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Realism has remained the mainstream of Chinese cinema. In the climax of film-making that rose up in the mid-1980s, realistic works reached a high level of creativity in their depiction of life, varied subject matters, styles and forms, and in the exploration and innovation of cinematic language. The "fifth-generation" directors, including Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige and Huang Jianxin, rose to fame during this period, becoming international celebrities of cinema.

The late 1990s saw the emergence a "sixth-generation" wave of directors, including Wang Xiaoshuai, Zhang Yuan and Lou Ye, who were mostly born in the 1960s and 1970s. Their movies reveal the lives of ordinary people's life in a realistic fashion. Feng Xiaogang has made box office records with his commercial movies, most of which tell stories of ordinary people.

The Changchun and Shanghai international film festivals are annual events, attracting both Chinese and foreign movie-makers. The "Golden Rooster" is the top prize for Chinese movies. The government has specially established the "Ornamental Pillar Award" to encourage the development of mainstream movies. The "Hundred Flowers Prize" is awarded on the basis of audience votes.

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