Think your last ugly sweater party was fun?
It’s got nothing on Chinese New Year.
This massive annual celebration has everything you need for an awesome party: huge family feasts, parades, music, elaborate decorations and tons of fireworks, just for starters.
No wonder millions of people squeeze through China’s transport systems every year to go celebrate!
If you’re a Mandarin learner without access to a local Chinese New Year festival, we’ve got the next best thing for you. We’ve put together a list of some of the best Chinese New Year movies for you to marathon all day long.
But first, what exactly is Chinese New Year and why do so many people celebrate it with such vigor?
What Exactly Is Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year, also known as the 春节 (Chūn Jié) — Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year, is a massive festival celebrated in China and other Mandarin-speaking countries. It typically begins on the first new moon of the year, somewhere between January 21st and February 20th. In 2018, Chinese New Year begins on February 16 and celebrates the Year of the Dog.
Chinese New Year was initially known as 歲首 (Suì Shǒu) — Year’s Start and involved the celebration of myths, special customs, deity worship and ancestor reverence. There are many ways to celebrate Chinese New Year and traditional customs vary between regions. For the most part, celebrations include family reunions, giving gifts in red envelopes, fireworks, lots of delicious Chinese cuisine—and of course, New Year movies to watch among friends and family!
What better way to enjoy this holiday and brush up on your Mandarin skills at the same time than by watching some of these awesome Mandarin-language films?
By enjoying authentic Mandarin movies made for native speakers, you’ll get to hear relevant vocabulary specific to this holiday while also absorbing natural Mandarin speech patterns and grammar.
In fact, this is the premise behind entertainment-focused learning tools like FluentU. On FluentU, you get real-world Mandarin videos (like movie trailers and clips as well as music videos, commercials, inspiring talks and more) that’ve been transformed into a language learning experience. Each video comes with interactive captions, flashcards and exercises to help you actively build your vocabulary while you have fun watching.
The videos are organized by genre and difficulty level, so it’s easy to find something that works for you. Plus, FluentU remembers what you’ve watched and suggests more videos based on that information, so you get truly personalized learning. Check out the free trial and watch some of FluentU’s several Chinese New Year videos to prepare for your holiday movie marathon!
The movies below aren’t just entertaining, but they’re also favorites in many Chinese communities to watch on Chinese New Year. Like a tradition, so to speak. Most of these movies are also based around Chinese New Year as well.
So what are we waiting for? Check out these awesome Mandarin-language movies to bookmark for a Chinese New Year marathon!
7 Awesome Mandarin Movies You Can Marathon on Chinese New Year
If you grew up in a Chinese family or took Chinese classes as a teen (like this writer) you’ve probably had to watch “Dance Dance Dragon” around Chinese New Year.
This Singaporean comedy takes place before the 2012 Chinese New Year festivities around the Year of the Dragon. The film tackles the very Chinese cultural obsession with having a “lucky child” born during a Dragon year.
One family manages to have a bunch of Dragon daughters, all of whom grow up to be fairly unlucky in their lives. Their only son was born just seconds after the Dragon year passed and is also similarly unlucky. They all come together for the Dragon New Year as adults and many hilarious antics ensue.
The film is available with English and Chinese subtitles simultaneously via Tencent Video. It’s a fantastic and entertaining film for learners of all levels.
This documentary is known in English as “A Bite of China: Celebrating the Chinese New Year.” And yes, it’s exactly what you’re expecting. “A Bite of China” is a series that takes you on a journey through China to learn about the mouth-watering deliciousness of cuisines popular all around the country.
This particular episode of “A Bite of China” focuses on food that’s traditionally made on Chinese New Year.
You can watch “New Year on the Tongue” on YouTube with subtitles in 汉字 (hàn zì) — Chinese characters. Unfortunately, despite boasting English subtitles in the title, there doesn’t appear to be any English transcription on this particular video. Therefore, this documentary would be better suited for the intermediate or advanced learner—or just someone who loves looking at food. (We won’t judge you.)
Every culture has their traditional old-school movies designated for a particular holiday. For many Westerners, it’s “A Christmas Carol” from way back in 1951 for Christmas Eve. For Chinese people, it’s definitely the black-and-white film “New Year’s Coin” that’s designated for Chinese New Year.
It’s an oldie but goodie for sure. “New Year’s Coin” is a dramatic and somewhat comical film about the culture of rich Chinese citizens in the 30s, tackling social and economic issues that erupted in China at the time.
This movie is available streaming (for free!) on Tencent Video. Simply select “Play” and sit through some Chinese commercials. There only appear to be Chinese subtitles available, so intermediate and advanced learners would benefit best from watching this film.
This film is also known in English as “Return Ticket.” If you love a good drama, this film is the one for you. A group of women dealing with their own respective disappointments in life decide to convert an old tour bus into a transport bus to help migrant workers get back to their hometown of Fuyang in time for Chinese New Year.
Initially, it’s all just a plan to make some money selling tickets. But along the way, all of the characters find themselves challenged with the idea of home and life. “Return Ticket” is a fairly low-budget film with a focus on good script writing. It won several awards upon its release in 2011, and rightly so.
You can find this film on Tencent Video with Chinese subtitles. Again, due to the lack of English subtitling, this film is best suited for intermediate and advanced learners.
Westerners probably know this movie by its English title, “The Monkey King.” If you want to brush up on your Mandarin and enjoy a traditional piece of Chinese literature translated to the big screen, then “The Monkey King” is likely to be a new favorite.
The film is an action-adventure adaptation of the story “Journey to the West.” In the film, a monkey is born from an ethereal gem and acquires supernatural powers, and of course causes mischief on Earth.
This movie doesn’t have much of a connection to Chinese New Year other than the fact that it’s a family favorite to watch during the celebration. You can rent “The Monkey King” on Amazon with both English and Chinese subtitles. Learners of all kinds can enjoy this movie, but the dialogue and accompanying English subtitles make it ideal for beginners.
You can’t have a Chinese New Year movie-thon without a good old-fashioned comedy. “Fat Choi Spirit” is an absolute gem about a man with a Mahjong addiction and his outlandish ex-girlfriend, eclectic family and a troubling gambling gang. It’s a very silly movie with tons of laughs.
“Fat Choi Spirit” was released on Chinese New Year in 2002 and has remained a staple favorite to watch during festivities. This film was originally filmed in Cantonese, but a Mandarin overdub version with English and Chinese subtitles is available on DVD via Amazon. It’s a great pick for beginner learners for its English subtitles and simple dialogue.
This 2010 comedy film is packed with laughs, but it also tackles some very realistic issues that Chinese society wrestles with. In particular, the film pokes fun at the stressful phenomenon of 春运 (Chūnyùn) — Spring Festival travel season, where citizens from all over China travel en masse to their hometowns to celebrate Chinese New Year with their families.
“Lost on Journey” is often compared to the film “Plane, Trains and Automobiles” but is truly in a league of its own.
It’s available with Chinese subtitles on YouTube. Intermediate and advanced learners with a solid grasp on reading hanzi would benefit from watching.
How awesome are these Mandarin-language films? Be sure to whip up some 饺子 (jiǎozi) — steamed dumplings and fresh orange tea before beginning your marathon. Why not invite some friends over as well? If you can share Chinese culture with the world in a positive and fun way, why not do it?
新年快乐! (Xīnnián Kuàilè!) — Happy New Year!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
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