Top 5 HD movies on Youku

Top Chinese and international films to stream on Youku and LeTV

Staying in Beijing for Chinese New Year? Time Out pick five best HD movies available for streaming on Youku and LeTV, including Golden Bear winning film Black Coal, Thin Ice, director John Woo's classic A Better Tomorrow, Ann Hui's A Simple Life and more

Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)

Director Diao Yinan

Chinese name 白日焰火

Cast Liao Fan, Gwei Lun-Mei

Award-winning gritty detective thriller Black Coal, Thin Ice is set in the industrial bleakness of Heilongjiang province. The film opens in 1999 with shots of dismembered body parts cartwheeling along coal chutes. The dead man is identified as a worker at one of the local factories whose wife, Wu Zhizhen (Gwei Lun-Mei), works at a small dry-cleaning shop. Gruff, recently divorced detective Zhang Zili (Liao Fan, who won the prize for best actor at Berlin) identifies two suspects, but the arrest spirals into a dramatic, deadly shootout.

Five years later Zhang, now a bedraggled, drunk security guard, is still coming to terms with the carnage. After meeting his former partner he learns that more dismembered workers have been found in circumstances mirroring the previous case, not least in their connection to the widow Wu. Zhang’s fascination with the case becomes entangled in his attraction for Wu, who may or may not be a lethal ‘black widow’. The plot crackles with romantic fatalism.

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A Prophet (2009)

Director Jacques Audiard

Cast Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif

For French director Jacques Audiard, a master of the old-school French thriller – ie thrilling and meaningful – his fifth film offers the chance to pull off both a state-of-nation primal scream and a terrific crime flick. He gives us Malik (Tahar Rahim), a French-Arab convict who enters a concrete-and-steel hell to serve a sentence of six years.

The ruling bully boys are the Corsican inmates, led by ageing but vicious César (Niels Arestrup), who forces Malik to kill another inmate. But Malik is a clever individualist – a survivalist even. This is a world where partnerships are formed only for a reason, loyalties are fluid, friends barely exist at all. Politically, it’s a cynical film. Hope is absent.

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A Better Tomorrow (1986)

Director John Woo

Chinese name 英雄本色

Cast Chow Yun-fat, Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung

John Woo’s career was in the toilet when he and Tsui Hark decided to remake Patrick Lung Kong’s 1967 classic,Story of a Discharged Prisoner. Channelling all his frustrations into the script, A Better Tomorrow ushered in a new era of ballistic brotherhood. Ti Lung plays a crook, just out of the slammer, caught between patching things up with his little brother, a cop (Leslie Cheung), and staying away from his old boss who wants him back in the game.

When the pressure gets to be too much, things explode into two-gunned action with the help of his old comrade-in-arms, Mark (Chow Yun Fat), onetime king of cool, now a limping squeegee man. Written in fire and blood, the image of Mark, a gun in each hand, trench coat flapping like black wings, branded itself into the brains of a generation of action fans, and still appears in movies to this day.

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To The Wonder (2013)

Director Terence Malick

Cast Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko

Rapture, sex, heartache – they’re the oldest of cinematic subjects and we don’t lack for exploration of them. And who would dare give lessons in love to cosmic auteur Terrence Malick, whose movies supply us with a thicker kind of oxygen, suffused with awe and the scent of piney walks in the woods?

To the Wonder, his latest, is the top-to-bottom romance that’s always eluded him. Like a balm, it’s smoothed out the wrinkles: You’ll blush like a teenager when you see Malick’s exquisite style attached to scenes of a beautiful couple (Ben Affleck and Ukrainian stunner Olga Kurylenko) flirting on a train, filming each other with their phones, entwining arms in a sun-dappled Paris. It must end, and does soon enough, in strip-malled Oklahoma.

To the Wonder is the director’s first contemporary-set movie and its nearness to our own boring lives, coupled with the chest-thumping moodiness, will trigger alarms of pretension. But in the right light, it feels like a gift, a way for this most secretive of artists to say: Yes, I know that love sweeps you up in a swirl and drops you down, spinning.

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A Simple Life (2012)

Director Ann Hui

Chinese name 桃姐

Cast Andy Lau, Deanie Ip

If you’ve ever watched, say, a film by the Japanese master Ozu, and wondered why nobody makes understated family dramas delivering essential truths anymore – then this awards-laden Hong Kong production from veteran director Ann Hui is definitely for you. Based on the true story of the film’s producer Roger Lee and his servant, it’s essentially about how we define family bonds, following Roger (action star Andy Lau in a serious change of pace) and his elderly family maid Ah Tao (stalwart character actress Deannie Yip) after she suffers a stroke.

Lau’s astute performance is rather like the film as a whole – at first you think it’s underdone, but it’s actually cannily judged to favour genuine feeling over pushy sentimentality. As indeed is Deannie Yip’s marvellous central turn as a woman who yearns to belong but whose inveterate submissiveness is shaped by decades of deference and class difference. An exquisite and wise moment of celluloid portraiture.

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Film write ups courtesy of Time Out London