The University of Akron
UA History Department
China Resource Page


Film Project for World Civilizations: China

View one of the movies on the film list below and write a response paper detailing how this work adds to our understanding of Chinese culture.  See your instructor's syllabus for further information and due dates.

Structure your review according to the History Department Film Review Guidelines

China Film List

Girl From Hunan (1986) ASIN: 6302348749. Color, English subtitles. Director: U Lan, Fei Xie.  Story: A young woman is married off to an even  younger boy in a farm family and, while babysitting her husband and being a servant to her in-laws, she falls tragically in love with one of the farm hands.  Another excellent look at the hard and limited lives of Chinese women.

The Last Emperor (1987) ASIN: 6305261032.  Color, Widescreen, English. Director: Bernardo Bertolucci.   "[The] story of Pu Yi, China's final monarch. . .taken from his mother at the age of three, Pu Yi is brought into the enclosed walls of the Forbidden City to replace the real emperor. There he becomes a pampered prisoner and hollow symbol of an older monarchy that has since given way to a ruthless, 20th century republic. With his pining loyalists beheaded or kept at bay by armed soldiers outside the City's walls, Pu Yi is tutored by an English gentleman (Peter O'Toole) and wed to a kindred spirit (Joan Chen). Eventually cast from his gated paradise, Pu Yi (wonderfully portrayed in adulthood by John Lone) becomes, by turns, a playboy, a dupe to the Japanese, and a victim of China's cultural reforms and re-education programs." (from Amazon.com review)

Yellow Earth (1988) ASIN: 6302917050.   Color, Widescreen, English subtitles. Director: Kaige Chen.  Story: Poetic and highly cinema graphic story of a the inspiring encounter between a young farm girl in 1939 and a Communist soldier in search of folk songs to turn into propaganda for his regiment. The film gives a good look at the hardships faced by women in rural China.

Red Sorghum (1989) ASIN: 6302263948.    Color, English subtitles.  Starring: Li Gong, Wen Jiang, et al. Director: Zhang Yimou.  Story: Yimou is known for his use of color and in this film the red-orange hue sets the idyllic tone for two lovers, the sorghum fields that they work in and their relationship to the other workers, all of which is torn apart by the brutal Japanese invasions of the 1930s.

Ju Dou (1991)  ASIN: B0000065T4Color, English subtitles.  Director: Zhang Yimou.  Filial Piety and arranged marriages are called into question in this story of an older wealthy husband and the younger wife he marries.  When the wife falls for her husband's nephew, who then fathers the long awaited heir,  tragedy results.  As always, Zhang uses fabric (this time the film is set in a silk dyeing factory) and color brilliantly to convey mood. 

Life on a String (1991) ASIN: 6302664829. Color, Widescreen, English subtitles.   Story:  This is truly an "art" film with beautiful landscapes of northwest China, haunting folksongs, long poetic silences, and vivid imagery.  The main character is a blind singer who devotes his life to music, eventually becoming a saintly old man.  While not for those who need action and adventure, this film does capture the essential Chinese spirit of the interconnectedness of all things.

Close To Eden (1992) ASIN: 6302884810. Color, English subtitles, Widescreen.  Starring: Badema, Bayaertu, et al. Director: Nikita Mikhalkov.  Story: The clash of cultures between a traditional Mongolian family, the Chinese of the nearby town and a passing Russian truckdriver.  Wonderful panoramic views of the Steppes and an poignant sensibility of the pastoral loss amidst the encroachment of "civilization."

Raise the Red Lantern (1992) ASIN: 0792899741. Color, English subtitles.  Starring: Li Gong, Jingwu Ma, et al. Director: Zhang Yimou.   Story:  Suggestive use of colors and costuming highlight this film about life in the women's quarters and the limited options for women in old China.  Especially interesting are the shifting dynamics between the four wives as they jockey for household power through their relationships with their mutual husband.

Farewell My Concubine (1993) ASIN: 6303187196. Color, English subtitles. Starring: Leslie Cheung, Fengyi Zhang, et al. Director: Kaige Chen. Story: This is the story of the relationship of two men, both celebrated actors of the Beijing Opera known for their roles as a king and a concubine, through the shifting political turmoil of the Communist takeover and the destruction of traditional Chinese Opera during the Cultural Revolution.  A good exploration of transgendered roles and the power implicit in gendered relationships in China.

