Douban’s Top 10 Chinese films of 2021

2021 has already come and gone, but the best of its works are meant to be celebrated for years to come! 

So for all those planning your next movie binges in 2022, why not start with some of the best films that Chinese cinema has to offer? Douban, popularly known as the Chinese equivalent to Rotten Tomatoes, has finally released their best-of-the-year lineups. Without further ado, here are the critics’ top 10 Chinese films that 2021 has seen: 


1. I Am What I Am (雄狮少年)

Although I Am What I Am premiered in the last month of 2021, viewers have been praising this animated film to be the best release of the year, achieving an unchallenged score of 8.3/10 in Douban. Setting it apart from other recent animations, which have thematically delved into high fantasy mythology, I Am What I Am stays close to the ground by telling a story in rural Guangdong, where three teenagers find their lives changed for the better as they join a lion dance competition. 

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama
Runtime: 104 minutes
Douban Rating: 8.3/10


2. Little Big Women (孤味)

Having initially premiered at the Busan International Film Festival in 2020, this Taiwanese film became a national box office hit before its 2021 release in Mainland China. The family-centered drama tells the story of restaurant owner Lin Xiuying, who singlehandedly raised three daughters to success. However, during her 70th birthday, she receives news of her estranged husband’s passing and unexpectedly meets Tsai Meilin, the woman who had accompanied her husband through his old age. 

Genre: Drama, Family
Runtime: 123 minutes
Douban Rating: 8.1/10


3. Hi, Mom (你好,李焕英)

It’s been said that many who have watched this film have left the cinema in tears, with some even calling their families soon after — and it’s no wonder why! Praised for its themes of familial love and filial piety, Hi, Mom follows the grief-stricken Jia Xiaoling, who finds herself transported twenty years into the past after her mother Li Huanying is fatally wounded in a car accident. Now living in 1981 with the knowledge that she had not been a good enough daughter to her mother, Jia Xiaoling becomes Li Huanying’s close friend and does all that she can to make her happy, with hopes of providing her with a better husband, daughter, and life using this second chance. 

Since its release, Hi, Mom has gained widespread popularity through word of mouth and is now the third-highest-grossing non-English film of all time, as well as the highest-ever grossing film by a solo female director.

Genre: Drama, Comedy, Fantasy
Runtime: 128 minutes
Douban Rating: 7.8/10


4. White Snake (白蛇传·情)

Based on the Legend of the White Snake, a popular Chinese folk story, White Snake is a multi-award-winning film innovatively presented through a traditional Cantonese opera. It tells the widely known tale of Bai Suzhen, who has cultivated for thousands of years, only to encounter the trials and tribulations of a timeless love that challenges the very order of the universe.

Genre: Romance, Drama
Runtime: 101 minutes
Douban Rating: 8.1/10


5. Classmates Minus (同学麦娜丝)

Serving to be the second Taiwanese entry of this list, Classmates Minus is a dark political comedy-drama that depicts the lives of four school buddies, who have each respectively grown up to be a director, a temp worker, an insurance salesman, and a paper craftsman. However, despite the different paths that they have taken, one constant ties them all together — the struggle to cope with their unfulfilled dreams and the meaninglessness of their middle-aged lives. 

Genre: Drama, Comedy
Runtime: 122 minutes
Douban Rating: 7.9/10


6. Cliff Walkers (悬崖之上) 

Previously titled Impasse, this historical spy film was selected as China’s official entry for the Best International Film category at the 94th Academy Awards. Set in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, Cliff Walkers follows the thrilling story of four Chinese Communist Party agents who parachute back to Harbin in the 1930s in a mission to expose the unethical human experimentation and crimes against humanity that have been committed by Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Genre: Drama, Action, Suspense
Runtime: 120 minutes
Douban Rating: 7.6/10


7. The Reunions (吉祥如意) 

Directed by Da Peng, The Reunions is an artistic film that masterfully blends fiction with reality. Originally based on the director’s previous feature, A Final Reunion, the film partially retells the plot of its predecessor, detailing the return of a woman named Wang Qingli to her hometown in the countryside, where she joins a family meeting to discuss her father’s caretaking arrangements. The narrative then shifts to the story of the director himself, who recounts the production of the film and what may have been his role in his grandmother’s death. 

Genre: Drama, Family
Runtime: 80 minutes
Douban Rating: 7.7/10


8. The Silent Forest (无声 無聲)

The Silent Forest serves as the powerful debut of a daring director, inspired by the real-life sexual assault cases committed at the National Tainan Special School, a Taiwanese school for the hearing-impaired. The film follows Zhang Cheng, a deaf teenager who transfers to Qi Cong School, only to discover that the world of the deaf is not as quiet as the world of the listening, and that his new campus is loud with grievances that must not be spoken.

Genre: Psychological thriller, Drama
Runtime: 104 minutes
Douban Rating: 7.8/10


9. Shock Wave 2 (拆弹专家2)

As the only sequel film on the list, it’s no surprise that Shock Wave 2 is an action-packed Hong Kong film starring the popular Andy Lau! For this feature, Lau plays Poon Sing-fung, an explosives expert who, after being betrayed by the Hong Kong Police Force, joins the mysterious terrorist organization Vendetta under the codename Blizzard to seek revenge. Unfortunately, five years later, Poon becomes an amnesiac top suspect of a terrorist attack after falling unconscious from a bomb explosion. 

Genre: Action, Crime
Duration: 121 minutes
Rating: 7.5/10


10. Be Somebody (扬名立万)

Rounding up this top ten list is Be Somebody, a comedy-mystery film set in the city of Shanghai during the Republican era. It depicts the story of a group of ambitious filmmakers who have gathered to shoot a movie based on a sensational murder case. However, they never expected for the murderer to actually be in their midst. Little do they know that the truth behind the case is much more bizarre than it had originally seemed. 

Genre: Drama, Comedy, Suspense
Duration: 123 minutes
Rating: 7.5/10


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