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6 Chinese films to watch out for in 2016

The best Chinese movies slated for release this year

A brand new year means a brand new slate of films to get excited about. We scope out the best of 2016’s Chinese blockbusters, gorgeous cartoons, kung fu favourites and new work from acclaimed directors.


1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny


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What is it?
You remember Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? You know the one: came out 16 years ago and changed the face of Chinese cinema thanks to its beautiful direction by Ang Lee, high-flying kung fu and stars like Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat. Most likely, it’s the film people still awkwardly reference when they learn you live in Beijing. Well, it finally has a sequel, produced by Netflix but getting a Chinese theatrical release.

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Why see it?
The first Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the film that introduced the chivalric martial arts genre wuxia to the West. It was popular for a reason. Anything that gives us more of what the first film had is worth seeing. Plus, the sequel boasts original star Michelle Yeoh and a new character played by charismatic kung fu star Donnie Yen. Bear in mind however that original director Ang Lee is not involved.

Coming out
February.

2. The Mermaid


What is it?
Details remain scarce, but Stephen Chow’s newest is reported to be a sci-fi film about, you guessed it, a mermaid. From what we do know about the plot, it should be a (very) loose adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fable, with sci-fi elements involving advanced biology, plus romance and blockbuster action sequences. Since Stephen Chow is probably China’s best-known comedian, you can expect some major slapstick comedy, too.

Why see it?
It’s Stephen Chow. Comedy often doesn’t travel well, but Chow’s Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle proved two great exceptions to that rule thanks to his skill at physical comedy and sharp eye for parody. The premise of this movie sounds pretty off-the-wall, which is exactly what Chow specialises in.

Coming out
February.

3. The Three-Body Problem


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What is it?
The most anticipated adaptation of the year, this film centres around a group of scientists racing to stop a malevolent alien force from reaching Earth. It’s an adaptation of Liu Cixin’s novel of the same name, the first in a trilogy that spans decades, characters and even the cosmos – from Cultural Revolution-era China to a metaphysical virtual world.

Why see it?
It’s hard to overstate how big of a deal Liu’s novel is. It’s a bestseller in China and its English translation won the Hugo Award (science fiction’s biggest honour) for best novel last year. Any film that takes Liu’s heady, complex scientific concepts seriously is sure to make any nerd (ourselves included) geek out super hard. That said, director Zhang Fanfan is mostly unknown, and this wouldn’t be the first adaptation to disappoint a book’s fans. Making adaptation more difficult is the fact that while Liu handles complex scientific ideas well, he’s less adept with pacing, exposition and characterisation.

Coming out
July.

4. The Great Wall


What is it?
This gigantic international co-production is helmed by superstar director Zhang Yimou and stars Matt Damon and Hong Kong actor Andy Lau. Set during the Northern Song dynasty, this 3D action-adventure fantasy with an insanely huge budget imagines that the Great Wall was actually built to prevent invasion by monsters rather than pesky marauding nomads.

Why see it?
This is the standard bearer for Hollywood-China co-productions. It’s got a top-notch cast, impressive visual effects, boasts a story from World War Z author Max Brooks and is likely to have a huge presence in cinemas both here and abroad. Zhang Yimou is one of China’s best living directors, and he’s proven that he can put a quality spin on action fare with movies like Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

Coming out
December.

5. Master Jiang and the Six Kingdoms


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What is it?
The trailer for this animated feature made waves online a while back for its handsome visuals. Even more impressive than the animation itself is the claim that it was reportedly made by only two people. Based on the classic Ming dynasty novel Creation of the Gods, the movie is likely to have a plot that’s similarly focused on a war between kings involving immortals and spirits.

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Why see it?
This looks to be one nice-looking movie. Its jaw-dropping beauty alone should be enough to satisfy both kids and adults. Chinese animation is usually pretty shoddy and low quality, so we have high hopes for any film that can turn things around – we just hope that there will be enough substance to back up the style.

Coming out
Unconfirmed.

6. Kill Time


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What is it?
Fruit Chan is a famously indie Hong Kong filmmaker, but here he teams up with popular, sexy young stars Angelababy and Ethan Ruan for a presumably more accessible but still dark thriller. The movie concerns a young woman looking into a mysterious website that leads to death for those who purchase more than one item.

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Why see it?
Fruit Chan’s a really interesting, idiosyncratic director who’s displayed an increasingly dark bent. The premise of a murderous shopping site sounds frankly bizarre, but this is a guy who’s managed to make strange concepts – interdimensional, apocalyptic minibus trips and foetus dumplings, to name a couple – work in his earlier films. Whether Angelababy, better known for swimsuit photos than her acting ability, has what it takes to carry a film about a website whose deals are literally killer remains to be seen.

Coming out
Unconfirmed.


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