ahead of the 70th anniversary of the people's republic of china, the column this weekend looks back at some of the movies that have made history or become game-changers in china's domestic industry.
first, i want to highlight something: over the past seven decades, china has produced more than 12,000 movies, thanks to painstaking efforts by several generations of chinese filmmakers.
we now look at the timeline of films that were once the first of their kind and occupy a unique spot in chinese cinematic history.
daughters of china (1949)
the first film themed on china's war of resistance against japanese aggression (1937-45) after the founding of new china, daughters of china was produced by northeast film studio. ling zifeng, who made his directorial debut with this movie, later rose to become a leading figure among the country's "third-generation directors".
the movie won the striving for freedom award at the fifth karlovy vary international film festival, becoming the first title to scoop an international honor since new china was founded in 1949.
the movie also laid the artistic foundation for ling's exploration of female psychology and human nature. his later work, a woman for two (1988), starring established actress liu xiaoqing and actor jiang wen, exemplified ling's filmmaking chops on handling female themes.
havoc in heaven (1961-1964)
in the history of chinese animation, if there's one movie that's destined to become immortal, it is the shanghai animation film studio's havoc in heaven. its protagonist, the monkey king, is a household name rooted in chinese mythology and literature. complete with fine art inspired by peking opera and chinese folk art, the movie scaled heights that no others could at the time.
its production team included the top names in chinese animation those days. directed by legendary animator wan laiming and tang cheng, the movie consists of two parts: the first one released in 1961 and the second one in 1964.
because of the political situation at the time, the two parts were released together many years later. the movie reached over 40 countries and became a major success, winning numerous awards.
romance on lushan mountain (1980)
the 1980 film features the first kiss in cinema since the inception of new china and signified a shift in societal norms.
it tells the story of zhou jun, the daughter of a former kuomintang general who has immigrated to the united states. she meets geng hua, the son of a senior communist party official, during a visit to the lushan mountain and the two fall in love.
the lead roles are played by 21-year-old guo kaimin and 22-year-old zhang yu. neither had ever been in love when they were cast. so, crew members often "disappeared" during dinners, leaving the two alone to find their chemistry.
the kiss became a nationwide sensation after the movie hit theaters. the scene gave the romantic movie a classic status, while kick-starting a trend of more openness and relatable characters in chinese movies.
red sorghum (1987)
scripted by novelist mo yan, red sorghum was zhang yimou's directorial debut and the first chinese film to win the golden bear award at the berlin international film festival. the movie marks a time when chinese films were beginning to earn recognition in the rest of the world.
there are some anecdotes from the film's production. one of the most well-known tales is perhaps that of wu tianming, then president of xi'an film studio. he admired zhang yimou's talent so much that he generously gave him 30,000 yuan to plant red sorghums for major filming sequences, despite the fact that the film was yet to obtain government permission to shoot.
farewell my concubine (1993)
farewell my concubine proved to be the most glorious thing for its director, chen kaige, as it carved its place as a milestone epic in the history of chinese cinema.
hong kong actor leslie cheung's memorable incarnation as a leading peking opera artist set in a chaotic period makes the movie a classic that can never be replicated.
the movie received applaud overseas. it shared the palme d'or with the piano at the 1993 cannes film festival. among its heavy-height awards was also best foreign language film at the golden globes.
crouching tiger, hidden dragon (2000)
director ang lee's martial arts epic crouching tiger, hidden dragon is the first and only chinese film to scoop the best foreign language recognition at the academy awards.
with a nerve-wrecking narration centered around the conflicts of a legendary sword, the film displays unique oriental aesthetics of chinese martial arts culture.
despite zhang yimou's epic hero receiving mixed reviews, the movie was the one that ushered in the era of blockbusters in chinese cinema.
as a visual feast, the film has been one of the highest-grossing chinese films in north america.
with an unprecedented expansion in the past decade, china has soared to become the world's second-largest movie market and has the most screens in the world, apart from boasting of an annual output of around 1,000 feature films.
movie genres are diversified, extending from new mainstream films like wolf warrior 2 to sci-fi epic the wandering earth and animated runaway hit ne zha.