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Best Chinese movies to learn Mandarin

by | Jun 17, 2024

Best Chinese Movies for Learning Mandarin | That's Mandarin Blog

Learning Chinese through movies can be both enjoyable and educational. Here are some great films that can help you learn Mandarin Chinese. These are all putonghua (普通话), standard Mandarin. We definetly recommend you watch movies in that — and not a local dialect — to improve your listening skills (plus reading skills if you turn on the subtitles! (We also suggest Chinese Mandarin series.)

  • Top recommendations for everyone
  • Top Chinese horror movies
  • Why Chinese movies are a great way to learn Mandarin
  • Chinese Names of Popular Western Movies
  • Mandarin Chinese in Western Movies

Top recommendations for everyone

These films not only provide exposure to Mandarin but also offer insights into Chinese culture, history, and society, enhancing your learning experience. When watching, consider using subtitles in both Chinese and your native language to aid comprehension and vocabulary acquisition. Enjoy exploring these movies as you improve your Mandarin skills!

When watching these films, consider using subtitles in both Chinese and your native language to aid comprehension. Pay attention to the context, culture, and idiomatic expressions used in conversations to deepen your understanding of Mandarin Chinese. Enjoy exploring Chinese cinema as you learn the language!

  • “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (卧虎藏龙) – A martial arts epic with beautiful Mandarin dialogue.
  • “Raise the Red Lantern” (大红灯笼高高挂) – Offers a deep cultural exploration with clear Mandarin dialogue.
  • “To Live” (活着) – A poignant drama with everyday Mandarin dialogue reflecting historical and social contexts.
  • “Farewell My Concubine” (霸王别姬) – Known for its complex storytelling and clear Mandarin dialogue.
  • “Not One Less” (一个都不能少) – A touching drama set in rural China with straightforward Mandarin dialogue.
  • “In the Mood for Love” (花样年华) – Although it mixes Cantonese and Mandarin, it offers a rich atmosphere and emotional storyline.
  • “A Brighter Summer Day” (牯岭街少年杀人事件) – A Taiwanese film set in Mandarin-speaking Taiwan, known for its cultural insights.
  • “Mountains May Depart” (山河故人) – Directed by Jia Zhangke, this film uses Mandarin and provides a contemporary narrative.
  • “The Great Wall” (长城) – A fantasy-action film with clear Mandarin dialogue suitable for learners.
  • “The Wandering Earth” (流浪地球) – A sci-fi film with modern Mandarin dialogue, reflecting contemporary Chinese culture.

More suggestions beneath!

Top Chinese Horror Movies to Learn Mandarin

Are a you a horror movie fan? There are some other Chinese movie recommendations in this genre to learn Mandarin.

1.诡丝 / Guǐsī (2006)

诡丝 (Guǐ sī) exactly means “strange string” and was translated as “silk”. The string that plays an important role in this movie is really looks like a silk string, so the choice of this name was quite understandable. If you like to watch movies about ghosts, you have to clap eyes on Asian cinematography, especially, on Chinese one. Thanks to Asian folklore, China has tons of ghost stories and legends most of which can be turned into a good horror movie. Western cinematography has many thrilling stories (maniacs, aliens, viruses, zombies etc), but when it comes to “ghost movies”, asian cinematography is a real treasure.

Plot: Huang Santai (黄三太) is a leader of a scientific group. They find a ghost of a three-years old boy with their new invention which helps to expand the human vision abilities and see beyond our own reality. In order to find out the cause of his death, Huang Santai asks an agent Ye Qidong (叶起东) to find out more about this boy. Finally, Ye gets to know the horrible truth about his death: the boy was killed by his own mother. In his eyes he saw a strange silk string which seem to connect with some mysterious power. At the same time members of this scientific group starts to afraid that the boy can hurt them and captured him. By doing this they release terrible forces and start dying one after another. Ye and his girlfriend has no choice but to stand this forces and try to find answers in order to save their own lives.

Conclusion: This story is a mystic one with a little touch of science-fiction. It has its own atmosphere. But this movie is not just to scare you, it has its own moral. It shows us that anger can’t bring us happiness and that only love makes us powerful. The purer, the stronger. So maybe it’s not the rage or anger what brings the dead back to life, but something else and deeper?

2. 妄想 / Wàngxiǎng (2006)

The name of this movie was translated as “Diary”, but the word 妄想 (wàngxiǎng) actually means “delusion” or “wishful thinking” and it reveals the main point of this movie, but, of course, the diary itself plays an important role here, especially at the very end.

