Let’s face it.
Chinese movies, on the other hand, can really give us almost everything.
They can introduce us to authentic language, cover Chinese in a variety of real-life contexts and get us excited about studying Mandarin!
For many people these days, Netflix is the best deal for an accessible and affordable way to access films, and luckily, there’s plenty of content on Netflix of which Chinese learners can take advantage.
That’s right. If you’re already a Netflix subscriber, you don’t even need to get involved with any new streaming services to be able to learn with the best of the best.
In this post, we’re going to cover how to learn with a Chinese movie and follow up with some awesome Netflix flicks to watch.
Beginning learner? No problem. We have some movies picked just for you, and also some more advanced films for the established learner.
Let’s get started! But first, we’ll look a little closer at what learning Chinese through movies can do for you.
Benefits of Learning Chinese Through Movies
A language is much more than a series of words. Language, Chinese included, is strongly influenced by the culture surrounding it. It’s inherently imbued with rich meaning that’s clear only to the native speaker or to the astute student, and movies are a great way to increase your understanding of Chinese-language culture. For example, if you watch any more modern film that takes place in the present, you’ll probably pick up some slang and uniquely Chinese humor, both of which are quite fun to learn.
You’ll also have the chance to connect with the language in a more immediate way. As opposed to reading words on a page, you’ll see and hear emotion, and hear tone of voice. The sound of language is something important to take notice of, not only to detect proper accent, but also to learn how to experience and reproduce vocabulary in the context of feelings and emotions.
Studying with films will also show you Chinese culture up close, through superb storytelling and stunning visuals, making it easier for you stay engaged.
How to Study a Chinese Movie on Netflix
Much of your experience in learning Chinese through movies will be influenced by what you already know. This doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from Chinese movies on Netflix if you’re a beginner, but here are some tips that can help you stay on top of your learning regardless of level.
Take notes on vocabulary, sentence structure and accent.
The most important thing to do is to take notes. Prolific notes. Make as much as you can out of each movie.
Everything you write down becomes valuable reference material.
The three most important things to take notes on are vocabulary, sentence structure and accent. By writing down as many words as you reasonably can, you’ll be building up an arsenal of knowledge that you can use later on. Sentence structure is also incredibly important. Take notes on how sentences are put together and compare the structures to other sentences from different resources. This will help you get used to Chinese syntax.
Finally, remember to take notes on accents, because pronunciation is just as important as spelling.
Be aware that the subtitles may not match the words in the film exactly.
Of course, English translations will vary from the original Chinese and may not always be literal. However, something else to watch out for is that even Mandarin subtitles may not always match the exact words in the film.
If you’re a beginner, this is good to be aware of so you don’t let it interfere with or distort your learning. If you’re an advanced student, this can be a potential learning opportunity. Try to pay close attention to the dialogue and see if you notice when it differs from the written Chinese.
Make the most out of streaming.
Streaming is rapidly overtaking DVD rentals, and it gives you an incredible advantage as a learner. It puts you in control by giving you easier, more casual access to a film. You don’t have to watch a movie from start to finish to learn. You can start at a scene you like and go from there.
So if you can, consider going with streaming over a DVD rental. This way you can take days, or even weeks, with the same movie, moving through it systematically or picking and choosing scenes.
On the other hand, titles on Netflix come and go as the service acquires and loses licenses. If a movie is no longer available to stream, look for it on the Netflix DVD mailing program or on other streaming or renting services. We included a few titles of our favorites on this list that used to be on Netflix and have since been removed. You can still enjoy them and learn from them!
Bring any reference material you’ve gathered to your learning on FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world Chinese videos—like music videos, movie trailers, documentaries, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
It’s an entertaining method to immerse yourself in Chinese the way native speakers really use it, while actively building your vocabulary.
FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos, as you can see here:
Don’t worry about your skill level being an issue when it comes to understanding the language: FluentU makes native Chinese videos approachable through interactive transcripts and subtitles.
