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.
Bring any reference material you’ve gathered to your learning on FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons. Once you have learning notes from your movies, you can take your learning to the next level by seeking out additional related material from FluentU. You can do this by creating your own custom flashcard sets, searching for material from different regions and using quizzes to study and practice sentence structure.
FluentU enables you to follow up on your Netflix learning by recontextualizing the material you’ve gathered and practicing it with additional authentic content. Plus, unlike with films and TV, FluentU always gives you accurate, interactive subtitles that follow the audio in a video exactly.
Watch Out! The 8 Best Chinese Movies on Netflix Right Now
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.
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.
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 this 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.
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 another 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.
“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.
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.
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 vocabulary having to do with cooking and food in this film.
You’ll learn a lot from this, but it will also make you hungry, so it may be best watched while sampling some delicious Chinese food!
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.”
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.
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.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.