Plot: The main plot of this Chinese Mandarin movie is quite simple. The breach between Liang Shuna (梁咏娜) and her boyfriend becomes a very difficult challenge for her mind, she takes it too close. One day she meets Weihao (伟豪), who looks really similar to her ex-boyfriend and that brings hope into her life. Her friend also tells her to let go her pain and build a new relationship with Weihao. They seem to understand each other really well, but Liang still worries that Weihao will change just like her ex and leave her. Finally, Liang starts to fall into these terrible delusions of hers. After the disappearance of Weihao, the police stars an investigation and gets to the horrible truth.

Conclusion: This movie keeps you in suspense since the very beginning with its dark, great tones and gloomy atmosphere. You can feel the loneliness of the main heroine, who suffers from unrequited love and betrayals. But the main diamond here is its ending. It twists so famously that you definitely have to see it. It’s a strong emotional movie rather that a horror one. The dramatic component here will carry you away into the dizzying stream of suffering illusions and hallucinations of the main heroine.

3. 维多利亚一号 / Wéiduōlìyà Yī Hào (2010)

This movie was translated in English as “Dream Home”, referring to its main plot. I should warn, that it’s not a story about ghosts or phantoms, it’s a story about murders. It’s more a slasher than a typical horror movie with its suspense and screamers. Murder scenes in this movie are made sometimes too realistic. So, if you don’t like these types of movies and you feel sick while watching such brutal scenes, I definitely NOT recommend this one. But if you’re not…

Plot: It’s a story about a woman. Deng Lizhen (邓丽嫦) grew up in a normal family in Hong Kong. Lizhen suffers for the whole life. She has to survive living in a disadvantaged area with high criminal rate, then she has to look after her sick father. She has a simple dream, that one day she’ll buy a house with a harbor view. In order to fulfill her dream, she works hard every day and also have two part-times jobs to fill up the time after her day-work as a bank operator. She holds tight each chance to earn extra money. One day she finds an opportunity to buy an apartment in the luxury building Victoria No.1. At the same time, real estate prices stars rising and the landlord denies to sell the apartment for its original price. It was a great stroke for Lizhen, who worked hard for this. And on Halloween Eve the mind of this woman collapses. She returns to this building to make everyone pay for her sufferings.

Conclusion: Apart from realistic killing scenes, this movie has also a good and logic story line. The main story with murders interchanges with fragments of flashback, to give us more information about the past of our main heroine. Slasher interchanges with drama and then drama changes into slasher again. It’s not the best movie in its genre, but it’s still a good one and worth watching.

4. 僵尸 / Jiāngshī(2013)

The title of the movie 僵尸(jiāng shī), as someone familiar with Chinese mythology can already guess, can be translated as Jiangshi or Chinese Vampire. Jiangshi is a type of zombie (“hoping zombie” to be particular) that is very common in Chinese legends and folklore. These type of reanimated corpses you can find in Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese and Indonesian mythology as well, just under different names. But let’s get back to the movie.

Plot: Qian Xiaohao (钱小豪) was a popular action actor. He was once a big hit for his roles in zombie-movies, but now he fall down to the bottom. He moved into an old partly-ruined apartment 2442 which, according to rumors, is haunted. Being in a deep depression, Qian is trying to commit suicide by hanging himself from a beam, but one Daoist priest saves him. Qian becomes more curious about his neighbors. A boy with white hair. A woman who has a habit of peeping at the door of 2442 apartment and eating sacrifice food. He also finds out about a bloody massacre and about tons of ghosts filling up these corridors. Then, something happens. Dong Shu, who is living in the same building, accidentally falls to death. His wife asks specialist in evil witchcraft A Jiu to bring his soul to life, but it all turns into an irreversible tragedy. Life and Death, Love and Greed leads to unlimited troubles and dead spirits and going on rampage for the whole night.

Conclusion: Lots of monsters, ghosts and plot lines gather in this movie. Its just like lots of typical horror stories being pressed into this one particular movie. It’s a real feast for a horror-movie fan! An apartment full of hosts, sacrificing an innocent child in order to bring to life a dead person, fighting a vampire with tons of gimmicks, fighting scenes resembling martial arts scenes from classical Chinese action movies. What else would you dream of?!

5. 双瞳 / Shuāngtóng (2002)

双瞳 (shuāng tóng) was translated as “Double vision” which reveals the inner meaning of this movie. This movie is more a detective+thriller+drama picture rather than a horror one. But it is still worth to watch and definitely deserve its position in our top. What is more, one os the main characters here is not Chinese. David Morse (“World War Z”, “Passengers”, “Green Mile”, “12 Monkeys” etc) is playing an FBI agent trying to find the truth.

