10 Chinese Comedies You Should Watch

July 02, 2022

A Chinese proverb goes, “You will never be punished for making people die of laughter.” Indeed, makers of Chinese comedy films have frequently tested the very limits of that saying in pursuit of the latest big screen sidesplitter.

In keeping with the accelerated nature of contemporary China, Chinese comedies have rapidly cycled through various styles and trends. The “New Year’s comedies” of perennial hitmaker Feng Xiaogang – The Dream Factory 甲方乙方 (1997), Be There or Be Square 不见不散 (1998), and Sorry Baby 没完没了(1999) – offered a template for providing relief from the daily grind while cleverly ridiculing the status quo. A bevy of inspired filmmakers, stars, and comedy troupes followed, often mixing postmodern and traditional elements to crowd-pleasing effect.

Comedy is arguably the most subjective of genres, but there should be something here to tickle everyone’s funny bone.

Laborer's Love (勞工之愛情)(Dir. Zhang Shichuan, 1922)

Pratfalls abound in the earliest extant Chinese film which revolves around a carpenter-turned-fruit seller (Zheng Zhegu) striving to impress a doctor (Zheng Zhengqiu) in order to marry his daughter (Yu Ying). The need for social mobility and the cultural significance of filial piety provide the impetus for a charming piece of silent slapstick in the style of Buster Keaton.

Streaming on the Modern Chinese Cultural Studies YouTube Channel.

Laborers-Love

Laborer's Love (勞工之愛情) © 1922 Mingxing Film Company

Long Live the Missus! (太太萬歲) (Dir. Sang Hu, 1947)

A comedy of manners ensues when the white lies told by a Shanghai housewife (Jiang Tianliu) to help family members instead disrupt her marital and financial stability. This bittersweet take on middle-class follies is adroitly scripted by renowned novelist and essayist Eileen Chang, although her satirical tone was reportedly tempered by director Sang Hu.

Streaming on the Modern Chinese Cultural Studies YouTube Channel.

Long-Live-The-Missus!

Long Live the Missus! (太太萬歲) © 1947 Wenhua Film Company

The Black Cannon Incident (黑砲事件) (Dir. Huang Jianxin, 1985)

Bureaucratic authoritarianism is skewered when the simple task of finding a missing chess piece threatens to scupper a major construction project due to misunderstanding and paranoia. Huang Jianxin’s sly satire is positively Kafkaesque in illustrating the problematic convergence of business and ideology, while the droll humor is complemented by matter-of-fact presentation. Black-Cannon-Incident

The Black Cannon Incident (黑砲事件) © 1985 Xi'an Film Studio

The Troubleshooters (顽主) (Dir. Mi Jiashan, 1988)

A loose-limbed hangout movie wherein three underachievers (Zhang Guoli, Ge You, and Pan Hong) start a company that solves other people’s personal problems with clients ranging from a cuckolded husband to an underappreciated writer. Terrific chemistry between the leads and a freewheeling vibe ensures enjoyable hijinks around the bustling streets of 1980s Beijing.

Streaming on the China Movie Channel English YouTube Channel.

Troubleshooters

The Troubleshooters (顽主) © 1988 Emei Film Studio

Keep Cool (有话好好说) (Dir. Zhang Yimou, 1997)

Given that Zhang Yimou rarely dabbles in comedy or contemporary narratives, Keep Cool is an invigorating outlier. It’s the atypically frenetic tale of a bookseller (Jiang Wen) whose attempt to win back his ex-lover (Qu Ying) infuriates both her nightclub owner boyfriend (Liu Xinyi) and the hapless bystander (Li Baotian) who is unwittingly dragged into the chaos. Keep-Cool

Keep Cool (有话好好说) © 1997 Guangxi Film Studio

Sorry Baby (没完没了) (Dir. Feng Xiaogang, 1999)

Feng Xiaogang’s knack for popular humor has made him one of China’s most successful directors. This chucklesome outing concerns a coach driver (played with customary everyman charm by Feng’s regular leading man Ge You) whose efforts to extort overdue wages from his boss (Fu Biao) get increasingly elaborate when the tight-fisted enterpriser refuses to pay up. Sorry-Baby

Sorry Baby (没完没了) © 1999 Beijing Forbidden City Film, Huayi Brothers Pictures

Crazy Racer (疯狂的赛车) (Dir. Ning Hao, 2009)

Ning Hao followed up his madcap breakthrough feature Crazy Stone 疯狂的石头 (2006) with this riotous farce wherein a disgraced professional cyclist (Huang Bo) gets embroiled with a drug smuggling operation. Totally wacky and breathlessly paced, it’s a prime example of “shanzhai comedy” which pilfers from copious sources to create a unique variation. Crazy-Racer

Crazy Racer (疯狂的赛车) © 2009 Beijing Film Studio, Beijing Guoli Changsheng Movies & TV Productions Co., China Film Group Corporation (CFGC), Dirty Monkey Films Group

Lost in Thailand (人再囧途之泰囧) (Dir. Xu Zheng, 2012)

This uproarious travel comedy became such a box office phenomenon that it prompted an industrial shift from lavish historical spectacle to lighthearted fare. Director-star Xu Zheng mines broad belly laughs from anticipated cultural differences but makes sure to stay on the right side of Thailand’s tourist board by incorporating local festivities and some gorgeous vistas.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Lost-In-Thailand-List

Lost in Thailand (人再囧途之泰囧) © 2012 Beijing Enlight Pictures, Luck Road Culture Communication Co., YYT Media

Free and Easy (轻松+愉快) (Dir. Geng Jun, 2017)

A sparsely populated industrial town in northeastern China becomes a stage for absurdity in this offbeat black comedy. Utilizing framing devices that recall Aki Kaurismäki and a cast of non-professional actors, Geng Jun has a sketchy soap salesman, a Buddhist monk, a Christian simpleton, and a pair of local cops crossing paths in delightfully deadpan fashion.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Free-And-Easy

Free and Easy (轻松+愉快) © 2017 The Old Avant-Garde Films

The Island (一出好戏) (Dir. Huang Bo, 2018)

When participants in a corporate team-building exercise find themselves stranded on a desert island, conflicting attitudes see them splintered into two camps. In his directorial debut, comedy star Huang Bo uses a survival story premise as the springboard for an acerbic and visually imaginative allegory for the shortcomings of communism with capitalist characteristics.

Streaming on iQIYI.

Island

The Island (一出好戏) © 2018 Beijing Enlight Pictures

If want to know more Chinese movies, check out this list of great Chinese action films.

About the Author

John Berra is a lecturer in Film and Language Studies at Renmin University of China. He is a film critic for Screen Daily and has also contributed to BFI Online, China Pictorial and The Chinese Film Market.

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