14 Awesome Chinese New Year Movies to Marathon All Day Long
Think your last ugly sweater party was fun?
It’s got nothing on Chinese New Year.
This massive annual celebration has everything you need for an awesome party: huge family feasts, parades, music, elaborate decorations and tons of fireworks, just for starters.
No wonder millions of people squeeze through China’s transport systems every year to go celebrate!
If you’re a Mandarin learner without access to a local Chinese New Year festival, we’ve got the next best thing for you. We’ve put together a list of some of the best Chinese New Year movies for you to marathon all day long.
- 舌尖上的新年 (Shéjiān Shàng de Xīnnián) — “New Year on the Tongue”
- 压岁钱 (Yā Suì Qián) — “New Year’s Coin”
- 飲食男女 (Yǐn Shí Nán Nǚ) — “Eat Drink Man Woman”
- 团圆饭 (Tuányuánfàn) — “Reunion Dinner”
- 后来的我们 (Hòulái de Wǒmen) — “Us and Them”
- 到阜阳六百里 (Dào Fùyáng Liù Bǎi Lǐ) — “Return Ticket”
- 甲方乙方 (Jiǎfāng Yǐfāng) — “The Dream Factory”
- 西游记之大闹天宫 (Dà Nào Tiān Gōng) — “Journey to the Temple of Heaven”
- 唐人街探案 (Tángrénjiē Tàn Àn) — “Detective Chinatown”
- 呖咕呖咕新年财 (Lìgū Lìgū Xīnnián Cái) — “Fat Choi Spirit”
- 归途列车 (Guītú Lièchē) — “Last Train Home”
- 人在囧途 (Rén Zài Jiǒng Tú) — “Lost on Journey”
- 家有喜事 (Jiā Yǒu Xǐshì) — All’s Well, Ends Well
- 龙众舞 (Lóng Zhòng Wǔ) — “Dance Dance Dragon”
舌尖上的新年 (Shéjiān Shàng de Xīnnián) — “New Year on the Tongue”
Where to watch: YouTube
This documentary is known in English as “A Bite of China: Celebrating the Chinese New Year.” And yes, it’s exactly what you’re expecting. “A Bite of China” is a series that takes you on a journey through China to learn about the mouth-watering deliciousness of cuisines popular all around the country.
This particular episode of “A Bite of China” focuses on food that’s traditionally made on Chinese New Year.
You can watch “New Year on the Tongue” with subtitles in 汉字 (hàn zì) — Chinese characters. Unfortunately, despite boasting English subtitles in the title, there doesn’t appear to be any English transcription on this particular video. Therefore, this documentary would be better suited for the intermediate or advanced learner—or just someone who loves looking at food. (We won’t judge you.)
压岁钱 (Yā Suì Qián) — “New Year’s Coin”
Where to watch: YouTube
Every culture has its traditional old-school movies designated for a particular holiday. For many Westerners, it’s “A Christmas Carol” from way back in 1951 for Christmas Eve. For Chinese people, it’s definitely the black-and-white film “New Year’s Coin” that’s designated for Chinese New Year.
It’s an oldie but goodie for sure. “New Year’s Coin” is a dramatic and somewhat comical film about the culture of rich Chinese citizens in the 30s, tackling social and economic issues that erupted in China at the time.
The film only appears to have Chinese subtitles available, so intermediate and advanced learners would benefit best from watching this film.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime | Tubi
Family often takes center stage during Chinese New Year, and “Eat Drink Man Women” will show you how complicated family dynamics can get—and the significance of bonding over food in Chinese culture.
This 1994 Taiwanese movie revolves around a professional chef in his 60’s and his three grown-up daughters. Although they have a tradition of eating together every week, his daughters seem to be becoming more distant from him. Still, their lives go through all sorts of plot twists and hilarious turns throughout the movie, as they’d narrate at the dining table.
It’s a heartwarming comedy that’ll give you insights into Taiwanese culture (and you’ll get to enjoy a visual feast of tasty food too!). Since the vocabulary is fairly slice-of-life, it works for all levels of Chinese learners.
团圆饭 (Tuányuánfàn) — “Reunion Dinner”
Where to watch: Disney Plus
Get entertained this Chinese New Year with “Reunion Dinner,” which is the newest film on this list—it was released just in 2022, and it’s a Singaporean flick!
