Got plans tonight?
Wish you could watch a movie instead of your usual Chinese practice?
Get the best of both worlds!
Chinese movies can totally help you improve your Chinese.
Let Andy Lau and other movie stars be your Chinese teachers when you watch Chinese movies online. We’ll show you how!
Why Learn Chinese from Movies
- Learn real-life Chinese dialogue and expressions—not “textbook” conversations. Movies can be your guide to learning outside the classroom.
- Learn the language of society. You’ll pick up slang and idioms faster by watching movies, because they use the phrases in real-world context.
- Gain understanding of Chinese culture and social dynamics. This is crucial for becoming a fluent Chinese speaker, as language is tied to culture and social protocol.
- They’re entertaining. Learning language by watching Chinese movies online is fun and enjoyable, which makes language content impressionable and easy to retain.
To get you warmed up, you can learn words and phrases in context with FluentU.
Start by checking out how FluentU breaks down the movie trailer for “You Are the Apple of My Eye,” an award-winning Taiwanese romantic film.
How to Improve Chinese Speaking with Online Movies
Watching Chinese used within a setting, culture and storyline helps you to see and experience how Chinese vocabulary and grammar rules are used in context. Here are some specific ways to use movies to improve your speaking:
- Analyze the dialogue. As you hear dialogue in movies, note the situations in which the conversations occur. Consider how these dialogues can be used today. Are these dialogues formal or informal? Are they suitable for work or social situations?
- Repeat after the speaker. Choose phrases that can be used in everyday life. When you hear a good or useful phrase, make an effort to write it down and later memorize it. Pause the movie, and say that phrase aloud. If there’s someone in the room with you, practice with them by using the new phrase right away. Recalling a new phrase helps our brain to store it in long-term memory.
- Look for common sentence starters in spoken Chinese. For example: 我觉得 (wǒ jué de — I think), 其实 (qí shí — actually), or 为什么 (wèi shén me — Why?) Jot these down, and as you watch the movie, mark a tally each time you hear a common sentence starter. At the end, you’ll know which phrases are most commonly used, and you can target your learning to focus on those.
- Watch for ways to express emotion. Movies are full of exclamations for frustration, disgust, regret or passion. Play this game: Predict expressive phrases you think you might hear in the movie, such as 你干嘛 (nǐ gàn ma — What the heck?/What are you doing?!), 烦死人了 (fán sǐ rén le — You’re driving me nuts), or 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ — I love you). Write these down on a bingo-like chart. As you watch the movie, put a marker down when you hear any phrase from your chart. See how many you get!
Where to Watch Chinese Movies Online
Netflix has a great selection of foreign-language films, including Chinese movies with English subtitles.
There are also three popular Chinese sites that host online movies: Youku, Tudou and Sohu. These sites offer a huge variety of movies and TV shows with Chinese subtitles. Movies on these sites can be searched by region (Hong Kong, China, Taiwan etc.) or by genre.
When you navigate the above Chinese sites, you’ll see the most recent movies or TV shows promoted on the home page.
When you click on any movie banner or movie image, you’ll first arrive at an introduction page that gives a plot summary and a star-rating. You have to click one more time on the “play now” button to start the show.
How to Drastically Improve Your Mandarin Speaking Just by Watching 5 Chinese Movies Online
“失孤” (shī gū) Lost and Love
The story: Lei is a poor farmer whose toddler son was kidnapped by traffickers. 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.
Why watch this film: 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. In the movie, you’ll see scenes of China’s vast countryside. You’ll get a glimpse of rural life, which is the reality for half of China’s population.
Learn Chinese from this film: Here are some phrases you’ll hear in the film that would be useful to learn.
(wèi shén me piān piān shì wǒ ér zi diū nē?）
(Why must I be the one whose son is stolen?)
为什么偏偏 (wèi shén me piān piān) means “Why does it have to be this way?” This is a useful phrase to learn for expressing frustration with something you wish had happened differently.
(tīng shuō nǐ ér zi shì bào huí lái de, néng ràng wǒ jiàn jiàn ma?）
(I heard that your child is adopted. May I see him?)
