A man and woman sit at a bar in this still from Chungking Express

57 Best Chinese Movies of All Time [Fresh for 2024]

Chinese movies are some of the world’s best cinema.

Whether you prefer martial arts action movies, sweet and funny rom-coms, offbeat comedies or documentaries, we’ve included every genre of Chinese movies on our list, so there’s something for everyone.

Read on to discover the masterpieces of Chinese cinema—and immerse yourself in Chinese language and culture in the process.

Without further adieu, here are the 57 best Chinese movies of all time!

Contents

Best Chinese Action Movies

1. 臥虎藏龍 (wòhǔ cánglóng) — Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Where to watch: Apple TV
Genre: Martial arts, drama, action
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is a visually stunning martial arts epic directed by Ang Lee, set in ancient China.

The film follows the intertwined destinies of several characters, including a warrior who seeks to retire from the martial world, a young noblewoman with a secret past, and a skilled thief who steals a legendary sword. Their paths converge as they become embroiled in a quest for honor, love, and redemption, set against the backdrop of breathtaking landscapes and intricate fight choreography.

Ang Lee’s masterful direction and the film’s poetic storytelling elevate “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” beyond a typical martial arts film. The characters grapple with themes of duty, sacrifice and the pursuit of inner peace, resulting in a deeply resonant and emotionally engaging cinematic experience.

While the dialogue is primarily in Mandarin Chinese, with some Cantonese and other dialects spoken by certain characters, the film offers an immersive linguistic and cultural experience for learners. The dialogue is rich in both formal and colloquial expressions, providing ample opportunities for language acquisition.

2. 让子弹飞 (ràng zǐ dàn fēi) — “Let the Bullets Fly”

Where to watch: Apple TV
Genre: Historical action comedy
Good for: Advanced learners

“Let the Bullets Fly” is set in 1920s China, the exciting era of warlords.

Together with his wife and right-hand man, the new governor of Goose Town is on a train there when a notorious bandit halts the train and steals the governor’s identity. The new fake governor meets his match in the Goose Town slave and opium trader.

Be warned that the language is rather unrelatable. The actors also speak with the Sichuan accent, which may take some getting used to for those who are used to the standard Mandarin accent.

If you’re looking to brush up on or learn more chengyu, this is a good one to watch.

3. 葉問 (yè wèn) — Ip Man

Where to watch: Apple TV
Genre: Martial arts, biography, action
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

“Ip Man” is an exhilarating martial arts biographical film based on the life of the legendary Wing Chun master of the same name.

Set in 1930s Foshan, China, the film chronicles Ip Man’s journey from a respected martial artist to becoming the renowned teacher of Bruce Lee. Amidst the turmoil of war and occupation, Ip Man demonstrates his skill and resilience as he navigates through various challenges, including defending his honor and protecting his family.

The film showcases breathtaking fight choreography and captures the essence of Wing Chun, a style known for its speed, precision and efficiency. Through Ip Man’s encounters with rival martial artists and Japanese invaders, the film explores themes of honor, perseverance and the pursuit of excellence.

While the dialogue is primarily in Cantonese, with some Mandarin and Japanese spoken throughout, “Ip Man” offers an immersive linguistic and cultural experience for learners. The film’s dialogue ranges from formal to informal, providing valuable exposure to different registers of the language.

4. 大魔术师 (dà mó shù shī) — “The Great Magician” 

Where to watch: Prime Video | Netflix
Genre: Action fantasy
Good for: Advanced learners

A tale of a magician who wants to save his lover from a general’s grasp, this movie gets my vote based on the awesome fire tricks alone.

The protagonist oozes cool, busting out gems and doves around all the ladies, making him the life of every party. Other perks of the movie? Badass tanks, great choreography and a scene with quite possibly the fastest Chinese ever spoken.

No, seriously, about an hour and six minutes in—check it out. It’s pretty amazing. 

5. 夺冠 (duó guàn) — “Win”

Where to watch: Prime Video | Viki
Genre: Sports, Action
Good for: Intermediate learners

While I’ve used the direct translation in the heading, the actual English title is “Leap.” 

This 2020 movie is based on real struggles and events surrounding the China Women’s National Volleyball team, particularly their hiatus from the Olympic circuit.

It’s told from the perspective of the current coach, and many of the actors are the volleyball players themselves.

In terms of the type of language and vocab, the conversations revolve around training, teamwork, sportsmanship and the media.

6. 智取威虎山 (zhì qǔ wēi hǔ shān) — “The Taking of Tiger Mountain”

Where to watch: Prime Video | YouTube
Genre: Military, Action
Good for: Intermediate learners

Based on the novel 林海雪原 (lín hǎi xuě yuán) — “Tracks in the Snowy Forest” by Qu Bo, “The Taking of Tiger Mountain” is an enthralling portrayal of a small group of soldiers on a mission to retake land overrun by bandits.

The 2015 movie opens in the wake of World War II with Unit 203 of the People’s Liberation Army running low on food, clothes and other provisions during winter. Nearby villages have been infiltrated and plundered by various groups of bandits, including one village where they encounter a boy who lost his family.

Unit 203 decides to stay in this village to defend the residents against one of the big bandit chiefs, Hawk. One brave soldier volunteers to infiltrate the bandits and act as a spy so their small unit may have a chance at overtaking Hawk’s large criminal network.

Best Chinese Romance Movies

7. 重慶森林 (zhòngqìng sēnlín) — Chungking Express

Where to watch: Apple TV
Genre: Drama, Romance
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

“Chungking Express” is a mesmerizing romantic movie directed by Wong Kar-wai, set in the bustling streets of Hong Kong.

The film intertwines two separate but interconnected stories of love and loss. In the first story, a police officer who recently broke up with his girlfriend becomes infatuated with a mysterious woman who frequents a local fast-food restaurant. In the second story, another police officer encounters a woman who is involved in drug smuggling and finds himself drawn to her despite their circumstances.

Through its dynamic cinematography and evocative storytelling, “Chungking Express” captures the frenetic energy and loneliness of urban life. Wong Kar-wai’s signature visual style, characterized by vibrant colors and kinetic camera movements, creates a dreamlike atmosphere that immerses viewers in the characters’ emotional journeys.

While the dialogue is primarily in Cantonese, with some Mandarin and English mixed in, the film offers a rich linguistic and cultural experience for learners. The dialogue is relatively colloquial and conversational, providing ample opportunity to pick up new vocabulary and expressions.

8. 不能说的秘密 (bù néng shuì de mì mì) — “Secret”

Where to watch: Prime Video
Genre: Drama, Romance
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

A haunting love story that transcends time, this movie is not only a punch in the feels, but also a great film for practicing Chinese.

The very chic and popular Jay Chou (周杰伦) plays the main protagonist, a young piano student who falls in love with a mysterious girl.

The Mandarin is succinct and the vocabulary is easy to pull apart. And if you’re into classical music, the soundtrack to this film is pretty impressive. It’s cute, playful and funny, too.

9. 后来的我们 (hòu lái de wǒ men) — “Later Us”

Where to watch: Netflix
Genre: Romance
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

Although literally translated as “Later Us,” this movie is called “Us and Them” in English. “Us” and “them” represents the past and present.

In the past, a random encounter on a train back home brings two strangers together. In the present, they reunite at the airport and spend the night together after their flight gets delayed.

The story toggles back and forth between their present and past relationship, showing how they’ve loved and struggled over the years. This is definitely a tear-jerker, so you might want to have some tissues handy.

The love story is modern and by far one of the most realistic on this list. “Us and Them” gets into the nitty-gritty of relationship issues, which is a good challenge for advanced learners.

10. 我的蛋男情人 (wǒ de dàn nán qíng rén) — “My Egg Boy”

Where to watch: Disney Plus
Genre: Romance
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

If you enjoy romance films like “The Notebook,” then you’ll like “My Egg Boy.”

The story is about a woman seeking love and hoping to start a family. She eventually meets Mr. Right, and their journey takes them to the wintry Alps, where the snow becomes a symbol for love frozen in time.

One character is a chef, so there are many references to food and cooking. Vocabulary to listen for includes words like 新鲜 (xīn xiān) — fresh, 冻结 (dòng jié) — frozen and other terms pertaining to food types and preparation.

11. 我的父亲母亲 (wǒ de fù qīn mǔ qīn) — “The Road Home”

Where to watch: Apple TV | Prime Video
Genre: Romance
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

“The Road Home” is a subtle, sweet love story set about fifty years ago in rural China.

A small village gets a new schoolteacher. One of the village girls falls in love with him and they’re eventually married. Many years later, the woman is determined that her husband’s burial procession will be on foot. It’s a long enough journey that most would take by car, but she’s quite stubborn.

The majority of the story takes place when they’re young. The advantage for the learner is that there aren’t too many characters, the story is very easy to follow and there’s some narration by the old couple’s son.

The film has great visuals and great music, which really keep you along for the ride. It also gives the Chinese language learner a chance to see life in rural China before the Cultural Revolution modernization and without any of those themes.

12. 明天记得爱上我 (míng tiān jì de ài shàng wǒ) — “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”

Where to watch: Apple TV | Prime Video | Tubi
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Good for: Beginner to Intermediate learners

The story centers around a married man with a six-year-old son, who suddenly finds himself questioning his sexuality. Inside he’s tormented because he finds himself having feelings for a male flight attendant, but at the same time he still loves his family dearly.

Not only is the movie provocative for Chinese cinema, it’s also beautifully done. It’s very whimsical with imaginative interpretations of the protagonists’ thoughts and feelings. 

As for language opportunities, the dialogue is simple—a perfect film to dissect for all sorts of delicious colloquialisms. This movie has some bite, but the social commentary is excellent.

13. 那些年,我们一起追的女孩 (nà xiē nián,wǒ men yī qǐ zhuī de nǚ hái) — “You Are the Apple of My Eye”

Where to watch: Amazon | iQIYI
Genre: Drama, Coming of Age
Good for: Beginners to intermediate learners

“You Are the Apple of My Eye” is a coming-of-age story that surrounds a group of friends in a private school in Taiwan who all end up falling in love with the star pupil, Shen Jiayi.

The movie explores each kid’s journey of falling in love with the same girl, showcasing their individual experiences and internal struggles with teen love with the backdrop of Taiwanese culture.

This is a modern classic that will have you reaching for a box of tissues. When it first came out in 2011, it was an instant hit as it ignited viewers’ nostalgia for young love and their first relationships.

This movie is perfect for beginners since it’s filled with conversational phrases, colloquialisms and words applicable to day-to-day life. The language used never gets too deep, but the dialogue still gets you in the feels.

14. 分手合约 (fēn shǒu hé yuē) — “A Wedding Invitation”

Where to watch: iQIYI | YouTube
Genre: Drama, Romance
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

In “A Wedding Invitation,” high school sweethearts almost make it to university graduation.

A surprise proposal throws the girl off and lets her boyfriend know that she isn’t ready. They forge a breakup agreement: if neither one of them are in a relationship in five years, they’ll get married.

Five years later, the young woman receives a call from her ex. She hopes they’ll fulfill their agreement. Instead, she receives an invitation to his wedding. She decides she has to win him back, one way or another.

While the language isn’t complicated, and is in fact relatable in social situations and relationships, some of the characters do speak with an accent. They also speak moderately fast, and some of them sound like they’re mumbling, so this movie is best for intermediate learners.

15. 温暖的抱抱 (wēn nuǎn de bào bào) — “Warm Hug”

Where to watch: Apple TV | Viki
Genre: Romantic comedy
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

Also released in 2020, “Warm Hug” is a musically centered romantic comedy.

It features two main characters who are polar opposites: a man who has inherited his parents’ loveless and obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and a woman who leads a rather messy lifestyle.

The two are bound by their passion for music, as the man is a piano teacher and the woman a singer-songwriter. With the woman’s help, the man slowly but surely learns about life, emotions and the warmth of a hug by welcoming a little chaos into his life.

16. 天台愛情 (tiān tái ài qíng) — “The Rooftop”

Where to watch: Prime Video | YouTube
Genre: Musical
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

This Taiwanese musical film starring singer Jay Chao takes place in a fantasy world where conflict arises between two communities: a happy-go-lucky group that lives and sings on a rooftop, and a more affluent class that lives below.

This musical is a great way to improve your Chinese since learning through songs is another way of acquiring new vocabulary and adding a breath of novelty.

Research also suggests a cognitive connection between music and language learning. For example, subjects who heard a series of unfamiliar words were more able to accurately distinguish one word from the next when the words were sung.

Best Chinese Comedy Movies

17. 幸福时光 (xìng fú shí guāng) — “Happy Times”

Where to watch: Apple TV
Genre: Comedy
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

“Happy Times” is a bit of an offbeat comedy with a very funny story. Like many Chinese movies, though, don’t expect it to be goofy and silly just for the sake of it; it’s also quite mature.

The characters consist of a motley crew of retired friends who set up a fake hotel in an abandoned warehouse and, with good-hearted intentions, hire a blind girl to work in the “hotel.”

There are lots of hilarious interactions between the friends as their scheme develops. It might be hard to focus on the language being spoken between all the laughs, but it will be worth the effort.

You’ll find this one perfect for learning light-hearted conversation and everyday expressions of romance and friendship.

18. 大喜临门 (dà xǐ lín mén) — “The Wonderful Wedding”

Where to watch: Apple TV
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Good for: Intermediate learners

The literal translation of the title is “there’s a lot of joy coming.” Ironic, since the main characters’ experiences are anything but joyful.

“The Wonderful Wedding” tells the story of a couple—a Taiwanese woman and a mainland Chinese man—who want to get married but need approval from their parents. With clashing cultures and traditions, building a bridge between the two families is no easy feat.

Wedding-themed movies are great for Chinese learners since the content and language are relatable. You’ll also be exposed to vocabulary related to family dynamics and interactions.

I recommend this movie for intermediate learners because of the speaking pace, regional dialects and homonyms. That’s right—you’ll learn what it means to be punny in Mandarin, especially with number slang and how it differs between Taiwan and China.

19. 重返20岁 (chóng fǎn 20 suì) — “20 Once Again”

Where to watch: Prime Video
Genre: Romantic comedy
Good for: Intermediate learners

You might see the English name of this period romantic comedy film as “Miss Granny” or “20 Once Again.”

It features a cranky and fearsome old lady who visits a portrait studio, thinking she will leave one final impression of herself for the world. Upon leaving the studio, she discovers that she has magically transformed into her 20-year-old self and has a chance to relive her youth.

“Miss Granny” is both fun and informative. You’ll see Asian society and fashion from the ’60s and ’70s. Much of the vocabulary is related to age, youth and looks.

20. 滚蛋吧,肿瘤君! (gǔn dàn ba, zhǒng liú jūn!) — “Go Away, Mr. Tumor!”

Where to watch: Apple TV | Viki
Genre: Dark comedy
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

This movie is based on a true story, chronicling the life of Chinese cartoonist Xiong Dun, and specifically how she dealt with her cancer diagnosis through her lighthearted web series.

Life seems to be falling apart before Xiong Dun’s 29th birthday. She loses her job and her boyfriend, and also collapses in her apartment while entertaining friends, landing her in the hospital where she receives her cancer diagnosis.

Her doctor turns out to be very attractive, inspiring her to daydream about hilarious and ridiculous scenarios that help her persevere through these dark circumstances.

While there’s talk about cancer, treatment and health in general, the language doesn’t get too clinical, which makes this movie approachable for beginners. Her daydreams keep the story super light, and will teach you quite a bit about pop culture.

21. 人再囧途之泰囧 (rén zài jiǒng tú zhī tài jiǒng) — “Lost in Thailand” 

Where to watch: Apple TV | Prime Video | Tubi
Genre: Travel comedy
Good for: Intermediate learners

There’s something about Chinese comedy that is very endearing and old-fashioned. This film is no exception.

A businessman is on the hunt for a certain shareholder who’s willing to invest in his newest technology, “Super Gas.” He finds himself racing to Thailand to beat out his competitor. On the way, he meets Bao Bao, a quirky but lovable character who manages to get them into all sorts of mishaps but also helps the protagonist learn some life lessons along the way.

This movie is like “The Hangover” meets “The Three Stooges” in all its slapstick glory. Best parts: the random Chinglish spoken throughout and the awesome bloopers at the end will have you laughing out loud.

22. 一点就到家 (yì diǎn jiù dào jiā) — “Get Home at One Point”

Where to watch: Prime Video
Genre: Fish out of water comedy
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

The English title of this movie is actually “Coffee or Tea?”, which definitely has a better ring to it than the literal translation.

In this 2020 film, three friends from the city decide to move to a small village in hopes of escaping their problems and starting over. With big entrepreneurial dreams, they start a coffee and tea company, using whatever means necessary to sell their products.

“Coffee or Tea?” is a fun comedic film, but it’s definitely fast-paced in terms of plot and talking speed. Expect to pick up terms related to startups and other business lingo.

23. 過年好 (guò nián hǎo) — “New Year’s Eve of Old Lee”

Where to watch: Apple TV
Genre: Family comedy
Good for: Intermediate learners

This is a family-friendly film starring Chinese heartthrob Aaron Yan.

“New Year’s Eve of Old Lee” is about a daughter returning home from Beijing after a brief leave of absence—only to reveal that she has given birth to a child. This creates conflict across three generations of family members.

This movie provides a glimpse into Chinese family structure and how it differs from that of Western families.

You’ll also learn family-based vocabulary. For instance, Mandarin has multiple terms for words like “uncle” and “aunt,” depending on which side of the family the person is from and whether they are older or younger than your parent.

24. 落叶归根 (luò yè guī gēn) — “Getting Home”

Where to watch: Prime Video
Genre: Comedy
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

“Getting Home” is a comedy about a man who agrees to take his friend’s body home for a proper burial, having previously promised his friend a favor.

With no money for transportation, the man has to find a way to travel home. Along his journey (with his friend’s remains), he meets a wide variety of characters with whom he has really funny but touching interactions.

He gets himself into and out of a lot of comical situations. The story is fun and the dialogue is easy to follow. The main character is played by Zhao Benshan from “Happy Times,” mentioned above. The film should be available with both English and Chinese subtitles, which is great for Chinese learners.

25. 饮食男女 (yǐn shí nán nǚ) — “Eat Drink Man Woman”

Where to watch: Prime Video | Tubi
Genre: Family comedy
Good for: Intermediate learners

“Eat Drink Man Woman” is another film set in modern Taipei. This story shows a retired chef and his three daughters who all share one meal together each week.

The story is about a change in traditional values, and the portrayal of the daughters’ individual lives and successes show this clearly.

The side plot highlights another theme that often runs through Chinese stories: food. There are many scenes that quite appetizingly highlight the retired chef preparing meals.

Eating delicious food and sharing mealtimes are very important aspects of Chinese culture that any Chinese learner should familiarize themselves with. And like the other Taiwanese films mentioned, the language is quite helpful for Chinese learners to tune their ears.

Best Chinese Historical Dramas

26. 花樣年華 (huāyàng niánhuá) — “In the Mood for Love”

Where to watch: Apple TV
Genre: Romance, historical drama
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

“In the Mood for Love” takes you on a mesmerizing journey into the romantic allure of 1960s Hong Kong.

Following the lives of two neighboring souls, the film delicately weaves a tale of intimacy born from shared suspicion over their spouses’ infidelity. Amidst the backdrop of loneliness and betrayal, they find solace in each other, forging a profound bond.

Crafted by the masterful hands of Wong Kar-wai, this cinematic masterpiece is celebrated for its breathtaking visuals that flawlessly encapsulate the essence of unrequited love and yearning.

Though the dialogue remains refreshingly simple, the occasional switch to Cantonese might present a hurdle for Mandarin learners.

27. 大红灯笼高高挂 (dà hóng dēng long gāo gāo guà) — “Raise the Red Lantern”

Where to watch: Prime Video | YouTube
Genre: Historical epic
Good for: Intermediate learners

Like “To Live” (see under Family Dramas), “Raise the Red Lantern” is a film by Zhang Yimou that has been banned in mainland China.

The film shows a wealthy man’s household of four wives and their interactions—sometimes friendly, often jealous and conniving. The story is quite captivating, especially as the plot develops and the film comes to a very dramatic climax.

“Raise the Red Lantern” is set in the 1920s, a time period that involved a great deal of cultural progression. This is significantly different from the setting of the Cultural Revolution which is so popular in Chinese cinema.

The story is good for variety and depth for Chinese learners. The Chinese spoken is relatively easy to understand for learners, and the film is absorbing enough that you’ll want to pay close attention.

28. 霸王别姬 (bàwáng bié jī) — “Farewell My Concubine”

Where to watch: Prime Video
Genre: Historical drama, LGBT
Good for: Intermediate learners

“Farewell My Concubine” is a film that follows the journey of two men in a Beijing opera troupe from 1924 to 1977, during a period of political instability in China.

In the movie, Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou befriend each other as kids. As they grow older and become famous opera stars, a high-class courtesan throws a wrench in their friendship. Juxian, the concubine, is played by none other than Gong Li.

For the history buffs out there, this is the movie for you.

Note the length of the movie before you begin, as it’s nearly three hours. There’s much to be learned from this visually appealing cinematic piece, but the amount of content might be overwhelming for beginners. Intermediate learners will benefit from dividing the movie into segments to spread across several lessons or study sessions.

29. 危險關係 (wēi xiǎn guān xì) — “Dangerous Liaisons”

Where to watch: Prime Video | Tubi
Genre: Historical drama, suspense
Good for: Intermediate learners

Fans of “House of Cards” who enjoy plain evil deception and tales of treachery will love this movie. It is one of several adaptations of the novel “Les Liaisons dangereuses” (Dangerous Liaisons) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.

Taking place in 1940s Shanghai, this film chronicles a wager made between a man and a woman that thrill themselves on creating the kind of drama and danger that could ruin lives.

The cinematography is decadent and vibrant creating picturesque scenes of glamorous Shanghai amidst a budding communist movement. Think “Great Gatsby” meets “Cruel Intentions,” but Chinese.

30. 金陵十三钗 (jīn líng shí sān chāi) — “The Flowers of War”

Where to watch: Prime Video | Tubi
Genre: Historical drama
Good for: Intermediate learners

This film takes place in 1937 amidst the second Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese are taking over the city of Nanking and begin to carry out the brutal Nanking Massacre.

An American mortician, John Miller (played by Christian Bale), is in town to bury a priest of a Roman Catholic Cathedral when the Japanese attack. A diverse group of people end up seeking shelter at the cathedral including school girls, an orphan boy and prostitutes. Mistaken for a priest, Miller tries to protect everyone and come up with an escape plan. The girls begin to get to know each other and form some plans of their own.

Based on the novella 金陵十三钗 (jīn líng shí sān chāi) — “13 Flowers of Nanjing” by Geling Yan, this movie depicts the harrowing story of school girls seeking shelter during the Japanese invasion of Nanking and the bravery of everyone involved.

Best Chinese Family Dramas

31. 别告诉她 (bié gàosù tā) — “Don’t Tell Her” (“The Farewell” in English)

Where to watch: Apple TV
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

“The Farewell” is a heartfelt drama-comedy that explores themes of family, culture and identity through the lens of a Chinese-American immigrant family.

The film follows Billi, a young woman who returns to her native China with her family to attend a wedding that has been hastily planned as a cover for a gathering to say goodbye to her beloved grandmother, who is terminally ill. As they navigate the complexities of concealing the truth from the grandmother, who is unaware of her diagnosis, Billi confronts her own feelings of cultural displacement and the meaning of family bonds.

Directed by Lulu Wang, “The Farewell” is based on Wang’s own experiences and is celebrated for its authentic portrayal of intergenerational relationships and the immigrant experience. The film strikes a delicate balance between humor and poignancy, offering profound insights into the human condition.

While the dialogue is primarily in Mandarin Chinese, with some English spoken by the Chinese-American characters, “The Farewell” offers an immersive linguistic and cultural experience for learners. The film’s dialogue reflects the nuances of cross-cultural communication and provides valuable exposure to colloquial expressions and idiomatic language.

32. 一一 (yī yī) — “Yi Yi: A One and a Two”

Where to watch: Amazon | iTunes
Genre: Family drama
Good for: Intermediate learners

“Yi Yi” is a drama about a family in Taiwan who face complex challenges in life.

The film shows the challenges of each individual separately. The family lives a very modern lifestyle. The children’s stories turn out to be the most captivating, but all the characters are compelling. It’s interesting to watch them speak to the grandmother, who’s in a coma.

The cast speaks very clear, standard Mandarin Chinese, and thus it’s quite good for the ears of Chinese learners. The film is rather long with plenty of dialogue, making it ideal for intensive practice in listening and comprehension.

33. 活着 (huó zhe) — “To Live”

Where to watch: Prime Video | YouTube
Genre: Histocial epic
Good for: Intermediate learners

“To Live” should be near the top of anyone’s list of best movies for learning Chinese. It’s what many Chinese cinema buffs would describe as the quintessential film about the Cultural Revolution.

This film serves to illustrate the changes taking place for families during this tumultuous time. From humor to heartache, birth to death and everything in between, “To Live” shows it all.

It’s a large enough production to tackle issues from a big-picture perspective but has intimate character portrayals that help us identify with the situation on an individual level. This is a culturally-rich film with unique benefits for Chinese learners.

The dialogue used is usually simple enough for an intermediate-level Chinese learner to follow, with or without subtitles. Of course, learning Chinese characters and watching the film with Chinese subtitles can be much more enriching.

34. 蓝风筝 (lán fēng zhēng) — “The Blue Kite”

Where to watch: Amazon
Genre: Historical drama
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

“The Blue Kite” might easily rival “To Live” as a defining film for the turbulence experienced by families during the Cultural Revolution.

What sets “The Blue Kite” apart is that the story is told from the perspective of a little boy. It’s hard not to become attached to Tietou (the main character) as he passes the years of his young childhood with three different father figures.

Many scenes involve him and family members having simple conversations, meaning that everything is spoken by or to a child. There are also plenty of simple conversations between the adults that are easy to follow for new Chinese learners.

The film is great for beginners and, though it’s simple, it’s evocative and compelling. It has a great selection of vocabulary that you can use to discuss family, history and culture.

35. 和你在一起 (hé nǐ zài yì qǐ) — “Together”

Where to watch: Prime Video
Genre: Music drama
Good for: Intermediate learners

“Together” tells the story of a man who wants his son to succeed as a violin player. This film displays a common Chinese mentality that success comes from extreme focus and even greater sacrifice.

The man and his son move to Beijing so the boy can enter a music competition. The hardworking father very often puts his son’s competition ahead of their own relationship, the emotional core of the movie.

Complementing this tension, the relationship between the child and his violin teacher is quite humorous and entertaining. Overall, “Together” gives us a glimpse of the challenges faced by many Chinese moving to big cities.

Many of the characters speak with heavy accents, but this is good for learners to be exposed to—you’ll need to get used to many different accents when communicating with people from different areas in China.

36. 变脸 (biàn liǎn) — “The King of Masks”

Where to watch: Prime Video
Genre: Drama
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

“The King of Masks” is a heartwarming story of a traveling entertainer who excels at his particular performance, a mask-changing show.

The aging performer wants to pass on his skills, but he has no son or grandson. He adopts a young boy, but he is presented with a unique challenge when he finds out the truth about the child.

The relationship between the two has some rocky developments, extreme situations and a very dramatic climax. The glimpses of their life at home, aboard a houseboat, is fascinating.

The scenes of street performances from long ago and street life are also very educational for Chinese learners. The conversations between the old man and the child are often amusing and quite easy to understand.

37. 向日葵 (xiàng rì kuí) — “Sunflower”

Where to watch: YouTube
Genre: Dramatic epic
Good for: Intermediate learners

“Sunflower” is a post-Cultural Revolution story that shows the changes taking place during the last century in China.

The father, who was “re-educated” during the Cultural Revolution, wants his son to follow in his artist’s footsteps. This puts strain on the family. The problems still linger ten years later when the boy, now a man, informs his parents of a big decision.

For the most part, “Sunflower” is told from the perspective of the boy during his youth.

The film moves at a good pace for learners to keep up with and focus on the conversations. There’s also some narration and monologues for the Chinese learner to more easily follow all the thoughts and ideas projected by the main characters.

Best Modern Chinese Dramas

38. 小时代 (xiǎo shí dài) — “Tiny Times 1.0”

Where to watch: Prime Video | Viki
Genre: Drama
Good for: Intermediate learners

“Tiny Times” is about four friends in their prime navigating life in the glamorous city of Shanghai.

New jobs, schedules and love interests add conflict to their dynamics, testing friendships and themselves in ways they’ve never experienced before. The story follows four women with contrasting personalities in different careers, so there’s quite a bit going on.

“Tiny Times” might be overwhelming for beginners, but intermediates will enjoy the movie and can easily pick up language related to work-life balance, romance and friendship.

If you end up invested in the lives of these characters, there’s also a sequel!

39. 十七岁的单车 (shí qī suì de dānchē) — “Beijing Bicycle”

Where to watch: Look for the DVD on Amazon
Genre: Drama, Coming of age
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

“Beijing Bicycle” is another parallel story, this time of two males. It’s the tale of Guei and Jian, the former being a hardworking peasant boy, and the latter a middle-class high school student from the city.

The Chinese title literally translates to “Seventeen-Year-Old Bicycle,” meaning that both boys are seventeen years old. Guei has a bike that he paid for using hard-earned wages. The two boys’ lives are suddenly intertwined when Jian steals Guei’s bike.

The plot is a bit repetitive, which slows the progression of the film. However, the dialogue is simple enough for both intermediates and beginners to understand.

“Beijing Bicycle” offers great insight into Chinese youth and the struggles in teen culture. It’s an amazing film if you love dramas, as it has phenomenal acting and a beautiful soundtrack.

40. 宠爱 (chǒng ài) — “Adoring”

Where to watch: Apple TV | Prime Video | Viki
Genre: Dramatic omnibus
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

Referring to the love for pets, “Adoring” follows a veterinarian who provides care for the animals in her community.

She’s touched by the stories of six pets and their owners, all interconnected in one way or another. Facing their individual problems, they come to realize their devotion to their animals helps them learn to love and push through their struggles.

Of course, you’ll hear vocabulary related to animals and animal care. The pet owners have varying relationship statuses, so beginners will also learn language surrounding relationship dynamics.

Best Chinese Movies About Social Issues

41. 一个都不能少 (yí gè dōu bù néng shǎo) — “Not One Less”

Where to watch: Prime Video | Apple TV
Genre: Drama
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

“Not One Less” is a simple story about a schoolteacher in a village in rural China. This film highlights another very interesting aspect of life in China: the discrepancies in education of children in rural and urban China.

In the school in this story, even one piece of chalk seems a luxury. The schoolteacher herself is only a child. One of the students runs away to the city and the teacher is forced to go look for him to keep her job.

The film uses wonderfully simple Chinese in conversation, and you should be able to view it with Chinese subtitles. An advantage is that many of the actors are non-professionals. They’re more or less acting in their own vernacular. This makes the film seem very real, making it an even more touching story.

42. 秋菊打官司 (qiū jú dǎ guān si) — “The Story of Qiu Ju”

Where to watch: Prime Video
Genre: Period drama
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

“The Story of Qiu Ju” stars Gong Li (also the main character in “Raise the Red Lantern” and “To Live”). Here, she plays a heartening role as a determined woman in pursuit of justice.

The village chief kicks her husband in the groin during a dispute. Even though she’s pregnant, she travels to the city to pursue a case against the man. She appeals her way higher through the system, but the results seem frustrating at best.

This movie shows an authentic image of China in the early 1990s through the employment of documentary-style shots of street scenes.

The language in this film is less like movie script lines and more like everyday speech, so it’s great for learners. “The Story of Qiu Ju” is awesome practice for more advanced learners.

43. 失孤 (shī gū) — “Lost and Love”

Where to watch: Prime Video | Apple TV | Viki
Genre: Drama, suspense, political
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

“Lost and Love” follows the story of Lei, a poor farmer whose toddler son is kidnapped.

Lei sets off on a 14-year journey in search of his son, traveling China’s countryside on an old motorbike. Along the way, Lei meets a young man who shared a fate similar to Lei’s son—he too was kidnapped as a child.

This film explores an ongoing social problem in China: human trafficking. It also examines this issue from the perspective of a poor farmer, who, in many ways, is the quintessential Chinese man.

You’ll see scenes of China’s vast countryside and get a glimpse of rural life, which is the reality for half of China’s population. The language used gives you insight into Lei’s pain, such as: 为什么偏偏 (wèi shén me piān piān) — Why does it have to be this way?

Best Chinese Crime and Horror Movies

44. 無間道 (wújiāndào) — Infernal Affairs

Where to watch: Apple TV
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

“Infernal Affairs” is a gripping crime thriller that delves into the complex world of undercover policing and organized crime in Hong Kong.

The film follows two parallel storylines: one follows a police officer who infiltrates a triad organization as an undercover agent, while the other tracks a triad member who infiltrates the police force as a mole. As tensions escalate and loyalties are tested, both protagonists find themselves trapped in a dangerous game of deception and betrayal.

Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, “Infernal Affairs” is renowned for its tight pacing, intricate plot twists and intense performances. The film explores themes of identity, morality and the blurred lines between good and evil, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats until the very end.

While the dialogue is primarily in Cantonese, with some Mandarin and English spoken by certain characters, “Infernal Affairs” offers an immersive linguistic and cultural experience for learners. The film’s dialogue ranges from street slang to formal police jargon, providing valuable exposure to various registers of the language.

45. 大上海 (dà shàng hǎi) — “The Last Tycoon”

Where to watch: Apple TV | Prime Video
Genre: Crime drama
Good for: Intermediate learners

Set in 1940s Shanghai, this movie takes you through the rise and fall of one of Shanghai’s biggest kingpins.

If you love shows about the underground crime world (like “Breaking Bad”), this might hold a special appeal for you. That being said, it can be a little over the top with the cheesiness at times.

Still, you can’t go wrong with an epic knife vs. bamboo battle scene! 

46. 苏州河 (sū zhōu hé) — “Suzhou River”

Where to watch: Amazon | Apple TV | Google Play
Genre: Mystery, crime
Good for: Intermediate to advanced learners

The Suzhou River near Shanghai is a polluted waterway flowing with secrets. The main character rides his motorcycle alongside it every day, delivering packages all over the city for his clients—no questions asked.

One day, he gets a request to pick up a criminal’s teenaged daughter and drop her off at her aunt’s place. The girl suspects that she’s being kidnapped for ransom, so she jumps into the river and drowns herself.

Charged with murder, the motorcycle courier serves several years in prison. After he’s released, he meets a nightclub worker who’s a spitting image of the criminal’s dead daughter.

There’s a lot of interesting albeit random vocabulary in the movie. If you’ve ever wondered how to say “bison grass vodka” or “Schwarzenegger” in Mandarin, this movie is for you.

Aside from pop culture references, you’ll also learn some slang and terms related to nightlife and infatuation, which is helpful and intriguing for beginners and intermediates alike.

47. 紅衣小女孩 (hóng yī xiǎo nǚ hái) — “The Tag-Along 2”

Where to watch: Prime Video | YouTube
Genre: Horror
Good for: Intermediate learners

Asian horror movies rose in international popularity in the 2000s following the release of the chilling American films “The Ring” and “The Grudge,” both based on Japanese horror flicks.

In “The Tag-Along 2” (sequel to “The Tag-Along”), Rainie Yang plays a social worker in search of her missing teen daughter who has disappeared on a reportedly haunted mountain. In her quest, she unravels many terrifying mysteries.

In this film, you’ll learn some unique terms that you might not pick up in a standard Chinese course. This includes vocabulary like 惡魔 (è mó) — demon, 鬼 (guǐ) — ghost and 詛咒 (zǔ zhòu) — curse. These are helpful for discussing topics like Chinese urban legends and other creepy stuff.

Best Chinese Fantasy Movies

48. 美人鱼 (měi rén yú) — “The Mermaid”

Where to watch: Apple TV | Prime Video | Viki
Genre: Fantasy, comedy
Good for: Intermediate learners

In this fantasy film, mermaids and humans have long struggled to coexist, and humans have grown more violent toward the ocean species.

When a real estate tycoon invests in a pristine coastal reserve inhabited by the last remaining mermaid population, enough is enough for the underwater community. They send their most beautiful mermaid to seduce the businessman and prevent any sort of property development in and around their home.

The premise of “The Mermaid” is outrageous, but it’s a unique and comedic way to learn about real estate, mythical creatures and the art of seduction in Chinese.

Given the vocabulary and subject matter, this one is best suited for intermediate Chinese learners, but the characters speak slow enough for advanced beginners who are up for a challenge.

49. 大鱼海棠 (dà yú hǎi táng) — “Big Fish & Begonia”

Where to watch: Apple TV  | Prime Video
Genre: Animated, historical
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

In this movie based on ancient Chinese legends, a magical realm exists under the ocean. One ocean girl decides to explore the human world by transforming into a dolphin.

She soon feels a connection with a human boy, who sacrifices himself to save her. She uses magic to bring him back to life, but the noble act has its consequences.

Cartoons and animated movies are always a good choice for Chinese learners, especially beginners. The beautiful animations make the movie very easy to understand even if you have zero experience with Mandarin.

While some of the mythical-themed vocab may not be applicable to everyday life, the voice actors speak slowly enough that you won’t have a difficult time following the dialogue.

50. 画皮 (huà pí) — “Painted Skin: The Resurrection”

Where to watch: Prime Video
Genre: Supernatural, fantasy
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

First of all, this movie is absolutely gorgeous. The combination of artistic cinematography with breathtaking backdrops, resplendent costumes and excellent special effects makes it easy for you to get lost in a supernatural world of demons and princesses.

One demon in particular, a fox demon, must consume the hearts of men in order to stay young and can only become human if a man willingly gives his heart to her. She crosses paths with a princess whose kingdom is crumbling around her and covets the heart of a man who once protected her.

Problem is, this fox demon wants the same heart. If you want lavish image associations to enhance your language learning experience, this movie will make it easy.

51. 一万年以后 (yī wàn nián yǐ hòu) — “10,000 Years Later”

Where to watch: YouTube
Genre: Animated, fantasy
Good for: Intermediate learners

“10,000 Years Later” is a Chinese animated action fantasy. The movie reimagines Chinese legends about human evil, the gods and epic battles. It’s like sci-fi mythology.

Ten thousand years after the world was destroyed in a global catastrophe, new life has returned. New species of animals and humans roam the earth, and an entirely new civilization is built up.

You’ll hear some awesome adjectives in this movie, like 上古 (shàng gǔ) — ancient, 文明 (wén míng) — civilized and 巅峰 (diān fēng) — peak/ultimate. Obviously, you’ll get a great lesson on vocabulary related to the past, the future and civilization.

52. 九层妖塔 (jiǔ céng yāo tǎ) — “Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe”

Where to watch: Prime Video | YouTube
Genre: Fantasy, supernatural
Good for: Intermediate learners

This movie chronicles the adventures of former soldier Hu Bayi (played by Taiwanese-Canadian actor Mark Chao), who works at an archaeological site on a snow-capped mountain in China.

One day there’s an explosion on site that leads to a cavern full of unfamiliar bones. An archaeologist explains that this site could be an ancient site of the mythical ghost tribe. Hu Bayi becomes more curious about this ghost tribe and teams up with the archaeologist and his daughter to discover more.

Based on Zhang Muye’s bestselling fantasy novel series 鬼吹灯 (guǐ chuī dēng) — “Ghost Blows Out the Light,” the protagonists of this book-to-film adaptation encounter curses, mythical creatures and doomed love—all in high definition!

Best Chinese Documentaries

53.  归途列车 (guī tú liè chē) — “Last Train Home”

Where to watch: iTunes | Prime Video
Genre: Documentary, culture
Good for: Intermediate learners

“Last Train Home” gives a great look at a very interesting, important aspect of modern life in China: trying to get home during the holidays.

This international award-winning film is a documentary about the hundreds of millions traveling at once during the national holidays in China. It centers around one family who is separated physically and emotionally by the need to move to large cities to find work.

While the main characters usually speak with a heavy dialectal accent, the film still teaches at least one main thing about China: don’t attempt to travel by train during the Chinese New Year. This film is full of great vocabulary for describing transportation, basic business terms and family dynamics.

54. 请投我一票 (qǐng tóu wǒ yí piào) — “Please Vote for Me”

Where to watch: YouTube
Genre: Documentary, politics
Good for: Beginner to intermediate learners

“Please Vote For Me” is a documentary about a democratic election (supposedly the first of such in China) for class monitor in an elementary school in Wuhan, China.

The film follows the three candidates through many classroom scenes, debates and coaching sessions with their parents. It’s a very modern look at middle-class life in China. The story is great for Chinese learners.

Some of the scenes have a lot of background noise with the students all yelling. However, there are also many scenes of conversations between the kids and with their parents, meaning that the language used is relatively simple. Since the content and the vocabulary used in the conversations isn’t too complex, the story is easy to follow.

55. 北京出租车 (běi jīng chū zū chē) — “Beijing Taxi”

Where to watch: Prime Video | Apple TV
Genre: Documentary, work
Good for: Intermediate learners

“Beijing Taxi” is a documentary that follows three taxi drivers through Beijing in 2008, in the time leading up to the Beijing Olympics.

The city of Beijing changed a lot during that time. For example, many old neighborhoods were torn down to make room for the Olympic facilities. This is reflected in the comments of the three featured individuals.

“Beijing Taxi” gives a great look at the everyday lives of hardworking people in the midst of changes they have little control over.

Most Chinese learners will be familiar with the Beijing accent, especially if they’ve done any audio lessons. Such lessons typically feature this northern Chinese accent.

56. “Up the Yangtze”

Where to watch: Prime Video
Genre: Documentary, environmental
Good for: Intermediate learners

“Up the Yangtze” documents the enormous effects the Three Gorges Dam project had on many people.

It shows one family whose home will be covered by the flooding caused by the dam. Ironically, the daughter of the family finds work on a cruise boat on the river. The other main character is an ambitious, popular young worker on the boat.

The film really drives home the changes that modern China is going through. The young girl from the countryside works hard, trying to find her place in a new environment. The proud boy is ambitious for new opportunities but lacks the values and traditions that are so strong for others.

Individual and cultural changes like these are likely the subjects of many conversations that Chinese learners will have with native speakers. In that way, “Up the Yangtze” makes for a great learning experience.

57. 一路逆风 (yī lù nì fēng) — “G-Force”

Where to watch: Apple TV
Genre: Documentary, Music
Good for: Intermediate learners

This docu-film chronicles the journey to stardom for famous idol G.E.M.

If you’re already a fan of the Hong Kong-based singer, you’ll enjoy the interviews with family members, producers and G.E.M. herself. The interviews are in Mandarin, English and even Cantonese.

There’s plenty of vocabulary to be learned by watching the various interviews discussing G.E.M.’s 生活 (shēng huó) — life.

Strategies for Learning Chinese from Movies

Don’t get the popcorn popping just yet. First, we’ve got to go over some strategies for how to approach Chinese-language films.

Watch actively

Sure, some days you’ll want to just sit back and relax, not worrying if you’ve understood every last detail. However, you’ll get much greater educational value out of an active watching experience.

Pause and rewind when you miss half of a complicated dialogue. Go back and watch these tricky scenes until you understand every word.

As you watch the same scene repeatedly, keep an eye on the subtitles below and mouth lines along with the actors if possible.

Keep a notebook nearby and jot down new vocabulary or puzzling sentence structures so you can revisit what you’ve learned later.

Actively watching movies will help you pay closer attention and become thoroughly engrossed in the language.

Use Chinese subtitles to your advantage

Too many language learners slip into the habit of watching Chinese movies with English subtitles and using their more comfortable language as a crutch.

Alternatively, just as many Chinese students try to fly solo and play movies without any subtitles at all (even pinyin subs), inevitably resulting in undue frustration.

FluentU can help you get started with both active watching and using subtitles properly.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

P.S. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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Re-watch without subtitles

If you haven’t seen the movie before, watch it once or twice through with subtitles so that you can understand the plot and study the language.

Once you feel like you’ve got the story down, you can remove the subtitles and focus on listening to the movie instead of reading it. This is great for testing if you remember the new vocabulary words you picked up from the movie! 

If repeating the entire movie feels too long, try picking just your favorite scenes. This way you can focus on scenes that have a lot of visually interesting things, which can help your brain create image associations with the new vocabulary.

Pick genres and topics that you genuinely enjoy

You want to learn about Chinese history and culture, or understand more about the Cultural Revolution—that’s all well and good. However, you’ll steadily lose interest if you keep choosing movie after movie featuring dry topics or genres you’re not really into.

Are you a total adrenaline junkie who needs a regular diet of action movies? Then don’t force yourself to choose historical dramas because they’re more educational. You can learn Mandarin from all types of Chinese movies!

Imitate how characters speak

Pick a character and memorize their lines for that scene. Pause the scene and repeat after them, trying your best to mimic the cadence of their voice.

This is where films are particularly useful. They force you to hear different voices and interact with them, versus hearing the same audio voice in each installment of a language podcast series or long-running Chinese language television show.

Get to the point where you can quote chunks of dialogue by heart. This way, you’ll actually learn the vocabulary. Since movies are rife with Chinese slang, you’ll be able to toss them into conversation and impress your Chinese friends.

Find more of the best Chinese movies on FluentU:

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

P.S. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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And there you have it! These movies are a fantastic jumping-off point for all Chinese language learners.

Once you find a subject, actor or director that you love, search for more movies that capture the same elements.

Or check out one of our other curated lists of great Chinese movies:

 


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And One More Thing...

If you want to continue learning Chinese with interactive and authentic Chinese content, then you'll love FluentU.

FluentU 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.

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 customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a 100% personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

 

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