You’ll see definitions, in-context usage examples and helpful illustrations. Simply tap “add” to send interesting vocabulary words to your personal vocab list for later review.
The powerful learning program 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 studies and suggests content and examples based on the words you’re learning. That means every user gets a 100% personalized experience!
Want to see how FluentU breaks down videos—like Chinese movie clips—for language learning?
Check out the following video, which looks at specific Chinese vocabulary and phrases from a memorable scene in the romantic comedy “Love in Space,” starring actress Angela Baby.
Watch Out! The 12 Best Chinese Movies on Netflix in 2020 (Plus 3 Bonus Movies)
In making this selection, great care has been taken to provide films for every learning level. Whether you’re a beginner, an intermediate learner or an advanced Chinese speaker, you’ll find a movie here that will benefit your skills.
Order some Chinese food, and make it fun!
Curl up and engage in productive relaxation. As you enjoy these films made instantly available to you, you can be learning and improving your skill levels when it comes to writing, reading, listening to and speaking Chinese.
“Animal World” (2018)
This film is perhaps one of the most interesting on this list. It features action, romance, a huge rock-paper-scissors tournament, killer clowns and Michael Douglas, making for a truly riveting viewing experience.
“Animal World” is a great film for an advanced learner. There’s an interesting mix of vocabulary here, and as the film is about a teenage kid who finds himself in debt and in the middle of an exceptionally high-stakes gambling situation, you get a range of useful subject matter including everything from card games to finance.
You’ll hear some more advanced Chinese sentence structures that really make you think. Note some of them down and challenge yourself to come up with different sentences using the same words as an exercise.
“God of War” (2017)
In “God of War,” the Chinese coastline is dealing with the onslaught of pirates, but one general and his superior strategic prowess help turn the tide. This general is widely respected, always courteous and a true champion of the people.
“God of War” is a good beginner movie. It has lots of clear dialogue that makes for great practice. For example, in one scene, the general is greeted for dinner, having arrived late, and his guests speak to him, providing good examples for any learner looking to brush up on etiquette.
There’s also talk of strategy and tactics, as well as humorous dialogue, making it a worthwhile film to learn from.
“Us and Them” (2018)
In this movie, an encounter between strangers on a train leads to a relationship and a strong bond. The two protagonists are played by rising stars Jing Boran and Zhou Dongyu.
The rich dialogue in this movie is more suited to advanced learners. A true romance movie, “Us and Them” will not disappoint those who are romantics at heart. The story is very engaging and keeps you focused on the relationship between the two protagonists. As the film unfolds, they express their love to each other in some of the most beautiful dialogue I have witnessed from any Chinese production.
“Us and Them” is a unique film that will be sure to keep you entertained while you’re learning and exercising your language skills.
You may want to keep a tissue box nearby when watching, but don’t forget to practice!
A delight for food lovers, this film tells the story of a young female chef who dares to experiment within a rigid environment. She adds her own artistic flair to dishes and pushes boundaries with her culinary creations.
The movie takes you on an adventure of a young chef named Gu Sheng Nan and is based on the novel “Finally I Get You” by Lan Bai Se. Gu Sheng Nan works as a chef at a hotel, where a businessman meant to buy the hotel stops by and tries several dishes. He’s very difficult to please and is dissatisfied with every dish, except for when the hotel manager asks Gu Sheng Nan to cook one especially for him.
This movie is best for intermediate learners. The vocabulary is advanced, but the story is easy to follow.
As you might expect, you’ll hear a lot of words having to do with cooking and food in this film. Although you’re bound to run into a few words you don’t know here and there in any movie, many learners will find it easy to understand the meaning through context.
You’ll learn a lot from this, but it’ll also make you hungry, so it may be best watched while sampling some delicious Chinese food!
“I Am Not Madame Bovary” (2016)
You’ll find plenty of drama in this film, which is inspired in part by the tale of Pan Jinlian, who, along with an herbalist with whom she was having an affair, poisoned her husband. Pa Jinlian and the herbalist were then killed by her husband’s younger brother.
