If you’re interested in becoming fluent in Mandarin, there’s a lot of great Chinese movies to watch and learn from! Whether you prefer period dramas, romantic films, or action adventures, there’s some options for everyone. These 7 movies are great to watch not only to learn Mandarin but also to begin understanding Chinese culture and history.
1. Raise the Red Lantern
This 1991 movie is about the warlord era of 1920s, and is one of the most well-known and well-made period dramas in China. It’s about an educated young teenager named Songlian who becomes the third concubine of a rich old man after the death of her father and subsequent family bankruptcy.
This movie gives a glimpse to patriarchal society in Confucian era, where family hierarchy is the most important and women are simply objects to be used and discarded. In this particular case, the viewers find out that the protagonist and other wives only have privileges as long as they please their husband, creating discord and rivalry between each.
2. Coming Home
This movie was made in 2014 and is about the Cultural Revolution that took place between 1966 and 1976. You will learn a lot about Maoist China by watching this movie about political change, family separations and reunions. We see Beijing during the Cultural Revolution and follow a professor and intellect, Yanshi Lu, as he hides from the state.
As per Nicola Dancy, a language blogger at Elite Assignment Help and Big Assignments, “the film not only shows the persecution of intellectuals in China during this tumultuous period but also follows how it affects one particular family through the years, as he is betrayed by his daughter and comes face to face with her much later in life.”
3. Not One Less
A 1999 movie about the same time period, this is more of a documentary than a period drama. The storyline is fiction, but features local village children instead of actors living in the same situation as the main characters. We follow Minzhi Wei, a 13-year-old girl who goes to an impoverished rural school to teach when the other teacher leaves without warning.
The children eventually end up respecting her as a teacher, who is dedicated to giving her students a primary education. This is a difficult movie to watch for Mandarin beginners because there are some thick rural accents, but it’s a good glimpse at China’s wealth disparity.
4. House of Flying Daggers
This is a classic martial arts movie from 2004, where you’ll see typical fight scenes. It features amazing cinematography though, from leafy bamboo forests to stunning mountain ranges, and old architecture. It has some poetic and romantic dialogue between the main characters, which is quite different from most action movies.
5. Red Cliff
This action movie is more about ancient battles than martial arts, because it’s set in 220 to 280 A.D., the period known in China as the Three Kingdoms period. It’s a classic movie about war, chivalry and honor, and brotherhood. Meiling Wei, an educator at State of Writing and Ox Essays, explains that “China is divided in three different countries and we see the power struggles between each kingdom. It’s a great action movie that will teach you a lot about the history of China.”
6. Love is Not Blind
This movie from 2011 is set in present day and was a huge success in China. It’s a perfect mix of comedy and romance, and follows Huangshu, a wedding planner, who finds out her boyfriend is cheating and goes through a 33-day breakup process. It’s a great option to learn colloquial and funny Mandarin sentences that are current in present day.
7. A Wedding Invitation
Another modern-day movie, this one from 2013, is about the breakup of QiaoQiao and Xing Li and the contract they sign which states they will marry each other if they cannot find a better partner. Xing Li finds out that QiaoQiao has a secret which is being covered up by this contract.
This is a romantic drama more than a romantic comedy, but it’s also a great one to follow along with the Mandarin dialogue.
Hopefully, these movies will help you practice and improve your Mandarin abilities, but at a minimum you’ll learn more about Chinese culture.