The premise seems pretty typical: a long-time couple is about to get married, so they have to get together with their families for Chinese New Year. But there’s a twist—they have to livestream their dinner for a client at work, who wants to use it as advertising material. This leads to hilarious results, especially since they end up hiring a fake family instead (and a family member still manages to sneak in!).
The movie uses Mandarin everywhere, so you’ll get a lot of practice with it. I’d recommend it for beginner and intermediate learners.
后来的我们 (Hòulái de Wǒmen) — “Us and Them”
Where to watch: Netflix
“Us and Them” is a poignant Netflix movie from 2018 that captures the story of a relationship over ten years. Its original Chinese title means “Who We Will Be,” and it revolves around two twenty-somethings who meet on a train during Chinese New Year. Both of them are on their way to Beijing in hopes of a better life, and they eventually go from being friends to dating.
The movie has a unique format because it goes back and forth between the past and the present. Unlike what you’d expect, it’s the past that’s shown in full color, while the present is in black-and-white. You’ll also get to see several Chinese New Year scenes where they go back to their families throughout the years.
Both Chinese and English subtitles are available, so beginner and intermediate learners can learn a lot from it.
到阜阳六百里 (Dào Fùyáng Liù Bǎi Lǐ) — “Return Ticket”
Where to watch: YouTube
This film’s Chinese title literally means “600 Miles to Fuyang.”If you love a good drama, this film is the one for you. A group of women dealing with their own respective disappointments in life decide to convert an old tour bus into a transport bus to help migrant workers get back to their hometown of Fuyang in time for Chinese New Year.
Initially, it’s all just a plan to make some money selling tickets. But along the way, all of the characters find themselves challenged with the idea of home and life. “Return Ticket” is a fairly low-budget film with a focus on good script writing. It won several awards upon its release in 2011, and rightly so.
Because the film only has Chinese subtitles, it’s best suited for intermediate and advanced learners.
甲方乙方 (Jiǎfāng Yǐfāng) — “The Dream Factory”
Where to watch: YouTube
“The Dream Factory” (or literally “Party A, Party B”) actually kicked off the trend of movies being released during Chinese New Year.
First shown in 1997, this comedy film features four friends who decide to use their acting and film-making skills to make money (and do some good along the way). They set up a business where they fulfill clients’ fantasies for a day. For example, one celebrity client asks to feel like an ordinary person for a day.
The film was a huge hit in China, and until now, a lot of its lines are still quoted often. Its director, Feng Xiaogang, went on to make more Chinese New Year movies, but “The Dream Factory” remains the most popular. The dialogue is fast-paced and full of slang, making it more appropriate for intermediate learners and above.
西游记之大闹天宫 (Dà Nào Tiān Gōng) — “Journey to the Temple of Heaven”
Where to watch: Amazon Prime | Google Play
Westerners probably know this movie by its English title, “The Monkey King.” If you want to brush up on your Mandarin and enjoy a traditional piece of Chinese literature translated to the big screen, then “The Monkey King” is likely to be a new favorite.
The film is an action-adventure adaptation of the story “Journey to the West.” In the film, a monkey is born from an ethereal gem and acquires supernatural powers, and of course causes mischief on Earth.
This movie doesn’t have much of a connection to Chinese New Year other than the fact that it’s a family favorite to watch during the celebration. You can rent “The Monkey King” with both English and Chinese subtitles. Learners of all kinds can enjoy this movie, but the dialogue and accompanying English subtitles make it ideal for beginners.
唐人街探案 (Tángrénjiē Tàn Àn) — “Detective Chinatown”
Where to watch: Amazon Prime | Tubi
“Detective Chinatown” was one of the highest-grossing movies in China back in 2015. In fact, people love it so much that it led to two sequels. You can binge-watch these—Detective Chinatown 3 was even a Chinese New Year movie in 2021!
You’ll hear Chinese people describing it as similar to “Sherlock Holmes”—but with a much more slapstick style. Combine a talented, aspiring detective with a bumbling, dense sidekick, and throw plenty of gung-ho villains along their way. What you get is an addictive watch with tons of action and creative plot points that will keep you guessing.
