when they need to. If you've seen a few of these kind of films, the premise may seem to lack scale, but I think it's a worthwhile shift.
- ‘To Pursue the Policeman’ AKA 《追杀刑警》 (1988)
This is pretty nuts. A "Miami Vice"-like cops and crooks film that sees a too good for his own good cop targeted for assasination by a drug and pornography crime ring. This is really obviously trying to hop on the Heroic Bloodshed bandwagon, but it is so off-kilter it becomes its own thing. The film begins with a cold open where our main character survives a murder attempt by gunning down his assailant, and we are whisked away into this singular experience. It's a low-scale, lo-fi production, but if you get a chance to see it, you should. Some things to look out for: some clear examples of musical plagiarism (including the Ghostbusters theme), numerous James Bond on a budget action sequences, & the out of nowhere bodybuilding contest.
1. ‘Army Nurse’ AKA 《女儿楼》 (1985, with Hu Mei)
- ‘Xuan Yuan: The Great Emperor’ AKA 《轩辕大帝》 (2016)
This movie has it all: incompetent CGI even by standards abandoned 10 years before it was made, poor acting, cringeworthy tribal stereotypes and most appalling of all, atrocious gender politics - this feels like an open endorsement of female subservience at some points. Also: laugh when characters invent fire, the 365 day calendar, and the first wall. I was watching Li Ziqi's youtube videos the other day, and she has better production design, cinematography, editing et al than this by miles.
1. ‘Chatterbox’ AKA 《杂嘴子》 (1993)
Brutal tragicomedy that is both hilarious and gut wrenching, as well as the ultimate example of the greatness all these 5th Gen children’s films were angling for. Not as location specific as I imagined, aside from the local dialect, but makes up for it with enormous narrative potency and immersive photography of the Ningxia village setting. Also deserves great praise for it’s lead actor who has personality, presence, comedic timing and adorable charm, truly spectacular from a child so young.
2. ‘Women Soilders in the Long March’ AKA 《马蹄声碎》 (1987)
A great contribution the lineage of Chinese films about female soldiers, this falls remarkably close to "Come and See" and things of that ilk.
- ‘Stories of the Voyage’ AKA 《远洋轶事》 (1986)
This film tells the stories of a group of lonely people who work on a ship together, isolated by their seafaring life. It’s arranged into a series of fleeting anecdotes that maintain a bit of distance as we jump from character to character. I initially felt like it would be an ordeal to get through, but it grew on me a lot by the second half.
- ‘The Boxer’ AKA 《拳击手》 (1988)
This is a fairly cliche movie that is obviously trying to tap into nationalist fervour over growing but still small international sporting success at the time of release. Far less transparent and much more nuanced than 'Come On, China!' but the story outside the ring which consumes most of the runtime could easily be discarded as it is so generic that leaving it to the viewer's imagination would likely hit on something more meaningful. Also completely devoid of formal ambition.
1. ‘Lonely Spirit In An Old Building’ AKA 《黑楼孤魂》 (1989, with Liang Ming)
Note: Liang Ming is also a class of 82 cinematographer, but with nothing else to add under either, one entry should suffice for now.
1. ‘Half Flame, Half Brine’ AKA 《一半是火焰，一半是海水》 (1989)
- ‘Love At First Sight’ AKA 《一见钟情》 (2002)
This embarrassingly flaccid romantic comedy is only noteworthy for featuring a number of stars early in their careers, including the first feature film appearance of legendary actress Fan Bingbing, who manages to be likeable despite her atrociously written character. Almost a perfect example of a movie that fails so hard to promote it's thesis that it verges on self-satire.
- ‘Lost in the Moonlight’ AKA 《夜色撩人》 (2017)
Xia Gang's entry into the movement comeback is a lurid thriller that is trapped by its own lack of imagination. Poorly written, acted and edited; insufferable to watch.
1. ‘Our Corner’ AKA 《小院》 (1980, student short film co-directed with other BFA students)
2. ‘The Red Elephant’ AKA 《红象》 (1982, student film co-directed with other BFA students)
- ‘Our Corner’ AKA 《我们的角落》 (1980, student film co-directed with other BFA students)
1. ‘Swan Song’ AKA 《绝响》 (1985)
This cultural revolution drama is a parallel work to things like 'Hibiscus Town' and 'The Street Players' that colours its course with Cantonese Opera. While perhaps not as fully formed as those masterpieces, it abounds with nuance and forethought, and is one of the most best written 5th Gen films up to that point.
Weng Luming (?)
These are arguably not 5th Generation directors, but have noteworthy links to the movement, and I have decided to include them here.
1. 'Les filles du botaniste' AKA 《植物学家的中国女孩》 (2006)
- 'Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress' AKA 《巴尔扎克与小裁缝》 (2002)
- 'Niu-Peng' AKA 《牛棚》 (1989)
- 'Le Paon de Nuit' AKA 《夜孔雀》 (2015)
1. ‘Sun Valley’ AKA 《日光峡谷》 (1996)
2. ‘Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker’ AKA 《炮打双灯》 (1994)
3. ‘Warriors of Heaven and Earth’ AKA 《天地英雄》 (2003)
4. ‘The Promised Land’ AKA 《回到被爱的每一天》 (2015)
5. ‘Wheat’ AKA 《麦田》 (2009)
6. ‘Swordsmen in Double Flag Town’ AKA 《双旗镇刀客》 (1991)
- ‘Breaking the Silence’ AKA 《漂亮妈妈》 (2000)
- ‘Zhou Yu’s Train’ AKA 《周渔的火车》 (2002)
- ‘Impossible’ AKA 《不可思异》 (2015)
- ‘I Do’ AKA 《我願意》 (2012)
- ‘The Human Comedy’ AKA 《人间·喜剧》 (2019)
This one fails to clear even the most basic hurdles, a complete non-starter in the race to be a passable movie. Like if one was to turn the worst elements of Chinese reality tv into a movie.
- 'Red Cherry' AKA 《红樱桃》(1996)
- 'A Time to Remember' AKA《红色恋人》 (1998)
This is another one of these mediocre Chinese films that just keep stumbling over themselves all the way to the end credits, in part due to a personality-sink white protagonist. Reminiscent of every dull and uncreative television movie you've ever forgotten. Also totally uncharismatic aside from a woefully underused Tao Zeru and a 3rd rate Leslie Cheung performance.