听说 (tīng shuō) means, “I heard that…” This phrase is useful for repeating information you heard from someone else.
能让我 (néng ràng wǒ) means “May I…?” It’s a very polite way to ask someone for permission.
“一万年以后” (yī wàn nián yǐ hòu) 10,000 Years Later
The story: Ten-thousand years after the world is 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.
Why watch this film: It’s a Chinese animated action fantasy. The movie blends together newly-imagined Chinese legends about human evil, the gods and epic battles. It’s like sci-fi mythology.
Learn Chinese from this film: Here are some fun phrases you’ll hear in the film.
(shàng gǔ zhòng shén céng jīng chuàng zào guò wén míng de diān fēng shí dài）
(The gods of ancient times once created magnificent civilizations.)
There are some awesome adjectives here to learn. 上古 (shàng gǔ) means “ancient,” 文明 (wén míng) means “civilized” and 巅峰 (diān fēng) means “peak” or “ultimate.”
(zhēn xiàng yào zhàn de gāo cái néng kàn de qīng chǔ）
(Truth is only clear when you view it from a high place.)
This phrase sounds so cool and is sure to impress your friends!
“重返20岁” (chóng fǎn 20 suì — Going Back to 20 Years Old) Miss Granny
The story: One day, a cranky and fearsome old lady visits a portrait studio, thinking she would leave one final impression of herself for the world. Mysteriously, upon coming out, she discovers that she has magically transformed into her 20-year-old self and is given a chance to relive her youth.
Why watch this film: It’s a period romance comedy, both fun and informative. It shows Asia’s society and fashions in the ’60s and ’70s.
Learn Chinese from this film: Here are some great phrases to learn from this movie.
(dà bàn yè de bù shuì jiào nǐ jiào shén mē ya?)
(It’s the middle of the night, why are you making such a ruckus?)
This phrase is great to use for complaining about noisy housemates who keep you up at night.
(qí shí wǒ zhù yì nǐ hěn jiǔ le)
(Actually I’ve noticed you for a long time.)
This is the kind of thing you’d say to someone you’ve been watching and admiring.
(wǒ de yì sī shì wǒ men néng bù néng zài yī qǐ?）
(What I mean is, could we be together?)
You could follow up the second phrase with this question, which is used to ask someone out as your girlfriend or boyfriend.
“话梅糖” (huà méi táng — Plum Candy) Bittersweet
The story: This is an uncanny love story between a young mortician and a bar girl. Both characters are ostracized by society and find themselves drawn to one another.
Why watch this film: This film is romantic, but with a shade of darkness and realism. It explores loneliness and isolation in modern Chinese cities.
Learn Chinese from this film: Here are some sentiments and expressions you can learn in this movie.
(wǒ xiàn zài de gōng zuò hěn kū zào méi shén me lè qù)
(My current job feels dry and empty; I’m really bored.)
If you want to complain about how boring and unchallenging your job is, this is one way to express your feeling.
(nǐ gàn shén me le)
(What have you done?)
This is perfect for angrily questioning someone’s actions.
This phrase above is for when you’re really angry, and want to tell someone bluntly to leave now.
“异能女友” (yì néng nǚ yǒu) Super Girl
The story: In the distant future, a company manufactures robotic girlfriends. Ah Lin, an employee in this company, is given an out-dated model of one of these robots. Soon, things spiral out of hand.
Why watch this film: It’s a futuristic comedy that envisions China 50 years from now, so it’s lots of fun. You’ll get a good laugh and learn some Chinese too.
Learn Chinese from this film: Here are some great phrases to pick up from this movie.
(zài gěi nǐ yī cì jī huì)
(I’ll give you one more chance.)
This is what you say when someone has failed you, but you want to give them another chance.
(zěn me yàng xǐ huān ma)
(How about it, do you like it?)
This is a great way to ask for someone’s opinion, especially when you think they probably do like whatever you’re referring to.
So there you have it! Five excellent selections to get you started learning Chinese by watching movies online.
Now it’s time to grab some popcorn and snuggle up for a Chinese movie session!
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