Plot: After the disposal of corruption between colleagues two years ago, Taipei police officer Huang Huotu (黄火土) was transferred to the mostly neglected foreign affairs section. His wife Qing Fang couldn’t stand his late home arrivals and asks for a divorce. Huang Huotu feels like his whole world is falling apart. At that time a terrible thing happens and Taiwanese society finds out about the bizarre murder of a rich and powerful businessman. The forensic medical expert finds out that he died of the mysterious Meliolaceae (black mildews) which also causes hallucinations. Because of the lack of professionals, they invite a talent investigation expert from the USA to help them solve the case. Huang Huotu is back to his duties. Aside with this investigation, a struggle around political and mass interests as well as between Huang Huotu, his partner and the entire police force intensifies.

Conclusion: This movie can’t be truly related to horror ones. But its strange and gloomy atmosphere will keep you in suspense until the very end. What is more interesting, all the murders here have its own religious meaning, so it feel just like the movie itself leading you from one strange murder to another through the circles of Taoist Hell. And the name “Double vision” wasn’t chosen randomly, because this movie has another, deeper layer than just a common story about ritual murders.

6. 异度空间 / Yìdù Kōngjiān (2002)

异度空间 (yì dù kōngjiān) can be translated as “another (or strange) dimension”. Because, 空间 (kōngjiān) means “space” or “dimension.” (for instance, “三度空间” (sān dù kōngjiān) means “three-dimensional space”) and 异 (yì) means “different” or “unusual”. The name was officially translated as “Inner senses” which appeals more to its plot. This movie is from Gong Hong, you can say that it’s different just by having a quick look at it. It’s more westernize than the previous ones. It is trying to be more like western thrillers than to reveal something special from a classic Chinese folklore. But still it’s a good movie definitely worth watching.

Plot: The main character Zhang Wei (章昕) finds out that after the landlord’s wife and kid death, she sees their ghosts every time. Her boyfriend can’t stand these tortures and leaves her. In despair, she asks a psychologist A Zhan (阿占) for help. A Zhan clearly understands that her visions are nothing more than illusions caused by inhibited memories. He agrees to help her. At the same time they starts to have feeling for each other. While being at A Zhan’s place, Zhang Wei finds out that the psychologist have plenty of weird habits and acts himself. It turns out that A Zhan suffers from a severe type of schizophrenia with hallucinations. He also sees things that can be real. In order to bring his life back to normal, Zhang Wei decides to help him to struggle his own demons.

Conclusion: This movie is interesting that it’s not just another ghost story, but it’s also a story about psychiatry. The twist when the psychiatrist starts suffering from the illusions and questioning the nature of his own reality is not new. But this movie makes everything to keep you in suspense. What is more, this movie has also a bit philosophical. It’s a story about us. Every person is full of his own senses, feeling and stories. Sometimes, they’re happy ones, sometimes, they’re not. And if we let go of all these senses and feelings, they will become our own real ghosts.

Why Chinese movies are a great way to learn Mandarin

Learning Chinese can be somewhat stressful considering how complex the language is. It requires immersion and exposure to its native culture to understand some of the finer nuances. Luckily, while it is not as good as talking to a native Chinese speaker, you can make your language-learning experience more interesting by watching movies and TV shows. However, it helps to have a basic understanding of sentence structure and measure words before you do so.

Movies and TV shows play a crucial role in enhancing language skills and providing a deeper understanding of the Chinese culture. This article explores how watching movies and TV shows can aid language learners in their quest to master Chinese.

Enhancing Listening Skills

Watching movies and TV shows exposes learners to authentic spoken Chinese, helping them improve their listening skills. By hearing native speakers converse naturally, learners become familiar with the rhythm, intonation, and pronunciation of the language. Therefore, exposure to a variety of accents and dialects also expands their comprehension and adaptability to different linguistic contexts.

Cinema Chinese Vocabulary for Cinema in China | That's Mandarin Blog

For beginners, movies like “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (媽的多重宇宙, Mā de Duōchóng Yǔzhòu), “Crazy Stone” (疯狂的石头, Fēngkuáng de Shítou) and “Lost in Thailand” (人再囧途之泰囧, Rén Zài Jiǒng Tú Zhī Tài Jiǒng) offer a good balance of humor, relatable situations, and simple dialogues that aid comprehension and vocabulary acquisition. Interestingly, there are many Chinese movies you will enjoy watching as you study the language. Some of these weren’t even made in mainland China yet use Mandarin Chinese – they will be just as interesting and useful to you. A good example is “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” which is mostly in English but has a smattering of frequently used, familiar Chinese words that provide learning context and enhance retention.

