films seen
average score
China - 72 years old
Alive and kicking
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One of China's first landmark directors, who has managed to successfully reinvent himself a couple of times since he started making films. A master of visual epics, but also someone who finds his way around social dramas. Essential viewing.



Ying Xiong
2002 / 107m - Hong Kong
Hero poster

With an all-star cast, a terrific cinematographer, a legendary director and some of the most spectacular fight scenes ever choreographed this film delivers.


2018 / 116m - China
Drama, Action
Shadow poster

A true master of color, Yimou Zhang surprises with this near black and white martial arts drama. It's amazing what he accomplishes with almost no colors to work with, Shadow is a true feast for the eyes. The story is amusing, the action spectacular, but this is above all a visual marvel like only Zhang can make them.

House of Flying Daggers

Shi Mian Mai Fu
2004 / 119m - China
Romance, Fantasy
House of Flying Daggers poster

Not quite as majestic as Zhang's Hero, but still an overwhelmingly beautiful martial arts drama with a few memorable scenes. The drum dance and the bamboo forest fight are amongst the best the genre has on offer. And apart from some sketchy CG near the end, it hasn't aged a bit.

Under the Light

Jian Ru Pan Shi
2023 / 127m - China
Thriller, Crime
Under the Light poster

What is color but different frequencies of light? Yimou Zhang returns with a pretty standard (anti)crime flick, a story that is supposed to highlight the strength of Chinese law and the righteousness of its lawmakers. Propaganda it is, but it's also just a pretty basic, normal crime flick, albeit one that looks excessively beautiful. Every single frame is shimmering with light and its many reflections. Overexposure and neon colors are the norm here, and that makes this one stand out from the crowds. Not one of Zhang's absolute best films, but if you like maximalist visuals, there's a lot to love here.

The Flowers of War

Jin Ling Shi San Chai
2011 / 146m - China
Drama, War
The Flowers of War poster

The Flowers Of War borders on sentimentality and poses as a very epic endeavor. It's Zhang's magnificent direction that erases any major critiques, turning the film into a proper epic spectacle.

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Qian Li Zou Dan Qi
2005 / 107m - China
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles poster

Full River Red

Man Jiang Hong
2023 / 159m - China
Mystery, Thriller
Full River Red poster

Yimou Zhang's latest feels like a reimagining of Hero with all the fight scenes removed. If you didn't like Hero's focus on fantastical martial arts that may sound like a wet dream. And sure enough, there's plenty of intrigue here, it's just that people talking about conspiracies for almost three hours straight isn't the most invigorating way to construct a film.

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There's a bit of a mystery involving a missing letter, two chosen soldiers are tasked to find the letter and reveal its message. They set off on their mission, but it quickly dawns on them that their mission won't be all that simple. With each discovery they make, they get one step closer to a massive conspiracy.

Without the action bits, Yimou struggles to keep things interesting throughout. He certainly tried, with a clear focus on people walking from point A to B (I know that sounds weird, but watching the film, it'll make sense) and a strangely modernized score, but it's not quite enough. The mystery is nice and the twists and reveals are properly realized, but nothing justifies the excessive runtime. Good by any standard, but not great.

One Second

Yi Miao Zhong
2020 / 104m - China
One Second poster

Yimou Zhang takes his short from Chacun son Cinéma and turns it into a full-length feature. One Second is an ode to the cinema (experience) of yonder, mixed with some textbook political critique. The latter got him into quite some trouble, I couldn't help but wonder why he even bothered to include it though.

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A man escapes from a detention camp after he receives a letter stating that his daughter is featured in a newsreel. He travels to the closest village that's about to show the film reel, but an orphan girl has other plans for the celluloid. She desperately wants it to create a lamp shade for her brother.

One Second harks back to Zhang's early rural dramas, though the focus lies more on comedy and the communal feeling of an entire village coming together to watch a film. The cinematography is polished, performances are decent, and the peculiar ending is interesting, but this isn't really Zhang at his best.

