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33 voters

The Best Movies That Capture The Chinese-American Experience

Updated March 31, 2021 248 votes 33 voters 1.3k views17 items

What are the best Chinese-American movies? That's what this list will determine. The rise of prominent Chinese-American filmmakers, from Ang Lee to Lulu Wang, has ensured that stories reflecting their culture have become increasingly prominent. Unsurprisingly, these pictures tend to be very sincere and heartfelt. They deal with important issues in mature, poignant ways.

Many of the most notable Chinese-American films deal with the clashes that occur between traditional values and more modern perspectives. Others deal with racism or the difficulties of assimilation. On the other hand, consider the Oscar-winning documentary American Factory, which is unique in that it explores the disparate attitudes between Chinese and American assembly line workers. You'll also find a wide variety of genres dealing with the Chinese-American experience, including comedies, dramas, and romances. 

Which of the following movies do the best job of depicting the Chinese-American experience? Which are the most accurate? Vote up the ones that you think have the most to say and say it the best. 

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  • Photo: A24

    Lulu Wang's comedy/drama The Farewell focuses on Billi (Awkwafina), a first-generation Chinese-American living in New York. When her beloved grandmother back in China is diagnosed with a terminal illness, her family decides to keep that information secret. Instead, they stage a wedding for Billi's cousin so the entire clan can be reunited one last time.

    The film shows how Billi's full assimilation into American culture is sometimes at odds with the more traditional Chinese perspective of her parents and relatives. 

    The Farewell earned near-unanimous acclaim. It holds a 98% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. 

    • Actors: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong
    • Released: 2019
    • Directed by: Lulu Wang
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  • In Crazy Rich Asians, Constance Wu plays Rachel, a Chinese-American economics professor at New York University. She travels to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) for his best friend's wedding. In the process, she butts heads with Nick's very traditional mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who does not approve of her American attitude. In fact, she disapproves of the whole "-American" part of "Chinese-American."

    The movie was widely praised for its sensitive -- and sometimes very funny -- exploration of traditional vs. modern values among Chinese-Americans. 

    • Actors: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh
    • Released: 2018
    • Directed by: Jon M. Chu
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  • Mothers and daughters are at the center of The Joy Luck Club, director Wayne Wang's adaptation of Amy Tan's best-selling novel. Four Chinese women have moved to America and had daughters. They meet regularly to play mah jong.

    In following the individual arcs of the eight women, the movie examines immigration, assimilation, traditional vs. modern women's roles, and more. The Joy Luck Club received praise from critics, including Roger Ebert, who liked the way it explores how "the hopes of one generation can become both the restraints and the inspirations of the next."

    • Actors: Ming-Na Wen, Andrew McCarthy, Vivian Wu, Tamlyn Tomita, Rosalind Chao
    • Released: 1993
    • Directed by: Wayne Wang
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  • Saving Face is a 2004 movie about a mother and daughter -- Wilhelmina Pang (Michelle Krusiec) and Hwei-Lan Gao (Joan Chen) -- experiencing some strife in their relationship. Mom expects her daughter to settle down and marry a man, but won't acknowledge that Wilhelmina is gay. Then Hwei-Lan becomes pregnant in her '40s and has a similarly disapproving situation with her own father.

    Directed by Alice Wu, Saving Face focuses on how Chinese-Americans can have conflict with family members who expect traditionalism from them. 

    • Actors: Joan Chen, Jessica Hecht, Michelle Krusiec, Ato Essandoh, Lynn Chen
    • Released: 2004
    • Directed by: Alice Wu
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