With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we at Cinema Escapist wanted to provide all of our readers with a quick guide to movies that warm the heart of your sweetheart, or for us single folks, soothe the intensified feelings of loneliness that mid-February often provides. Here’s our take on the 9 Best Chinese Romance Movies (of the past decade!)
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9. Under the Hawthorne Tree
Under the Hawthorn Tree (Mandarin: 山楂树之恋)—China. Directed by Zhang Yimou. First released September 2010. Running time 1hr 24mins. Starring Zhou Dongyu and Shawn Dou.
Not all romance movies are about laughter and tears — some come with serious social commentary. Zhang Yimou brings us a story set in the backdrop of the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, where two young students caught in their parents’ persecution find themselves falling in love when one is “sent down to the countryside”.
It’s surprising that this movie was allowed to be released in mainland China given the sensitivities surrounding the Cultural Revolution, but renowned director Zhang Yimou tells a heart-wrenching and ultimately tragic story that captivated our attention — and reminded us that social upheaval ultimately comes at the cost of the individual rights to the pursuit of happiness.
8. Beijing Meets Seattle (Finding Mr. Right)
Finding Mr. Right / Beijing Meets Seattle (Chinese: 北京遇上西雅图)—China. Directed by Xue Xiaolu. First released February 2013. Running time 2hr 2min. Starring Tang Wei and Wu Xiubo.
In another Chinese romance movie with a social commentary angle, Tang Wei stars in this Seattle-based blockbuster playing the role of a pregnant mistress of a wealthy businessman in China sent to Seattle to give birth (and ultimately acquire US citizenship).
Touching on the sensitive subject of birthing centers in the US, Finding Mr. Right exposes viewers to a love story between Wen Jiajia (Tang Wei) and Frank (Wu Xiubo). This film was so well-received in China that it allegedly led to a spike in house prices in Seattle due to higher demand from Chinese investors.
7. Tuhao 520
Tuhao 520 (Chinese: 土豪520; also known in English as Love Without Distance)–China. Dialog in Mandarin Chinese. Directed by Aubrey Lam. First released May 2015. Running time 1hr 42min. Starring Jing Li, Tianyu Ma, and Francis Ng.
Looking for something more ridiculous, gaudy and over the top?
Look no further than Tuhao 520, which tells a love story between a freshly-minted Chinese billionaire and a fashion designer from a humbler life.
For those of you who don’t know: Tuhao are China’s “new money”, who are often known for doing ridiculous things with that money. 520, on the other hand, is a homophone for “wo ai ni”, which means “I love you” in Mandarin.
With scenes ranging from bizarre (think: birthday party with tanks) to heart-warming, Tuhao 520 never fails to make us laugh here at Cinema Escapist.
iGirl (Mandarin: 梦情人)—Hong Kong. Dialog available in Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese. Directed by Kam Ka-wai. First released March 2016. Running time 1hr 30mins. Starring Chrissie Chau, Connie Man, Joyce Cheng, Ekin Cheng, Dominic Ho, and Lam Tsz-chung.
We had a chance to watch iGirl one too many times while our Asia Editor Richard was traversing Asia multiple times a week. While the concept of a personalized robot girlfriend may sound ridiculous and borderline sexist at first pass, the idea may not be too far out there. An ensemble of up-and-coming Hong Kong actors and actresses star in a humorous yet serious attempt to tackle the question — does the perfect soulmate exist for everyone?
5. This is Not What I Expected
This is Not What I Expected (Chinese: 我喜欢你)—China. Directed by Xu Hongyu. First released April 2017. Running time 1hr 46min. Starring Zhou Dongyu and Takeshi Kaneshiro, with appearances by Lin Chi-ling.
Zhou Dongyu treats us to a symphony of fine dining, cute/cheerful antics, and playful jealousy in her latest production This is Not What I Expected. Zhou stars alongside Takeshi Kaneshiro of Red Cliff fame in this rom-com centered around a hotel’s kitchen.
Director Xu Hongyu ensures that the incredible spread of dishes ranging from herb-crusted rack of lamb to humble pastas and soups have as much a role to play as the all-star cast.
4. The Ex Files
The Ex-Files (Chinese: 前任攻略)—China. Directed by Tian Yusheng. First released 2014. Running time 1hr 47min. Starring Han Geng, Helen Yao, Ryan Zheng, Ban Jiajia, and Wang Likun.
While we’re focused on rom-coms, why not bring up another favorite of ours? The Ex-Files explores how our ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends impact our relationships in the present day – whether causing us to subconsciously compare our current partners with exes good and bad, or raising questions of jealousy and inadequacy with our current partners. The Ex-Files has enjoyed considerable success in China – spawning two sequels in recent years.
3. So Young
So Young (Chinese: 致我们终将逝去的青春, or “To our youth that is fading away”)—China. Directed by Zhao Wei. First released April 2013. Running time 2hr 2min. Starring Yang Zishan, Mark Chao, Han Geng, Jiang Shuying, Bao Beier, Zheng Kai, Zhang Yao, Tong Liya, and Liu Yase.
Not all stories of love are filled with joy however — sometimes, love is difficult and leads to tragic outcomes. Here at Cinema Escapist, we call these “tragi-romances” (we even wrote an article comparing American and Chinese romance films!)
Zhao Wei’s directorial debut tells a a story of two young lovers meeting in school, with youthful innocence enabling a budding romance only to have the realities of adulthood take it away.
So Young stars an ensemble of well-known actors and actresses including the heartthrob Han Geng – and while the story certainly focuses on the development of main characters Chen Xiaozheng (Mark Chao) and Zheng Wei (Yang Zishan), the rest of the characters have their own chance to develop and grow, each with their own sub-plots.
2. A Season of Good Rain
A Season of Good Rain (Chinese: 好雨時節) – China / Korea co-production. Directed by Hur Jin-ho. First released October 2009. Running time 1hr 40min. Starring Jung Woo-sung and Gao Yuanyuan.
A Season of Good Rain is one of my personal favorites, telling the story of Dong-Ha (Jung Woo-sung) and May (Gao Yuanyuan) who were classmates years ago brought to Chengdu together in the aftermath of the tragic Sichuan Earthquake of 2008.
Dong-Ha and May explore their previously-undeclared feelings for each other among beautiful bamboo groves and the chaos of the city. The film still has a tinge of tragedy, from not only the backdrop of an earthquake-ravaged province but also the personal tragedies of May.
1. My Old Classmate
My Old Classmate (Chinese: 同桌的妳)—China. Directed by Frant Gwo. First released April 2014. Running time 1hr 38min. Starring Zhou Dongyu and Lin Gengxin.
We round off our list with a favourite of Cinema Escapist, My Old Classmate — a touching coming-of-age story dotted with tragedies throughout.
Zhou Dongyu stars alongside Lin Gengxin in a romantic film telling the story of how to young lovers met in middle school, saw their relationship blossom through high school and college, only to be torn apart by their pursuit of the American dream. My Old Classmate will elicit both laughter and tears in a rollercoaster of emotion packed into 98 minutes.
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Agree with our list? Have another film to add? Straight-up disagree?
Leave us a comment below! We’re always looking for new perspectives on Asian cinema and welcome any feedback. If you have really strong feelings about Asian cinema, consider writing for us.