In the movie, however, the story goes differently, but I won’t spoil it for you.
This film is good for beginning and intermediate learners, with dialogue that’s clear and easy to follow.
Here’s a sentence you can use for a simple writing exercise with this movie:
我不是潘金莲。 (wǒ bú shì pān jīn lián) — “I am not Pan Jinlian.”
Try swapping out parts of this sentence in different ways. For instance, instead of writing, “I am not Pan Jinlian,” try writing “I am not hungry.”
“Chasing the Dragon” (2017)
This action crime movie was previously known as “King of Drug Dealers” and takes place in Hong Kong. As a result, this movie is in Cantonese. The film tells the story of an illegal immigrant in British-colonized Hong Kong from China in 1963. Once he arrives, he begins his life as a drug lord.
In the movie, learners will hear a wide variety of vocabulary ranging from relatively simple to advanced. Because this is an action crime movie, some terms might be difficult for learners to understand, but others are demystified by context.
The characters in the movie also speak pretty fast, making it perfect material for challenging listening comprehension practice.
As a result, this movie is best suited for intermediate to advanced learners.
“The Wandering Earth” (2019)
This movie is for all the science fiction lovers out there. It tells the story of astronauts and rescue workers guiding Earth away from the sun, which is expanding and is about to crash with the planet Jupiter. The film takes place in the year 2061 and takes inspiration from the novella by Liu Cixin, which shares the same title.
After the human population has been reduced dramatically and the Earth is destined to be engulfed by the sun within 300 years, a group of space explorers embarks on a dangerous and thrilling mission to save the earth from its terrible fate.
Because there are a few science and space-related vocabulary, intermediate to advanced learners are likely to enjoy the movie most. However, many of the difficult words are said in English throughout the movie, making it easy to follow along.
“Look for a Star” (2009)
A beautiful romance story, this film was inspired by Stanley Ho’s relationship with his fourth wife, Angela Leong. It tells the story of a billionaire named Sam who falls for a casino dealer with a feisty spirit named Milan. The couple are from two different worlds, as Sam has a successful career and Milan is a part-time baccarat dealer and full-time cabaret dancer.
Their relationship eventually attracts the media and they make headlines.
With pretty simple, everyday language, this movie is perfect for intermediate learners and is available in Cantonese and Mandarin.
“A Beautiful Life” (1997)
No Chinese movie list would be complete without this classic.
This romance movie follows a real estate agent by the name of Li Peiru. After getting drunk at a karaoke bar one night, she throws up on the cop Fang Zhendong. Although Peiru has been having an affair with her married boss, Zhendong instantly feels a connection with him.
However, the affair ends after Peiru discovers her boss has been cheating on her. After multiple failed business attempts from Peiru and Zhendong losing his job as a cop, the two become closer and eventually fall in love.
Perfect for intermediate learners, the movie uses simple language and is easy to follow along with.
“Blind Detective” (2013)
This Hong Kong-based action comedy movie is perfect for those who love thrills and having a good laugh. A former detective named Johnston Chong See-tun was forced to quit his job after he became blind, and now solves cold cases for police rewards to make a living. When trying to solve a case, he meets the hit team inspector Goldie Ho Ka-tung, who he instantly finds attractive.
After being impressed by Johnston Chong See-tun’s investigative mind, Goldie Ho Ka-tung allows him to help her solve a case she hasn’t been able to on her own.
Soon, the two make working side by side on cold cases a daily task.
Although the movie contains a few advanced terms, the rest of the language is relatively easy to understand for intermediate to advanced learners.
If you’ve read the description for “Monkey King 2” below and want a movie with a similar feel, this is the pick for you.
“Love O2O” (2016)
If you love romance and video games, this is the movie for you. When gaming expert Xiao Nai comes across Bei Wei Wei—known as the campus goddess—he instantly falls in love. But not for her looks. Bei Wei Wei’s impressive skills in an online role playing game are what make Xiao Nai notice her.