Although Detective Chinatown is set in Thailand, its main language is Mandarin. You’ll hear some diverse accents, which make it better practice material for intermediate and advanced learners.
呖咕呖咕新年财 (Lìgū Lìgū Xīnnián Cái) — “Fat Choi Spirit”
Where to watch: Netflix
You can’t have a Chinese New Year movie-thon without a good old-fashioned comedy. “Fat Choi Spirit” is an absolute gem about a man with a Mahjong addiction and his outlandish ex-girlfriend, eclectic family and a troubling gambling gang. It’s a very silly movie with tons of laughs.
“Fat Choi Spirit” was released on Chinese New Year in 2002 and has remained a staple favorite to watch during festivities. This film was originally filmed in Cantonese, but a Mandarin overdub version with English and Chinese subtitles is available. It’s a great pick for beginner learners for its English subtitles and simple dialogue.
归途列车 (Guītú Lièchē) — “Last Train Home”
Where to watch: Amazon Prime | Apple TV
During Chinese New Year, countless people travel home to their families, even if they’re coming from thousands of miles away (or even flying in from another country). “Last Train Home” is an award-winning documentary that explores this through the story of one family. The parents are both migrant workers in factories, and they only visit their kids during Chinese New Year.
Aside from giving you an intimate glimpse of how Chinese New Year is celebrated in China, “Last Train Home” also portrays the situation of many migrant workers. As China gains economic power, more people leave their hometowns for better opportunities and end up working grueling jobs.
The documentary’s main language is Mandarin, although you’ll hear some dialects occasionally. It’s great listening material for intermediate or advanced learners looking to get in more authentic conversational Chinese!
人在囧途 (Rén Zài Jiǒng Tú) — “Lost on Journey”
Where to watch: Tencent
This 2010 comedy film is packed with laughs, but it also tackles some very realistic issues that Chinese society wrestles with. In particular, the film pokes fun at the stressful phenomenon of 春运 (Chūnyùn) — Spring Festival travel season, where citizens from all over China travel en masse to their hometowns to celebrate Chinese New Year with their families.
“Lost on Journey” is often compared to the film “Plane, Trains and Automobiles” but is truly in a league of its own.
Intermediate and advanced learners with a solid grasp on reading hanzi would benefit from watching.
家有喜事 (Jiā Yǒu Xǐshì) — All’s Well, Ends Well
Where to watch: Apple TV | Google Play
“All’s Well, Ends Well” might be a 1992 film, but it’s still a cult classic as a romantic comedy and one of the most famous Chinese New Year films. The main characters are three brothers who somehow keep having problems with women, slapstick comedy style. From a fierce love triangle to ridiculous movie reenactments, you’ll get plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (and clever surprises).
It was so successful that it gave rise to several sequels. The cast is impressive too, with popular actors like Maggie Cheung and Leslie Cheung.
Although the movie’s in Cantonese, you can watch it with Chinese subtitles. With all the wordplay and cultural references, it works best for intermediate and advanced learners.
龙众舞 (Lóng Zhòng Wǔ) — “Dance Dance Dragon”
If you grew up in a Chinese family or took Chinese classes as a teen (like this writer) you’ve probably had to watch “Dance Dance Dragon” around Chinese New Year.
This Singaporean comedy takes place before the 2012 Chinese New Year festivities around the Year of the Dragon. The film tackles the very Chinese cultural obsession with having a “lucky child” born during a Dragon year.
One family manages to have a bunch of Dragon daughters, all of whom grow up to be fairly unlucky in their lives. Their only son was born just seconds after the Dragon year passed and is also similarly unlucky. They all come together for the Dragon New Year as adults and many hilarious antics ensue.
The film is a fantastic and entertaining film for learners of all levels.
How awesome are these Chinese New Year films?
Learning Chinese through movies can be entertaining and eye-opening, and you can even practice with short clips on FluentU. This Chinese language learning program curates clips from Chinese movies, TV shows and other media, all with interactive subtitles and flashcards for easier studying.
Whatever you watch for New Year, be sure to whip up some 饺子 (jiǎozi) — steamed dumplings and fresh orange tea before beginning your marathon. Why not invite some friends over as well? If you can share Chinese culture with the world in a positive and fun way, why not do it?
新年快乐! (Xīnnián Kuàilè!) — Happy New Year!