chinese movies netflix

The Expert Guide: How to Hack Netflix Movies for Free Chinese Lessons

You’ve heard it said before, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Lucky for us, this notion does not apply to learning Chinese online.

You can totally grab a “free lunch” of Chinese Internet resources on the web!

From listening to Chinese radio to watching Chinese dramas to using Chinese learning apps, there are all sorts of costless ways to improve your Chinese online.

But my very favorite is hacking Chinese movies on Netflix for free Chinese lessons.

That’s right. With a few deft moves, you can easily turn your two-hour, stay-in movie session into a very applicable Chinese lesson.

How to Hack Netflix Movies for Free Chinese Lessons

One of the best ways to learn Chinese from movies is to pick up useful sentence patterns. By learning sentence patterns, you can adapt and re-work those patterns to suit other real-life situations.

This trains both your listening (as you scout for useful patterns) and your spoken conversation skills (when you make use of those sentence patterns).

I’ll show you how! Below is a guide for how to turn trending movies on Netflix into personalized language lessons.

Next, using five popular movies on Netflix, we’ll create examples of Chinese lessons drawn from each one.

The process looks like this:

  1. Pick a movie of your liking. Chinese genres available on Netflix include martial arts, historical drama, romance, action and comedy.
  2. Listen carefully to the dialogue. Pick out key sentence patterns that you understand well. Pause and replay when needed.
  3. Learn the sentence pattern, and then revamp the sentence pattern for other contexts.

Don’t have Netflix? Don’t worry! FluentU offers a similarly entertaining way to learn Chinese through real-world videos. Check out their incredible, hand-picked library of movie trailers, TV shows, vlogs, music videos and more.

Every video has interactive subtitles, a downloadable transcript, multimedia flashcards and a personalized Learn Mode which asks you questions based on what you already know. Every word comes with an in-context definition, image, audio and example sentences, so you have exactly the support needed to understand and enjoy the video clips.

Now, let’s try out this method with five Netflix movies!

The Expert Guide: How to Hack Netflix Movies for Free Chinese Lessons

1. “Empress in the Palace” — Learn Complaints and Flattery

chinese movies netflix

Hear, hear! The Emperor is auditioning new concubines. When new recruits enter the harem, however, jealousies and competitions begin to boil.

This is the seductive plot of “Empress in the Palace,” which is actually a TV series with over 70 episodes. Netflix offers episode 1, but subsequent episodes can be found on YouTube.

Let’s check out some sentence patterns we can hack from “Empress in the Palace.”

A) Who’s to blame?

Have you ever wanted to say, “He’s got nothing to do with it, it’s all her fault”? Here’s something similar from the movie:

Movie Quote: 皇上不管这个,都是皇后娘娘定的。
huáng shàng bù guǎn zhè gè,dōu shì huáng hòu niáng niáng dìng de.
(The king doesn’t care about this. It was all the queen’s decision.)

Use this same pattern in speech by substituting other actors.

Example: 我爸不管这个, 都是我妈决定的。
wǒ bà bù guǎn zhè gè,dōu shì wǒ mā jué dìng de. 
(My dad’s got nothing to do with this. It was all my mom’s decision.)

B) Yes it’s great, but…

Here’s how to follow up a compliment with a complaint.

Movie Quote: 有是有,地方都还干净雅致,就是偏了点,远了点,小了点。
yǒu shì yǒu, dì fāng dōu hái gān jìng yǎ zhì, jiù shì piān le diǎn, yuǎn le diǎn, xiǎo le diǎn。
(Yes, the place is clean and elegant. But it’s a bit out of the way, a bit far and a bit small.)

The pattern [adjective] + 了点 means “a little [adjective].” For example, “a little small” is 小了点 (xiǎo le diǎn). Adding 了点 can be a polite way to complain or criticize something.

You can use the same pattern to give a negative comment while still affirming the good.

Example: 这件外套挺好看的,就是短了点,旧了点。
zhè jiàn wài tào tǐng hǎo kàn de,jiù shì duǎn le diǎn,jiù le diǎn.
(This jacket is quite stylish actually. It’s just a bit short, and a bit worn.)

C) Over-the-top flattery

Due to its historical and royal setting, “Empress in the Palace” contains a lot of literary dialogue, including many Shakespearean-like phrases to praise a woman’s beauty.

Movie Quote: 娘娘国色天香,才是真正令人剧目。萤火之光,如何与娘娘明珠争辉。
niáng niáng guó sè tiān xiāng, cái shì zhēn zhèng líng rén jù mù. yíng huǒ zhī guāng, rú hé yǔ niáng niáng míng zhū zhēng huī. 
(Your highness is the hue and fragrance of the nation. All eyes are drawn to you.
How can the glimmer of fireflies be compared to your highness’ pearl-like radiance?)