Expanding Vocabulary and Expressions

Movies and TV shows provide an abundance of vocabulary and expressions that learners can incorporate. Through context and visual cues, learners can grasp the meaning of new words and phrases, expanding their vocabulary in a memorable and engaging way.

Talk_Movies and TV Shows in Chinese Language Learning

For beginners, TV shows like “Happy Chinese” (快乐汉语, Kuàilè Hànyǔ) and “Growing up with Chinese” (跟着贝贝学汉语, Gēnzhe Bèibèi Xué Hànyǔ) offer educational content specifically designed for language learners. These shows provide interactive lessons, practical vocabulary, and cultural insights in an accessible format. You might also want to contact an experienced writer from the writing service Write My Essays who can help you create a schedule for all the movies and TV shows you plan to watch.

Cultural Understanding

Movies and TV shows offer insight into the Chinese culture, allowing learners to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of Chinese customs, traditions, and societal norms. Visual cues, settings, and characters help learners connect language learning with the cultural context, providing a more holistic learning experience.

Movie Culture_Movies and TV Shows in Chinese Language Learning

For beginners, movies such as “Mulan” (花木兰, Huā Mùlán) and “Kung Fu Panda” (功夫熊猫, Gōngfū Xióngmāo) not only entertain but also introduce Chinese folklore, martial arts, and values like filial piety and perseverance. These films provide cultural insights while keeping the language accessible for beginners. It might help to watch them with English subtitles to help you make the association.

Improving Pronunciation and Intonation

Watching movies and TV shows exposes learners to authentic Chinese pronunciation and intonation patterns. By observing native speakers, learners can imitate their speech patterns and develop better pronunciation skills. Mimicking dialogue and paying attention to stress and intonation help learners sound more natural when speaking Chinese.

Colleagues | 5 Ways to Say “I Like” in Chinese

For children, TV shows like “Ni Hao, Kai-Lan” (你好,凯兰, Nǐhǎo, Kǎi Lán) are excellent resources. Such shows feature simple language, clear pronunciation, and repetition, making them ideal for improving pronunciation and intonation.

Watching movies and TV shows in China is a valuable tool for learning Chinese. They provide an immersive and enjoyable learning experience, enhancing listening skills, expanding vocabulary, deepening cultural understanding, and improving pronunciation. So grab some popcorn, sit back, and embark on an exciting language learning adventure through the world of Chinese cinema and television.

Chinese Names of Popular Western Movies

Translating Movie Titles into Chinese

Sometimes, it can be difficult to translate a movie title into another language. There’re lots of things you have to keep in mind: you might come across a catch-phrase, a set expression or a reference that people from a different country or culture simply wouldn’t understand. That’s why translators have to be careful, and translating a movie title word by word can often be misleading.
So to get a perfect title, a translator must have a good understanding of both cultures.

1. Forrest Gump, or《阿甘正传》(Ā Gān Zhèngzhuàn)

The literal name for this movie would be《福雷斯特–甘普》(Fúléisītè Gānpǔ). But the official title《阿甘正传》(Ā Gān Zhèngzhuàn) refers to 《阿Q正传》(Ā Kiu Zhèngzhuàn), or The True Story of Ah Q, an influential 1921 novella by Lu Xun, 鲁迅 (Lǔ Xùn). The story tells us about the adventures of Ah Q, a man from the rural peasant class with little education and no definite occupation. So the Chinese translators decided to make a little wordplay to attract the audience by using a reference to such a popular classical story.

The fact that the word 阿甘 (Ā Gān) was used instead of 阿Q (Ā Q) is not a coincidence. The character 甘 on its own means “to be willing to”, so it very much suits Forrest’s simple-minded, innocent nature.

But besides that, the two stories are very similar, too. The story of Forest Gump is partly true and partly false. There’re so many historical events happening in the background, that you almost truly believe that Forest shook hand with the President or took part in a ping-pong competition. So is the Ah Q’s story.

In short, this is an example of the translators doing a great job. They could’ve just translated the title and the name literally – but instead, they chose to make the title more catchy, lively, and relatable to Chinese audience, to attract more people to watch this Western masterpiece.