As he attempts to catch her heart, Xiao Nai finds he must use his skills online and in real life. Throughout the movie, he goes above and beyond to make Bei Wei Wei fall for him as hard as he’s fallen for her in a passionate attempt to level up their online relationship.
While some of the words used in the film aren’t commonly said in real life, the movie is still fairly simple to understand for intermediate and advanced learners.
“Line Walker” (2016)
Available in both Cantonese and Mandarin, “Line Walker” is a thrilling action-crime film. The movie follows the story of an inspector and agent of the CIB Department who are searching for a drug racket who’s been taking over the city. Soon, an undercover agent known as “Blackjack” sends a mysterious message to the two, and they find themselves shooting their way through Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The plot is full of secret agents, strengthening relationships, deaths and arrests.
Due to the crime-related vocabulary found in the movie, intermediate to advanced learners are likely to enjoy the movie most and follow along more easily.
This movie is also a great alternative to the next film, which is no longer streaming on Netflix.
“Railroad Tigers” (2016)
Starring Jackie Chan, this film follows the story of a heroic band of everyday people who help China fend off the Japanese in WW2. It has action, warmth, comedy and tragedy, and is a fine choice to keep engaged in practicing Chinese.
“Railroad Tigers” is a good choice for beginning learners. The story is easy to follow and the dialogue is crisp.
The conflict of the movie revolves around a bridge that must be destroyed to protect China from the Japanese soldiers. In this process, a small band of village men go through Herculean trials for their country.
Towards the end of the film, a boy from more modern times asks his father some questions about what happened to the heroic fellows. This captures an intimate moment between father and son, conveying a level of drama not found in textbooks, and the clip is short enough to repeat and use for practice.
Practice saying the words from the dialogue—which includes military lingo, comedic banter and some deep thoughts between father and son—and keep building and working your way up to reciting longer and more complicated sentences.
This movie is no longer available to stream on Netflix, but you can get it through Netflix’s DVD mail subscription service.
“The Monkey King 2” (2016)
“The Monkey King 2” draws on Chinese mythology surrounding the Monkey King, a mischievous being.
The plot of this film revolves around the Monkey King protecting a monk from an evil demon. There’s plenty of laughter to be had in watching and learning from this fun film, which is also a great one for beginners.
The dialogue in this film can be either light or heavy depending on the scene. Practice both and keep building that vocabulary! As a learner, you can challenge yourself to use clips of different scenes to piece together more speech by connecting short and simple sentences.
“The Monkey King 2” is available through Netflix’s DVD service.
“Operation Mekong” (2016)
Based on true events, this movie is action-packed, a thrill to watch and perfect for intermediate learners. The vocabulary is advanced, but digestible for intermediates, and an exciting story line will help keep you motivated to learn. In “Operation Mekong,” a team of highly trained narcotics officers are sent to investigate after two Chinese merchant ships are seized on the Mekong River in the Golden Triangle.
Captain Gao Gang, played by actor Zhang Hanyu, leads the effort while being assisted by Fang Xinwu, played by Eddie Peng.
Their suspenseful struggle for justice is nicely paired with bouts of humor. In one scene, Captain Gao teases his companion by smoking a cigarette in front of him after telling him that he shouldn’t smoke because of his health.
You’ll be presented with a lot of high-level sentences in this film, making following it a difficult but not impossible challenge.
This movie is no longer streaming on Netflix but you can find it on Amazon Prime’s streaming service.
Streaming Chinese movies on Netflix will give you much more than an expanded vocabulary. You’ll come out with a vast wealth of reference material, too.
It’s good practice to go back to some of the movies you’ve watched previously and review them. The more you review, the smoother your Chinese will become.
As is true in any discipline, repetition is important.
But streaming Chinese movies makes this facet of learning more fun, and the social insight you’ll gain from these viewings will give you a rich understanding of Chinese society.
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