There are several poetic phrases here. 国色天香 (guó sè tiān xiāng) means a beauty so great, it adds color and fragrance to nation. 令人剧目 (líng rén jù mù) means a beauty that’s captivating. 萤火之光何与明珠争辉 (yíng huǒ zhī guāng rú hé yǔ míng zhū zhēng huī) is a phrase of self-deprecation, meaning, “I’m not fit to be compared with your beauty.”

These flowery phrases are fit for a sappy love letter, or a friendly tease.

2. “Firestorm” — Express Love and Other Complications

chinese movies netflix

In “Firestorm,” crime and natural disasters threaten Hong Kong, while an ex-con and his girlfriend test their love.
Note that his movie features both Cantonese and Mandarin dialogue.

Here are some adaptable phrases from the movie for your painfully complicated relationship moments.

A) Please don’t cry

Sometimes, you just need your girlfriend to stop crying.

Movie Quote 1: 不要哭了好不好,你好美丽的。
bù yào kū le hǎo bù hǎo, nǐ hǎo měi lì de. 
(Please don’t cry, ok? You have such a pretty face.)

Movie Quote 2: 不要哭了, 相信我。
bù yào kū le, xiāng xìn wǒ.
(Don’t cry, alright? Just trust me.)

The versatile phrase 不要[verb]了 (bù yào___le) is used to ask someone to please stop [verb].

Example 1: 不要再说了,好不好?
bù yào zài shuō le, hǎo bù hǎo?
(Please stop talking about it, ok?)

Example 2: 不要再争了, 好不好?
bù yào zài zhēng le, hǎo bù hǎo?
(Please stop fighting, ok?)

Try using this sentence pattern to ask someone to stop a particular action.

B) Breaking the news

In this movie, we also learn how to announce a pregnancy to your boyfriend.

Movie Quote: 我有了。四个月。
wǒ yǒu le. sì gè yuè.
I’m pregnant. Four months.

In the movie, the female character follows this up with an accusation: 我怀孕两个月你还没有出狱。(wǒ huái yùn liǎng gè yuè nǐ hái méi yǒu chū yù. — I was two months’ pregnant and you hadn’t even gotten out of jail.)

Hopefully you never encounter this situation in real life. But now you know how to say that you’re pregnant; it’s 我有了 (wǒ yǒu le), which literally translates to “I have it.”

C) I love you, but it’s complicated

Love is complicated. Here’s an expression for those painfully convoluted moments.

Movie Quote: 我真的很爱你,可是我已经不喜欢你。你懂不懂?
wǒ zhēn de hěn ài nǐ, kě shì wǒ yǐ jīng bù xǐ huān nǐ. nǐ dǒng bù dǒng?
(I really love you a lot. But I don’t like you anymore. Do you understand?)

你懂不懂 (nǐ dǒng bù dǒng) means, “Do you understand?” Take advantage of this useful phrase to check for understanding.

3. “Shaolin” — Wise Sayings and Parallels

chinese movies netflix

In “Shaolin,” a general is betrayed by his closest associate. He then flees to a Buddhist temple, called Shaolin, where he learns martial arts from a cook played by Jackie Chan.

A) You can’t have it all

Sometimes in life, it’s only one thing or the other. Here’s a pattern for those cases.

Movie Quote: 你收得了他的人,收不了他的心。
nǐ shōu dé liǎo tā de rén, shōu bù liǎo tā dí xīn. 
(You can fix his body but you can’t fix his heart.)

The above sentence refers to someone whose spirit or attitude is warped, and not likely to be changed. You can reuse this pattern like so:

Example: 你买得了车子,买不了保险。
nǐ mǎi dé liǎo chē zǐ,mǎi bù liǎo bǎo xiǎn. 
(You can buy the car but you can’t get the insurance.)

B) Not one to judge

Here’s a phrase for giving instruction or advice.

Movie Quote: 我们不该有分别心。
wǒ mén bù gāi yǒu fēn bié xīn.
(We should not bear a judging heart.)

我们不该 (wǒ mén bù gāi) means “we shouldn’t.” This phrase is also versatile.

Example 1: 我们不该有偏见。
wǒ mén bù gāi yǒu piān jiàn.
(We shouldn’t be prejudiced)

Example 2: 自己责任自己当,我们不该带别人麻烦。
zì jǐ zé rèn zì jǐ dāng, wǒ mén bù gāi dài gěi bié rén má fán. 
(We should take up our own responsibility; we shouldn’t trouble others.)

C) It’s a dog-eat-dog world

Here’s a phrase for commenting on the times or the circumstances.

