Two “Greatest Films” Polls Yield Different Results for Best Chinese Films

By Kevin B. Lee

This month the British film magazine Sight & Sound and the Chinese language film website Cinephilia.net both conducted international polls asking film critics and experts to choose their top ten films of all time. The key difference between them is that Sight & Sound polled 856 critics from around the world, whereas Cinephilia.net exclusively invited 135 critics who specialize in Chinese cinema. The two sets of results reveal significant differences between the tastes of Chinese and international film critics, particularly in regard to what they respectively consider to be the best Chinese films of all time.

The two lists shared five titles between their respective top tens, with the most significant disparities being the appearance of two Chinese language films in the Cinephilia.net top ten, whereas none made the Sight & Sound top ten. Chinese critics placed Edward Yang’s 1991 epic A Brighter Summer Day as the third greatest film of all time, second only to Citizen Kane and The Godfather, and outpacing the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Vertigo. The latter film topped the Sight & Sound poll, while Yang’s film only ranked #84. Fei Mu’s 1948 classic Spring in a Small Town placed at #10 in the Cinephilia.net poll, while only ranking #127 with Sight & Sound.

Conversely, the highest ranking Chinese language film in the Sight & Sound poll is Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, at #24 with 42 votes; but among Chinese critics it ranked at #120 with 2 votes. Wong’s films received nearly twice as many votes as any other Chinese director in the Sight & Sound poll, making him arguably the greatest Chinese director in the eyes of international film critics. In the Chinese critics’ poll he ranks fourth, behind Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Fei Mu.

Both polls feature a preponderance of Chinese films from the past 25 years, with titles by Wong, Hou, Yang, Jia Zhangke, Chen Kaige and Tsai Ming-liang mentioned frequently. (Interestingly, the Chinese critics poll gave only one vote to a Zhang Yimou film, To Live). Relatively few films on both lists hailed from before the 1980s boom period of the Taiwanese New Wave, Hong Kong New Wave and Chinese Fifth Generation; among those few are King Hu’s 1969 A Touch of Zen, Sun Yu’s 1934 Daylight, Xie Jin’s 1964 Stage Sisters and Li Han-hsiang’s 1962 The Butterfly Lovers.

Conducted in anticipation of the Sight & Sound poll and released two weeks after that poll’s results, the Cinephilia.net poll could be construed as a response to the Sight & Sound poll’s international angle with one that establishes a more Chinese perspective on world cinema. In the list of participants in the Sight & Sound poll, only five voters are identified as from mainland China, eight from Hong Kong and 3 from Taiwan. Compare this to the Cinephilia.net voting pool: 70 from the mainland, 17 from Hong Kong, 28 from Taiwan, one from Macau and 19 from other countries. The invitation to Cinephilia.net poll participants included this statement:

In contrast to the “world consensus” that Sight & Sound would seek to reach through their survey, we’d like to take this opportunity to invite you to share with us your perspective, which is more or less informed by cultural traditions, emotional affiliation and distinct production/distribution systems vis-à-vis Chinese-language cinemas.

(Full disclosure: I participated in both polls, sending identical ballots to each. My own ballot included two Chinese language films: Bu Wancang’s long-lost 1931 film Love and Duty and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness).

What follows is a list of the top ten Chinese language films from each list, as well as the top ranking directors, and a complete list of every Chinese language film voted on in each poll.

TOP TEN CHINESE LANGUAGE FILMS IN THE SIGHT & SOUND POLL:

1. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai) – 42 votes (#24 overall)
2. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang) – 19 votes (#84 overall)
3. Yi Yi – A One and a Two (Edward Yang) – 17 votes (#93 overall)
4. A City of Sadness (Hou Hsiao-hsien) – 14 votes (#117 overall)
5. Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu) – 13 (#127 overall)
6. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai) – 12 votes (#144 overall)
7. A Touch of Zen (King Hu) – 9 votes (#183 overall)
8. West of the Tracks (Wang Bing) – 8 votes (#202 overall)
9. Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien) – 7 votes (#235 overall)
(tie) The Puppetmaster (Hou Hsiao-hsien) – 7 votes

TOP TEN CHINESE LANGUAGE FILMS IN THE CINEPHILIA.NET POLL:

1. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang) – 29 votes (#3 overall)
2. Spring in a Small Town (Yuan Muzhi) – 19 votes (#10 overall)
3. A City of Sadness (Hou Hsiao-hsien) – 14 votes (#15 overall)
4. Yi Yi – A One and a Two (Edward Yang) – 9 votes (#27 overall)
5. A Time to Live and a Time to Die (Hou Hsiao-hsien) – 6 votes (#41 overall)
6. The Puppetmaster (Hou Hsiao-hsien) – 5 votes (#50 overall)
7. A Touch of Zen (King Hu) – 4 votes (#63 overall)
8. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee) – 3 votes (#86 overall)
(tie) Xiao Wu (Jia Zhangke) – 3 votes
(tie) West of the Tracks (Wang Bing) – 3 votes
(tie) Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-wai) – 3 votes
(tie) Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige) – 3 votes

TOP CHINESE DIRECTORS IN SIGHT & SOUND POLL:
1. Wong Kar-wai – 72 votes
2. Edward Yang Dechang – 38 votes
3. Hou Hsiao-hsien – 37 votes
4. Fei Mu – 13 votes
5. Jia Zhangke – 11 votes