The Love of the Hawthorn Tree

Shan Zha Shu Zhi Lian
2010 / 114m - China
Drama, Romance
The Love of the Hawthorn Tree poster

A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop

San Qiang Pai An Jing Qi
2009 / 95m - China
Comedy, Crime
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop poster

Curse of the Golden Flower

Man Cheng Jin Dai Huang Jin Jia
2006 / 114m - China
Drama, Romance
Curse of the Golden Flower poster

Happy Times

Xingfu Shiguang
2000 / 102m - China
Comedy, Drama, Romance
Happy Times poster

The Road Home

Wo De Fu Qin Mu Qin
1999 / 89m - China
Drama, Romance
The Road Home poster

Keep Cool

You Hua Hao Hao Shuo
1997 / 93m - China
Keep Cool poster

Shanghai Triad

Yao a Yao Yao Dao Waipo Qiao
1995 / 108m - China
Romance, Crime
Shanghai Triad poster

Yimou Zhang's rather subdued crime drama. I really liked this film when I first watched it, I think I've seen this done better since. It's certainly not a bad one, with proper intrigue and sporting a very nice setting, but somehow it lacks Zhang's visual flourish, which left me a little disappointed.

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Shuisheng is a young boy who is brought to Shanghai by his uncle. He works for Tang, an important gang boss. Shuisheng is given to Tang's mistress, who he needs to tend to. From the shadows, Shuisheng observes the lives of the wealthy, but he'll soon find out that this lifestyle comes with its own perils.

Gong Li is strong, as is the rest of the cast. I liked the inclusion of more prominent genre elements, and the mix of drama and crime works very well. I just remembered a more visually elaborate film. Maybe it was the restoration work that took away from the colors, but I was a little underwhelmed. A very good film, just not a personal favorite anymore.

To Live

Huo Zhe
1994 / 133m - China
Drama, War
To Live poster

Raise the Red Lantern

Da Hong Deng Long Gao Gao Gua
1991 / 125m - China
Drama, Romance
Raise the Red Lantern poster

Ju Dou: Secret Love, Hidden Faces

1990 / 95m - China
Drama, Romance
Ju Dou: Secret Love, Hidden Faces poster

Cliff Walkers

Xuan Ya Zhi Shang
2021 / 120m - China
Cliff Walkers poster

Yimou Zhang's latest is a typical spy thriller set in the snow-covered China of the '30s. Not a genre that is often tackled in Chinese cinema, but it's prevalent in the US and UK and Zhang doesn't really add a lot of flavor of his own. It's certainly not a bad attempt, it's just not a very notable film.

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Four Chinese secret agents are sent on a mission to Manchukuo. When they arrive there, they discover there's a mole in their midst. Between completing their mission and trying to figure out who is selling them out, the four have a tough time staying alive, as everyone seems to be on their tail.

The cinematography is nice, though not up to Zhang's usual standard. The plot and acting are decent enough too, but the film's a bit slow. There's really no reason why this couldn't have been finished 30 minutes sooner, even so Zhang draws it out to hit the two-hour mark. If you love a good spy thriller though, this film has you covered.

The Great Wall

2016 / 103m - China
Fantasy, Action, Adventure
The Great Wall poster

Not One Less

Yi Ge Dou Bu Neng Shao
1999 / 106m - China
Not One Less poster

The Story of Qiu Ju

Qiu Ju Da Guan Si
1992 / 100m - China
Comedy, Drama
The Story of Qiu Ju poster

Red Sorghum

Hong Gao Liang
1988 / 91m - China
Drama, Romance, War
Red Sorghum poster

Coming Home

Gui Lai
2014 / 109m - China
Drama, Romance
Coming Home poster


Ju Ji Shou
2022 / 96m - China
Action, War
Snipers poster

A surprisingly poor Yimou Zhang effort. Together with his daughter he takes on this rather generic war flick (and yes, it is about snipers). It's a new low in China patriotic cinema assault, with ridiculous bad guys (Westerners), heroic Chinese fellas and a very predictable outcome, highlighting the endless bravery and perseverance of the Chinese soldiers.

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The film revolves around a single stand-off between two groups of soldiers during the Korean War. The Chinese are helping out the Koreans fight off the Western invaders, though the film focuses on a very minor conflict where two groups are trying to get their hands on some vital intel. The scope is really very limited, unlike other recent efforts.

The film looks rather cheap, the performances range from plain to ridiculous and the patriotic elements push away everything else. I think China has really reached American-level patriotism with this film, which is a sad landmark. It's hard to enjoy the little tension there is, which is a real shame if you consider what someone like Yimou Zhang is truly capable of.

Codename Cougar

Daihao Meizhoubao
1989 / 76m - China
Drama, Thriller
Codename Cougar poster