Movie Quote: 在外面,不是你杀人就人杀你。
zài wài miàn, bù shì nǐ shā rén jiù rén shā nǐ . 
(Outside (of Shaolin), either you kill others or others will kill you.)

不是…就是 (bù shì… jiù shì) means “If not this, then that.” Adapt this pattern for other contexts:

Example: 在这行业里,你不是忙死就是闷死。
zài zhè háng yè lǐ, nǐ bù shì máng sǐ jiù shì mèn sǐ. 
(In this industry, you’re either super busy or super bored.)

4. “House of Flying Daggers” — Who Says I Can’t?

chinese movies netflix

In “House of Flying Daggers” a blind, beautiful dancer is part of an anti-government rebel group. Two government deputies are sent to investigate her, but both fall for her charms.

A) Who says I can’t

Here’s a good retort.

Movie Quote: 谁说盲女不能来此?
shuí shuō máng nǚ bù néng lái cǐ?
(Who says a blind girl can’t be here?)

谁说 (shuí shuō) means “Who says so?” Here’s how to reuse this pattern.

Example: 谁说学生不能创业?
shuí shuō xué shēng bù néng chuàng yè?
(Who says a student can’t own a business?)

B) Nicely said

Movie Quote: 说的好!
shuō dí hǎo 
(Nicely said.)

This short and simple phrase is useful in contexts where you want to applaud another’s comment.

C) If you don’t…

Movie Quote: 你不杀他们,他们就杀你。
nǐ bù shā tā mén, tā mén jiù shā nǐ. 
(If you don’t kill them, they’ll kill you.)

You can adapt this pattern for other uses: 你不___ 他们就___. (nǐ bù___tā mén jiù___. — If you don’t___, they’ll ___.)

Example: 你不赔钱,他们就会告你。
nǐ bù péi qián, tā mén jiù huì gào nǐ.
(If you don’t pay up they’ll sue you.)

5. “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” — Speaking of Best Friends

chinese movies netflix

“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” tells of two women’s friendship, mirrored by a historical story between two “laotong,” or sworn sisters, in ancient China. This movie features both Chinese and English dialogue.

A) Best friends forever

Here’s a phrase speaking of lifelong friendship.

Movie Quote: 我帮你找个老同,他是你这辈子就好的姐妹。
wǒ bāng nǐ zhǎo gè lǎo tóng, tā shì nǐ zhè bèi zǐ jiù hǎo de jiě mèi. 
(I found a laotong (sworn sister) for you. She will be your best friend for life.)

You can use this same phrase in other contexts.

Example: 你是我这辈子就好的姐妹。
nǐ shì wǒ zhè bèi zǐ jiù hǎo dí jiě mèi.
(You are my best friend for life.)

姐妹 (jiě mèi) means close female friends, and it literally translates to “sisters.”

B) Since we last met

When too many things have transpired over the past while, here’s what to say.

Movie Quote: 我们分开了的时间发生了太多事情。
wǒ mén fēn kāi le de shí jiān fā shēng le tài duō shì qíng. 
(Too many things have happened during the years we were apart.)

This phrase can also be used in other contexts.

Example: 这个学期发生了太多事情。
zhè gè xué qi fā shēng le tài duō shì qíng.
(Too many things have happened this semester.)

生了太多事情 (fā shēng le tài duō shì qíng) implies negative things or challenging events.

C) Everything I have is yours

Here’s a phrase for expressing unconditional love and generosity.

Movie Quote: 你是我的老同,我的一切都是你的。
nǐ shì wǒ de lǎo tóng, wǒ de yī qiē doū shì nǐ de.
(You are my sworn sister, everything I have is yours.)

You can apply this phrase when speaking to your most loved person.

Example: 你是我的老婆,我的一切都是你的。
nǐ shì wǒ de lǎo pó, wǒ de yī qiē doū shì nǐ de.
(You’re my wife, everything I have is yours.)

At the appropriate timing, it can be quite romantic to say.

Now you can see how easy it is to draw out phrases and sentence patterns from movies, and turn them into personalized Chinese lessons. With these excellent examples to get you started, you’re now more than ready to delve into Netflix’s Chinese collection for more language tutorials. Enjoy!

And One More Thing…

If you like learning Chinese through movies, then you’ll love FluentU.

FluentU lets you learn real Chinese from music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks. It naturally eases you into learning Chinese language. Native Chinese content comes within reach, and you’ll learn Chinese as it’s spoken in real life.

FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos. In fact, below you’ll even see the song “Let It Go” from the hit movie “Frozen”:

FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.

FluentU’s Learn Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It suggests content and examples based on the words you’re learning. You have a 100% personalized experience. 

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.

Experience Chinese immersion online!

Comments are closed.