The Story of Qiu Ju (1993) ASIN: 6303023037. Color, English subtitles. Starring: Li Gong, Peiqi Liu, et al. Director: Zhang Yimou.  Story: A farmer's wife goes on a search for justice when the village chief kicks her husband in the groin and learns more than she bargained for about the ins and outs of the Chinese legal system.

The Blue Kite (1994) ASIN: 630342063X. Color, Widescreen, English subtitles. Director:  Zhuangzhuang Tian. Story:  Banned in China for its scathing indictment of Mao Zedong's policies, this is a almost documentary look at the impact of the Cultural Revolution on Chinese society as seen through the eyes of one child and through the hardships faced by his own family.

To Live (1994) ASIN: 6305812055.  Color, English subtitles. Starring: You Ge, Li Gong, et al. Director: Bin Wang, Zhang Yimou. Story the changing fortunes of a Chinese family from the 1940s to the 1980s, this film is a wonderful very personal look at the KMT/CCP conflict, class purges, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution as well as the hardships faced by the ordinary Chinese struggling to survive those tumultous times.

A Mongolian Tale (1997) ASIN: 1567301428. Color, English subtitles. Director: Fei Xie. Story: "A motherless Chinese boy is taken in by an old Mongolian woman, Nai-Nai, who raises him as her grandson. He shares everything with the old woman's granddaughter, including the black stallion who becomes the symbol of their life together. That life is interrupted when, just before they are to be married, the boy is sent off to the city to study." (from Amazon.com review)

Windhorse (1998) ASIN: 1567302173.  Color, Widescreen, English subtitles. Director: Paul Wagner. Story: Following the lives of three Tibetan children as they grow up, this film depicts not only intrinsic elements of Tibetan culture but also the brutal treatment of the Tibetans by Chinese Communists who considered them as inferior.  Beautiful look at the landscape of Tibet.  Banned in China.

The Emperor and the Assassin (1999) ASIN: B00004STDA.   Color, English subtitles, Dolby, Widescreen.  Story:  Elaborate and very well done costumes and sets are the highlight of this period drama about Qin Shihuangdi, the man who united China into one empire. A good look at court politics and at warfare in ancient China.  DVD version has extra footage with the director's commentary.

The King of Masks (1999) ASIN: 0767844386.  Color, English subtitles.  Director: Tian-Ming Wu.  Story:  An aging street performer has no heir to whom he can pass on his craft and the secret of his masks and so buys a son on the black market. Conflict arises when the son turns out to be a girl.  Set in 1930s Sichuan, this is an interesting look at gender roles in pre-Communist China. Written by Wei Minglun.

Not One Less (1999) ASIN: 076784730X.  Color, Dolby, English subtitles.  Director: Zhang Yimou.  Story: "Wei Minzhi is a stubborn young woman who takes a substitute teaching job in a tiny provincial town because they can't afford anyone else. When one troublemaking boy heads off to the city to help support his starving family, it's not a sense of responsibility that drives her rescue mission, it's money: She won't receive her bonus if any students are missing. Her efforts to raise money for the city trip pulls the class together in a sense of purpose, and even drives the lessons, but when she finally reaches the city she's shocked to discover an urban jungle of lost and runaway kids." (from Amazon.com review)

Hero (2003)  ASIN: B0001KHXEA. Color, Widescreen, English subtitles. Director:  Zhang Yimou. Starring Jet Li, Donnie Yen.  Story: The same story about the fate of assassins seeking to kill the King of Qin (Qin Shihuangdi, the man who united China into one empire) is retold from various perspectives and with incredible details of color and cinematography. 

Once Upon a Time in China (2003) ASIN: B00008EY6MColor, English Subtitles, Widescreen.  Director Tsui Hark. Starring Jet Li.  This DVD version has the first three of a popular six movie series which tells the story of a legendary Chinese folk hero, Wong Fei Hong in 19th century China.  Wong fights (a la Hong Kong action film style) with ruthless Chinese as well as the Westerners who are bent on exploiting the Chinese, all the while struggling with his own appreciation of some of the foreigners methods and skills.