2. Lolita, or《一树梨花压海棠》(Yī Shù Líhuā Yā Hǎitáng)

Nabokov’s famous book “Lolita” was adapted twice. In 1962, the film version starring James Mason still inherited the original name of the book,《洛丽塔》(Luòlìtǎ). But in 1997, the translation of the movie version starring Jeremy Irons was suddenly changed into 《一树梨花压海棠》(Yī Shù Líhuā Yā Hǎitáng, “Crab-Apple Overshadowed by Pear White”), what really means “to be married to a woman many years younger than oneself”. This is another example of an amazing translation work. Not only because it reveals what this story is about. 一树梨花压海棠 (yī shù líhuā yā hǎitáng) is a line from the poem 《戏赠张先 》(Xì Zèng Zhāngxiān, “For Zhang Xian and His Young Bride”) by Su Shi, 苏轼 (Sū Shì) . The legend says that Zhang Xian, a poet from the Northern Song Dynasty, was a good friend of Su Shi. When he was eighty years old, he married a 18-year-old girl. After hearing about this, Su Shi made a poem to tease Zhang Xian.

十八新娘八十郎,(Shíbā xīnniáng bāshí láng)
The bridegroom is eighty and eighteen the bride;

苍苍白发对红妆。(Cāngcāng bái fà duì hóngzhuāng)
White hair and rosy face vie side by side.

鸳鸯被里成双夜,(Yuānyāng bèi lǐ chéng shuāng yè)
The pair of love birds lie in bed at night,

一树梨花压海棠。(Yī shù líhuā yā hǎitáng)
Crab-apple overshadowed by pear white.

梨花 (líhuā), “white pear” or “pear blossom”, is a metaphor for white hair of an old man. 海棠 (hǎitáng), “crab apple”, is a metaphor for the girl’s fair and tender skin. This version of translation, using 一树梨花压海棠 as a metaphor for the whole story is really a wonderful choice, that appeals not only to give the audience a glimpse into the plot, but makes it relatable to Chinese culture as well.

3. Waterloo Bridge, or《魂断蓝桥》(Hún Duàn Lán Qiáo)

The beautiful love story of Waterloo Bridge has had an influence on many generations. As an early dubbed film, it was aired on TV in China for a long time. The Chinese dubbing made by Liu Guangning and Qiao Wei feels so natural, it makes a great contribution to the movie. So does the translation of the title.

The original name, Waterloo Bridge (which is a bridge across the river Thames in central London) could be translated as 滑铁卢桥 (Huátiělú Qiáo). It is the place where Vivien and Robert Taylor met and fell in love. This bridge plays an important role in their destiny. But the name Waterloo Bridge give no hint about the love story in the movie, so the title was not very appealing to the viewers who were unfamiliar with the original story.

So Chinese translators did a really good job. They changed the title into 魂断蓝桥 Húnduàn Lánqiáo, which appeals to the famous Chinese legend of 蓝桥相会 (Lán Qiáo Xiānghuì, “Meeting by the Blue Bridge”). It tells the story of a Tang-dynasty era student, who met a girl at the Blue Bridge. He fell in love at first sight, and then went through various tests to finally prove his love towards her. Chinese translators borrowed the name “Blue Bridge” to make a reference to this legend. 魂断 (hún huàn) means “to be overwhelmed with sorrow or joy”. So that the translation is not only beautiful, but also memorable and appeals to Chinese culture.

4. Top Gun, or《壮志凌云》(Zhuàngzhì Língyún)

Top Gun tells the story of a US Navy pilot starring Tom Cruise. The word “top gun” is used to refer to a highly skilled person (ability, rank, or prestige). The story happens in the US Navy Fighter Weapons School, an institution that develops and provides graduate-level strike-fighter tactics – which is not very appealing or relatable to Chinese people.

That is why the translators decided to use a metaphor, 壮志凌云 (Zhuàngzhì Língyún), to help illustrate the pride and enthusiasm with which the protagonist flies the sky. The phrase 壮志凌云 (zhuàngzhì língyún) can be translated as “great ambitions take you above the clouds”, and also has a figurative meaning “to be fearless and high-hearted”. It refers to the nature of the main hero, and helps the title tell more about the story itself.

5. Flipped, or《怦然心动》(Pēng Rán Xīndòng)

The original English name “Flipped”, although just one word, is full of meaning. It refers to change, and appeals to the feelings of the male and female protagonists changing throughout the movie. It also means “to be highly excited”, “to lose one’s head”. The little girl, Julie, said: “The first day I met Bryce Loski, I flipped”, what means that when she first saw the little boy Bryce, he was fascinated by him.

There’s no equivalent to this word with so many meanings in Chinese language, so the translator just used one meaning – “to lose one’s head” – and changed it into a Chinese idiom 怦然心动 (pēng rán xīndòng), which means “to feel a rush of excitement”.

Did you enjoy the way Chinese translators changed the titles? Which one is your favorite? Or do you prefer when movies are translated literally?


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