TOP CHINESE DIRECTORS IN CINEPHILIA.NET POLL:
1. Edward Yang – 38 votes
2. Hou Hsiao-hsien – 30 votes
3. Fei Mu – 19 votes
4. Wong Kar-wai – 9 votes
5. King Hu – 6 votes

FULL LIST OF CHINESE LANGUAGE FILMS IN SIGHT & SOUND POLL:

1. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai) – 42 votes
2. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang) – 19 votes
3. Yi Yi – A One and a Two (Edward Yang) – 17 votes
4. A City of Sadness (Hou Hsiao-hsien) – 14 votes
5. Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu) – 13
6. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai) – 12 votes
7. A Touch of Zen (King Hu) – 9 votes
8. West of the Tracks (Wang Bing) – 8 votes
9. Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien) – 7 votes
(tie) The Puppetmaster (Hou Hsiao-hsien) – 7 votes

Other Chinese language films receiving votes:

6 votes
Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-wai)

5 votes
Happy Together (Wong Kar Wai)
Platform (Jia Zhangke)

3 votes
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee)
Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige)
2046 (Wong Kar-wai)

2 votes
Ashes of Time (Wong Kar Wai)
Cafe Lumiere (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
Goodbye Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang)
Hero (Zhang Yimou)
The Killer (John Woo)
Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
Police Story (Jackie Chan)
The River (Tsai Ming-liang)
Stage Sisters (Xie Jin)
Still Life (Jia Zhangke)
Taipei Story (Edward Yang)
A Time to Live and a Time to Die (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
Unknown Pleasures (Jia Zhangke)
Vive L’amour (Tsai Ming-liang)
The World (Jia Zhangke)
Yellow Earth (Chen Kaige)

1 vote
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Dai Sijie)
Banana Paradise (Wang Tung)
The Boys from Fengkuei (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
Bullet in the Head (John Woo)
Cold Nights (Que Wen)
Dirty Ho (Liu Chia-liang)
Drunken Master II (Liu Chia-liang)
Dust in the Wind (Hou Hsiao Hsien)
Enter the Dragon
Exiled (Johnnie To)
The Goddess (Wu Yonggang)
Good Men Good Women (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
Hard Boiled (John Woo)
House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou)
Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau, Alan Mak)
Ju Dou (Zhang Yimou)
Last Train Home (Fan Lixin)
Love and Duty (Bu Wancang)
Once Upon a Time in China (Tsui Hark)
Rebels of the Neon God (Tsai Ming-liang)
Red Sorghum (Zhang Yimou)
The Road (Zhang Jiarui)
Sentries Under Neon Lights (Wang Ping / Ge Xin)

FULL LIST OF CHINESE LANGUAGE FILMS IN CINEPHILIA.NET POLL:

Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang) – 29 votes
Springtime in a Small Town (Yuan Muzhi) – 19 votes
City of Sadness (Hou Hsiao-hsien) – 14 votes
Yi Yi – A One and a Two (Edward Yang) – 9 votes
A Time to Live and a Time to Die (Hou Hsiao-hsien) – 6 votes
The Puppetmaster (Hou Hsiao-hsien) – 5 votes
A Touch of Zen (King Hu) – 4 votes
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee) – 3 votes
Xiao Wu (Jia Zhangke) – 3 votes
West of the Tracks (Wang Bing) – 3 votes
Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-wai) – 3 votes
Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige) – 3 votes

2 votes
Goodbye Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang)
Ashes of Time (Wong Kar-wai)
Daylight (Sun Yu)
The Butterfly Lovers (Li Han-hsiang)
Raining in the Mountain (King Hu)
In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai)

1 vote
2046 (Wong Kar-wai)
A Spring River Flows East (Cai Chusheng/ Zheng Junli)
Crows and Sparrows (Zheng Junli)
What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-liang)
Goodbye South Goodbye (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
In the Face of Demolition (Li Tie)
Cafe Lumiere (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
Journey to the West (Jeffrey Lau)
Monkey King (Wan Lai Ming / Tang Cheng)
The Sun Also Rises (Jiang Wen)
Dust int he Wind (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
Love and Duty (Bu Wancang)
The Life of Wu Xun (Sun Yu)
Shajiabang (Wu Zhaodi)
The Hole (Tsai Ming-liang)
To Live (Zhang Yimou)
Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
Comrades: Almost a Love Story (Peter Chan)
The Secret (Ann Hui)
100 Flowers Hidden Deep (Chen Kaige)
Horse Thief (Tian Zhuangzhuang)
Goddess (Wu Yonggang)
Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai)
Wild, Wild Rose (Wang Tin Lam)
In the Heat of the Sun (Jiang Wen)
Summer Palace (Lou Ye)
The Boys from Fengkuei (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
Street Angel (Yuan Muzhi)
Devils on the Doorstep (Jiang Wen)
Mahjong (Edward Yang)
Dragon Inn (King Hu)

  • Jon

    Is ‘A Brighter Summer Day’ ever going to get a proper DVD release?

  • Todd Compton

    Where can I get the full Cinephilia poll with the titles in English?