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Notable films of 2016

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2016-12-29 07:19

Notable films of 2016

Operation Mekong is among the best-received films of 2016 on China's big screens. [Photo provided to China Daily]

China's movie industry this year may not have seen the enviable growth rate of the recent past, but the past 12 months are seen by many as a good year for quality offerings-and for diversity as well. Not in the Hollywood sense, but in the kind of fare seen on the nation's big screens. Here are the top picks by China Daily's film critic Raymond Zhou.

Five blockbusters

There is no cutoff line for the definition of a Chinese blockbuster, but movies with a box-office return of 1 billion yuan ($144 million) or more usually qualify. The wide appeal of these titles may have more sociological implications than purely aesthetic ones. And Hollywood may want to take note because these are the kind of movies that tend to go head-to-head with their foreign rivals and beat them.

The Mermaid

It may be some time before Stephen Chow's slapstick comedy will be knocked off the pedestal that is the nation's box-office record, which is 3.37 billion yuan. This is not Chow's best work, but few have the ability to penetrate the small-city market as he did. And with an environmental message that is more timely than piercing, it offers a concoction that could have worked at any time, let alone the Chinese New Year period when it opened.

The Monkey King 2

The classic Chinese fantasy novel proves to be a rich source for film treatment. Taken from one chapter of Journey to the West, this much retold tale gets fleshed out from its original skeletal plot and is enriched by fuller and richer portrayals of the characters. Gong Li as the White-Bone Demon brings in her star power but the rest of the cast are also top-class. The holiday release made 1.18 billion yuan at the box office.

Operation Mekong

At 1,182 million yuan, this surprise hit is notable for its positive portrayal of the Chinese government in its effort to protect its citizens abroad and bring international criminals to justice. Packed with action, it offers a thrillingly visceral cinematic experience reminiscent of a Hollywood equivalent.

Time Raiders

Amid a pile of carcasses in the summer, this adventure movie was about the only survivor making 1 billion yuan. While the reviews were middling at best, it was helped by the tested-but-not-always-true formula of a best-selling novel and a pair of pretty-boy stars. The same formula, however, did not help L.O.R.D (Legend of Ravaging Dynasties), which was among the year's highest-profiled duds.

The Great Wall

Sure, this is a coproduction, and not a purely Chinese product. And with a budget of $1.5 billion it has to succeed in territories outside China to yield any profit. Director Zhang Yimou has been lambasted by many critics, but the monster invasion may prove a litmus test for cultural cross-pollination as it is designed to appeal to audiences in every big market. Its box-office takings are expected to cross the 1-billion-yuan mark by the time this piece sees print.

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