The best epic-length Chinese movies

Brush up on Chinese cinema with these heavy duty offerings

Binge-watching TV shows on Netflix is way too cliché. Next time it’s horribly polluted or you’re just horribly lazy and want something that takes a bit of time, why not try expanding your knowledge of Chinese cinema with these very full-length offerings?

A Touch of Zen

touch of zen

King Hu’s 1969 three-hour-plus wuxia masterpiece A Touch of Zen is most famous for its gorgeous style – the bamboo forest scene in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was bitten straight from it – but it has a lot more to offer than just pretty pictures of the Taiwanese countryside. In addition to its trailblazing kung fu wire-work fight scenes, this is a movie that really doesn’t waste its long run time. It moves from being a comic portrait of a hapless scholar to an adventure about a runaway princess to expressing a Buddhist feminist message through semi-psychedelic filmmaking without missing a beat.

A Brighter Summer Day

brighter summer day

A four-hour long neorealist examination of Taiwanese identity in the ‘50s might sound like a slog, but believe us when we say it’s anything but. Edward Yang’s masterpiece crafts an astonishing portrait of a moment in the island’s complex history with a mix of vicious gang fights, young lust, Cold War politics, teenage disaffection, pint-size rock-and-roll crooners, and more.

Red Cliff

red cliff

After a sojourn in Hollywood making movies of successively decreasing quality, action trailblazer John Woo found his way back to Asia with his most epic film to date. Set in the lead-up to the Three Kingdoms era, Red Cliff featured a ton of stars and some huge battle setpieces. Released in two parts totalling over four hours altogether, Red Cliff’s ambition paid off, with the movie breaking records at the Mainland Chinese box office.

West of the Tracks

west of the tracks

Hey, do you have nine hours to spare? Then we’ve got the perfect documentary for you! Wang Bing’s West of the Tracks is a three-part, nine-hour look at the economic devastation wrought on a portion of Shenyang by China’s shift away from state-run industry. Despite its grim topic and forbidding length – or perhaps because of them – the film has become a critical darling, making it all the way to number six on our list of Mainland China’s 100 best films.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars