RPG love stories.
Evil mystical creatures trying to be good.
If any of that sparked your curiosity, then it’s high time you start watching Chinese movies on Netflix.
Believe it or not, there’s much more to Chinese cinema than martial arts and imperial dramas.
You also don’t have to be a history buff or foreign film fanatic to appreciate Chinese movies!
Whether you love a good ol’ fashioned wuxia flick or enjoy an LGBTQ-friendly movie, we’ve got a title that caters to every interest under the sun.
If you just so happen to be learning Chinese as well, we’ve also included the type of language and vocabulary you can expect from each title.
Additionally, you’ll find other language learning tips to make the most out of these Chinese Netflix movies!
25 Exhilarating Chinese Movies on Netflix in 2021
“Animal World” (2018)
What it’s about: 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.
Based on the manga “Kaiji” created by Nobuyuki Fukumoto, a young man named Zheng Kaisi struggles to make ends meet, let alone cover his mother’s medical expenses. After trying his hand at a property scheme, he falls into greater debt. His last hope is a high-stakes game of rock-paper-scissors aboard an old warship on international waters.
If you’re learning Chinese: “Animal World” is a great film for an advanced learner. There’s an interesting mix of vocabulary here and 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 structures as an exercise.
“Us and Them” (2018)
What it’s about: 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 two first meet 10 years ago while traveling back to their hometowns during Spring Festival. The movie toggles between the past and present, showing all stages of their relationship, from strangers to friends to lovers and eventually strangers again. They cross paths again in the present, wondering if they can rebuild the love they once had.
A true romance movie, “Us and Them” won’t 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 for each other in some of the most beautiful dialogue I’ve ever witnessed from any Chinese production.
If you’re learning Chinese: “Us and Them” is a unique film that will be sure to keep you entertained while you’re learning and exercising your language skills. The rich dialogue in this movie is more suited to advanced learners. You may want to keep a tissue box nearby when watching, but don’t forget to practice!
“The Wandering Earth” (2019)
What it’s about: This movie is for all the science fiction lovers out there. The film takes place in the year 2061 and takes inspiration from the novella by Liu Cixin, which shares the same title.
It tells the story of astronauts and rescue workers using giant thrusters to guide Earth away from the sun, which is expanding and is about to crash with the planet Jupiter.
About 2,500 years later, the human population has been reduced dramatically and the Earth is destined to be engulfed by the sun within 300 years. Fighting for humanity, a group of young space explorers embarks on a dangerous and thrilling mission to save the earth from its terrible fate.
If you’re learning Chinese: 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)
What it’s about: 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 playboy billionaire named Sam who falls hard and fast for a Macau casino dealer with a feisty spirit named Milan. The couple is from two different worlds, as Sam has a successful career and Milan is a part-time baccarat dealer and full-time cabaret dancer.
He fears that her occupation may negatively impact his social standing. Soon, their relationship attracts media attention and they make headlines, pressuring Sam to do whatever it takes to protect his assets.
If you’re learning Chinese: With pretty simple, everyday language, this movie is perfect for intermediate learners and is available in Cantonese and Mandarin.
“Love O2O” (2016)
What it’s about: If you love romance and video games, this is the movie for you. When gamer Xiao Nai comes across Bei Wei Wei—known as a computer science whizz—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.
After Bei Wei Wei is dumped by her husband in the game, Xiao Nai proposes an online union so they can team up for couples-only competitions to get ahead. They quickly hit it off.
As he attempts to capture 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.
If you’re learning Chinese: 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.
What it’s about: “Shadow” is a wuxia film that takes place during the Three Kingdoms time period (220-280 AD). To gain back control over a city lost in a duel, the King of Pei’s commander formulates a plan that involves two kings, his wife and his double (or, “shadow”).
The commander’s shadow turns out to be a civilian named Jingzhou, a doppelganger who was adopted and trained as a child to fill in for the commander whenever needed. While Jingzhou takes care of business, the commander hides out in his cave hidden in his residence, recovering from a brutal duel.
There’s a lot of action in this historical drama, especially starting around the middle of the movie. But it’s also full of rich characters and their roles in the events that are unfolding all around them.
If you’re learning Chinese: Even though the movie starts off with an English text introduction, beginners might struggle to follow along since the majority of the vocab isn’t relevant to everyday conversations. History, war and the struggle for power are all concepts suited for advanced learners, but the characters speak slow enough for intermediates.
The first part of the movie consists of dialogue, where the characters discuss their relations and history with one another, which is a great opportunity to learn terms about extended family and political relationships.
“A Sun” (2019)
What it’s about: “A Sun” surrounds the troubling family dynamics of four. There’s the older introverted son with a hopeful future in medical school, the younger delinquent son, the father that clearly despises his youngest kid and the mother trying to hold the family together.
After the youngest son gets sent to juvenile detention for a crime committed by his best friend, his family has to deal with the mess that he leaves behind. That includes the girlfriend he impregnated before his conviction.
While the youngest may be the one convicted for the crime, the entire family is suffering the consequences along with him.
To give you a fair warning, the movie does have an unexpectedly violent start, so just be prepared for a little bloodshed.
If you’re learning Chinese: The content might be a little heavy and the movie might be long, but beginners are more than welcome to watch to learn family-related vocabulary and new sentence structures. It might be an easy watch for intermediates.
What it’s about: Also available in Cantonese, “Connected” is the Chinese remake of the American thriller “Cellular.”
In this version, a woman named Grace Wong gets into a car accident on the way to work after dropping her daughter off at school. She wakes up to the kidnappers turning her house upside down and killing her maid, and is then is taken to an abandoned house.
Looking around, she finds a broken phone, repairs it and uses it to seek help from a stranger named Bob, who’s on his way to see his son at the airport before he flies off to Australia. He agrees to help, handing his phone to an officer, who unfortunately believes the call is just a prank. With no one else to help, it’s up to Bob to protect the daughter and save Grace.
If you’re learning Chinese: A suspenseful movie like this comes with heightened emotions. Intermediate learners will pick up new crime-related vocab, as well as see the kind of language people use when they’re in distress.
“The Beast Stalker” (2008)
What it’s about: “The Beast Stalker” is also another Cantonese movie with Mandarin dubbing.
In pursuit of a wanted crime boss, Sergeant Tang Fei causes an accident that leaves a police officer crippled. In the ensuing gunfight, he also accidentally kills the daughter of a public prosecutor. And he doesn’t even get the guy: The criminal he’s after goes into a coma, postponing a trial that would have finally put him behind bars.
A few months later, the criminal finally wakes up, and the prosecutor whose oldest daughter got caught in the line of fire is ready to get the trial rolling. But everything comes to a halt when the prosecutor’s other daughter gets kidnapped. Sergeant Fei is determined not to let history repeat itself as he frantically fights to find the girl and bring the criminals to justice once and for all.
If you’re learning Chinese: Since the movie is intense and filled with high-pressure situations, the actors speak quite quickly and don’t really enunciate. This may make it difficult for some intermediates to follow along.
That, together with the language related to crime and law, makes this movie more appropriate for advanced learners.
“The Bittersweet” (2017)
What it’s about: “The Bittersweet” is about a young man who’s a courier by day and a killer by night. He starts stalking a doctor who he believes to be his estranged sister, as he learns that they both came from the same orphanage. As an introvert, he wasn’t able to bond with the other children. The only person that gave him the time of day was his big sister. That was when he was the happiest.
She left the orphanage suddenly after a death at the orphanage. But after believing he found her again after all these years, the courier protects her by killing those who threaten her safety.
If you’re learning Chinese: This movie is for beginners. Since the main character doesn’t actually do a lot of talking, newbies can easily understand the movie while picking up conversational grammar structures and vocab based on contextual clues.
“The 9th Precinct” (2019)
What it’s about: If you enjoyed “R.I.P.D.” then you might enjoy the Taiwanese feature “The 9th Precinct.”
After a supernatural encounter that helps him take down a criminal, a cop gets recruited for an underground police unit to fight the spirits that threaten and blur the boundaries between the human and supernatural worlds.
He trades in his guns and bullets for items like incense and a holy water pistol in order to solve crimes that will protect the humans from the underworld.
If you’re learning Chinese: Chinese crime-fighting movies tend to be pretty challenging for some learners, but this film isn’t all that serious, which is great for beginners. The plot is full of excitement and action, with funny and silly elements that will surely improve your understanding of humor in Chinese.
What it’s about: “Helios” is the name of the criminal mastermind who steals a weapon of mass destruction, known as DC8, from South Korea. With a weapon transfer occurring in Hong Kong, Inspector Lee unites Hong Kong, the mainland and South Korea in hopes of outsmarting Helios and retrieving the nuclear weapon.
Though they all share the same goals of hunting down Helios, the regional teams all have their own intentions. While the Chinese want to put a stop to terrorist activities, the South Koreans are concerned about their secrets being revealed to other governments.
If you’re learning Chinese: As it’s set in Hong Kong, the movie is originally in Cantonese, so make sure you switch the audio to Mandarin if you’re studying Mandarin. All this talk of master criminals and weapons of mass destruction might be too much for newbies, but this film would definitely work for intermediates and advanced learners.
What it’s about: “Accident” is a story about a professional hitman whose expertise is in staging kills as accidents. He works with a team to deliver these accidents, and every single assignment goes according to plan until one mission goes terribly wrong because of a weather-related obstacle.
The failed assignment leaves one of his team members dead, making him suspect that he’s a victim of his own game. His paranoia from this conspiracy drives him to find and kill this man before he gets killed.
If you’re learning Chinese: Note that the characters are fast talkers, and at times they sound like they’re mumbling. It’s best that you have a stronger command of Mandarin before you tackle this movie. Although the movie’s suited for advanced learners, intermediates can also give it a shot if they want to learn crime and scheming-related terms.
This one is also a Cantonese movie, so remember to turn on the Mandarin audio settings.
“Ne Zha” (2019)
What it’s about: “Ne Zha” is a story inspired by a character from traditional Chinese lore.
Birthed from the Demon Pearl rather than the Spirit Pearl, Ne Zha is a super kid and troublemaker who loves nothing more than destroying objects. His parents try to steer him in a good direction by lying and claiming that he’s born to be a demon hunter, but his supernatural tendencies cause him to be feared and hated by others.
Although destined to be evil, he struggles between succumbing to his destructive nature and becoming a hero to break free from his fate.
If you’re learning Chinese: Even though fantasy movies can be a bit challenging for Chinese learners, both beginners and intermediates can enjoy this animated tale. Since it’s a cartoon, many aspects of the film are exaggerated. The speech is dramatic, which is helpful for those that need to work on Chinese pronunciation.
“Double World” (2020)
What it’s about: “Double World” is an exciting videogame turned movie that’s set in an ancient China fantasy world.
This fantasy world is known as Central Plains and it’s divided into 10 kingdoms.
As one neighboring kingdom grows more powerful and results in an assassination attempt on a king, a war breaks out between the North and the South. With no field marshal, one warlord organizes a tournament to find the best warriors.
Intrigued by the competition, a young villager embarks on a journey to the competition. Despite doubts from his village, he hopes to bring honor to his clan.
If you’re learning Chinese: Given the genre of the film and its fantastical content, this movie is best for intermediate learners. But if you’re a massive fan of RPGs, videogame movies or martial arts films, “Double World” is a good challenge for upper beginners. There are also lots of fight and action sequences, so there’s less dialogue to digest compared to other movies on the list.
“The Great Magician” (2011)
What it’s about: Based on the book by Zhang Haifan, “The Great Magician” takes place years after the Revolution in 1920s Beijing, where the country’s top illusionists have gathered to showcase their skills.
They must recreate the traditional Chinese magic trick known as the Eight Immortals’ Treat in order to win the prize, but each performer has their own ulterior motives with their chosen tricks—some good, some bad. While one is secretly fighting for the reunion of an undivided empire, another is creating an elaborate plan to scare convicts into enlisting in his army and then make a young girl his seventh wife.
If you’re learning Chinese: The movie is set after the Revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty, which means there are tons of cultural notes and history sprinkled throughout the film. That being said, the vocabulary relating to warlords, revolutionaries and magic trickery is probably best for intermediate learners.
“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (2011)
What it’s about: “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” immediately places you in the throes of a breakup.
On the bus to work, the main character’s relationship ends with her boyfriend due to him having a baby with another woman. This breakup leads her to not just one, but two new (and questionable) love interests—an alcoholic architect and a promiscuous investment CEO.
She chooses one over the other but her decision has its consequences, with the relationship ending sooner than expected. Years later, she’s faced with a familiar situation. Will she forgive and forget or will she choose not to make the same mistake twice?
If you’re learning Chinese: The romance genre is generally very approachable for beginners. While there’s some business talk surrounding each character’s respective industries, the dialogue mostly centers on relationships and everyday interactions, which learners can easily relate to and apply to their daily lives.
Don’t forget to switch from Cantonese to Mandarin dubbing.
“We Are Legends” (2019)
What it’s about: This movie is loosely based on the life of Xiong Dixin, an MMA fighter in real life. In “We Are Legends,” two brothers, who were plucked from an orphanage, are raised in the village boxing and grow up to become highly skilled fighters.
While one brother divides his time between training for amateur MMA competitions and manual labor, the other spends most of his time participating in illegal underground brawls. The disciplined younger brother is growing with potential in school and in the ring, while the older rebellious brother finds himself expelled from school.
With differing priorities, they become estranged but are brought back together when one prepares for his first pro fight.
If you’re learning Chinese: The movie is originally in Cantonese but there’s an option for Mandarin audio. Expect a lot of boxing and MMA-themed language, with vocabulary relating to what happens both in and outside of the ring. Because of how fast everyone speaks, this movie is recommended for intermediate and advanced learners.
“Shanghai Fortress” (2019)
What it’s about: The year is 2035 in “Shanghai Fortress.”
The city is under attack by dark alien forces that have already taken control of other cities across the globe in search of a valuable energy source that humans rely heavily upon. The other three Fortress cities have fallen, and Shanghai Fortress remains to be the last hope for humans.
And in the midst of this chaos, a young man falls in love with his chief commander and follows in her footsteps to defend their city.
The film is originally a sci-fi novel by Jiang Nan with the same title, though it’s also been alternatively translated to “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” and “Earthbound.”
If you’re learning Chinese: With the sci-fi elements of this film, the fast-paced dialogue and the level of vocab, it’s fit for advanced learners. Though intermediates looking for a challenge are more than welcome to give this movie a shot.
“Initial D” (2005)
What it’s about: “Initial D” is based on the popular Japanese manga series and is also the film debut of Jay Chou.
He plays an 18-year-old who delivers tofu for his father, a retired racer. With no initial plans of becoming a racecar driver himself, he ends up racing to defend his friend. Surprisingly, his daily deliveries give him the skills needed to race against the most experienced drivers, whom he blindsides as he consistently beats them in races, night after night.
His skills draw the attention of a local racing gang that’s motivated to beat him in his first official competition and biggest race yet.
If you’re learning Chinese: Similar to “The Fast and the Furious,” this movie is heavily focused on all aspects of racing, from the makeup of cars to the technical aspects of driving. Because of this specific theme, “Initial D” is best suited for intermediate and advanced learners who love cars or are fans of the manga series.
“Dear Ex” (2018)
What it’s about: “Dear Ex” is a movie from the perspective of a troubled teen that recently lost his father. His mother discovers that his father replaced the son with his same-sex partner as his beneficiary in his insurance policy.
The son finds himself in the middle of a feud between his mother and his father’s lover. Unable to deal with his mother’s issues anymore, he begins to spend more time with his father’s partner, ultimately leaving his mother’s house and moving in with him. His mother has no choice but to reassess her relationship with her son and his father’s lover.
If you’re learning Chinese: The prominence of health insurance talk might seem a little intimidating, but this film is definitely suited for beginners who want to learn language related to family and relationships.
What it’s about: In the movie “Pegasus,” a top racecar driver receives a five-year suspension for participating in an illegal race. While waiting it out, he depends on his fried rice stall to keep him and his adopted son afloat. When the suspension ends, he’s ready for a comeback and to relive his glory days.
But his journey back to the track is anything but smooth. He jumps through hoops to get his license, a car and all its parts, as well as sponsors. He finally finds an opportunity to work his way up again, only this time against a new, younger generation of opponents.
If you’re learning Chinese: Although the language is specifically tailored to the performance racing industry, this movie is great for beginners who also have an interest in cars. There’s also a lot of interaction between the former champion and his son, so those conversations are very accessible for beginners.
“New Gods: Nezha Reborn” (2021)
What it’s about: Not to be mistaken as the sequel, “New Gods: Nezha Reborn” is an entirely independent film that was in development before “Ne Zha.” Although the two films aren’t actually associated with each other, it makes sense to watch “Ne Zha” first for the origin story.
“New Gods: Nezha Reborn” is a fast-forward to his adult life, working as a deliveryman and racing in his downtime. But while trying to live like a civilian, he comes face to face with enemies of the past, and must channel his celestial powers for the sake of protecting his loved ones.
If you’re learning Chinese: The language might be a little tough to follow since the characters are speedy talkers. And given the specific vocabulary on racing, gods and magical beings, this movie works best for advanced learners.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” (2016)
What it’s about: In case you missed it, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” got a follow-up in 2016. It’s true that it’s not as well-received as the first movie, but the fight scenes are still pretty epic and still worth watching if you enjoyed the Ang Lee classic.
In “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny,” Yu Shu Lien is still mourning her friend and the love of her life, but she returns to safeguard his weapon—the Green Destiny Sword. With plans to conquer the martial world, the warlord Hades Dai has his eyes set on the ancient sword, so Yu Shu Lien assembles a band of warriors to protect and honor the weapon.
If you’re learning Chinese: Although originally in English, the movie does have Mandarin dubbing. While the wuxia-themed vocabulary itself is better for advanced learners, the characters speak slow enough for intermediates.
“Cities of Last Things” (2019)
What it’s about: This one tells the story of a man in three significant life events in reverse chronological order. The film chronicles three nights in the same city, each night being a different season in a different era.
“Cities of Last Things” starts off with the protagonist as a retired cop and now a security guard in a futuristic world. He’s anything but happy in the present, leading him to commit certain acts that make viewers question what had happened in the past to justify his actions in the present.
The reverse timeline might throw you off a little in terms of the plot, but this narrative structure definitely makes this movie an interesting watch.
If you’re learning Chinese: From establishing family connections to infidelity, you’ll learn vocabulary related to relationship dynamics with family and how it changes through the eras. Although the language itself isn’t too complex, the movie’s best suited for intermediates.
Bonus: How to Learn Chinese Through These Movies
If you’re learning Chinese, there’s some fantastic news for you: You can use all the movies listed above to improve your Chinese language skills!
Read on to find out how.
3 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 the emotion, and hear the tone of voice. The sound of language is something important to take notice of, not only to detect a 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 to stay engaged.
4 Tips for Studying Chinese Movies 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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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. Instead, 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.
I included a few titles of my favorites on this list that used to be on Netflix and have since been removed. You can still enjoy and learn from them!
4. Bring any reference material you’ve gathered to your learning on FluentU.
With FluentU, you can learn with authentic videos and clips just like the shows you love to learn with.
You'll find a wide range of contemporary videos that cover all different interests and levels, as you can see here:
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.
From the description page, you can access interactive transcripts under the Dialogue tab, or review words and phrases under Vocab.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your learning. It customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. In other words, you get a 100% personalized experience.
Try FluentU in your browser or, better yet, download the FluentU iOS or Android app today!
Want to see how FluentU breaks down videos—like Chinese movie clips—for language learning?
Check out the following video from the dedicated YouTube channel, which looks at specific Chinese vocabulary and phrases from a memorable scene in the romantic comedy “Love in Space,” starring actress Angela Baby.
For more fun and helpful tips on learning Chinese, don’t forget to subscribe to the FluentU Chinese channel on YouTube.
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.