Best Chinese Movies to Learn Chinese

Best Chinese Movies to Learn Chinese

Who doesn’t like watching movies?  Watching Chinese movies is a fun addition to your language learning, regardless of whether you are an advanced learner or a beginner.  Movies not only provide an insight into popular culture but can also help improve your listening skills and increase your vocabulary.  Follow these steps below to help you get more out of your Chinese movie viewing.

How to learn through movies

Step 1: choose the right movie

Learning Chinese through movies is not simply a matter of just sitting down and watching any movie. Your choice of movie is crucial, because watching a movie to learn Chinese is different to watching for leisure. We want to learn vocabulary and understand aspects of culture that enhance our understanding of the language. Anyone interested in Chinese movies knows that Kung-fu based fantasy and historical epics are great Chinese movie genres, but they aren’t great for learning Chinese. The language in these movies is often complex and key vocabulary doesn’t always transfer easily into the everyday. In contrast, movies with a simple plot, that are based on everyday life and experiences are more accessible to all levels of learner and help us to learn language that we can actually use.

Step 2: watch the movie all the way through with English subtitles.

Watching the movie from start to finish, with English subtitles will help you to identify whether this movie is going to be useful for learning. Firstly, if you don’t enjoy watching the movie first time round, you’re not going to enjoy watching it in sections, pausing and rewatching later on. If you don’t enjoy it, try another movie. And if you do enjoy it, great!  But by watching it all the way through, you can better understand the storyline, the characters and even identify scenes in the movie that are worth studying in more depth. So in this step, just sit back and enjoy the movie.

Step 3: decide how much you are going to rewatch

Having watched the movie already, you should decide whether you want to study the whole movie more deeply or just one or two important scenes. Deciding this depends on your learning goal. Do you want to understand the movie content more deeply or do you just want to pick up some key vocabulary which are you likely to use in your own life. This may also depend on your current language level. If you are an advanced learner, a deep dive into the whole movie will give you a great conversation starter and improve your listening skills. If you are a beginner or intermediate, then just focusing on a couple of scenes will help you achieve your learning goal more quickly and you are more likely to retain what you have learnt. We don’t want this lead to cognitive overload, remember less is more if we do it well.

Step 4: actively watch the movie in chunks

This is what I like to call the ‘active watching phase’. As you watch the first scene you have selected, note down useful vocabulary and phrases, pause as needed and rewatch. Keep the English subtitles on to help you out. Regardless of your level, aim for between 10-20 new words or phrases in a 15-20 minutes section of the movie. Any more than this and your brain will be fried. Again, keep it manageable but impactful.

Step 5: practice the new words

Now that you have noted down your keywords, create a vocabulary list. Look up any words in the dictionary, find examples of them in sentences and then practice them. Don’t skip this step as it is important for moving the vocabulary from your working memory into your long-term memory so that you can recall it later. Some of my favourite ways to practice are by creating a list on Quizlet so I can practice on my morning commute. I also like to put the words into an AI tool, such as Chat GPT and ask it to create practice reading passages and translation exercises, and don’t forget to ask it to create the answers for you as well so you can correct your own work, or even better, ask Chat GPT to correct it for you.  My advice is don’t be in a hurry to move on quickly from this step, you want to really know the vocabulary before you start watching a new section.

Step 6: rewatch the same section

Ideally, after a break of a few days or more, rewatch the same section. This time, especially if you are an intermediate or advanced learner, watch it with the Chinese subtitles. You don’t want to be relying on the English at this stage of your learning. Now you should be able to understand the key words and having subtitles will strengthen your reading skills. As an advanced learner, I always watch Chinese movies with Chinese subtitles, and it has had a massive impact on my listening and reading skills.

Repeat these steps above as much as you want until you finish the movie, or just one or two sections that are most interesting to you. Then repeat this process for another movie. It’s up to you.

Best Movies to Learn Chinese

  1. Pegasus 飞驰人生 (2019)

This movie is a great choice for everyday language. It tells the story of an ex-race car driver who decides to race again. Great for anyone who loves car racing or just a feel good story about chasing your dream. It is suitable for beginners up as the language includes simple topics which include use of time words, relationships, cars and money. You can learn slang and idiomatic expressions such as 人山人海 (packed with people).

Pegasus movie Mandarin
  1. I Not Stupid 小孩不笨(2002)

An oldie, but a goodie. This time a movie from Singapore which explores the education and adventures of three primary school children and the life struggles of them and their families. The language in this movie is very accessible, with a combination of dialogue and narration, as well as some English interspersed to make it more manageable for beginners. It is a good introduction into Singaporean Mandarin, with references to 华语 made early on.

I Not Stupid Chinese movie
I Not Stupid
  1. The Farewell 别告诉她 (2019)

If dramas are more your thing, then this one is for you. Expect to be taken on an emotional journey but with laughs along the way. Another great cultural dive into intergenerational relationships. The language in this film is great for beginners, including simple phone conversations and airport announcements. It is also interspersed with English which makes it less overwhelming for beginner learners.

The Farewell movie in Mandarin
The Farewell
  1. Love is Not Blind 失恋33天 (2011) – Romance

Who doesn’t love a good old love story? It starts as a breakup story, listen out for the curse words early on. As the female protagonist responds to her loss, we are also provided an insight into the lavish wedding plans of wealthy Chinese. This is a great movie for learning vocabulary relating to emotions and relationships. Filled with conflict, love and friendship, this movie, like many other romantic dramas, shows us that real love is often where we least expect it.

Love is not blind movie in Chinese to study
Love is Not Blind
  1. Upcoming Summer 盛夏未来 (2021)

This teen drama has it all: family struggles, friendship and romance, and struggles to find your true self, all starting with the female protagonist failing her GaoKao. It uses language that is both accessible and applicable to our everyday experience, so is suitable for all levels. Don’t be put off by it being a coming-of-age movie, it provides a great insight into the teen experience and complexities of youth.

Upcoming summer movie Mandarin
Upcoming Summer
  1. Reclaim (2022) 一家之主

A story of a middle-aged woman who, having always put her family first, decides to look for a bigger apartment to make her home life and family more comfortable and happy. It covers a lot of useful vocabulary relating to domestic life; housing, work and relationships. The characters are real and relatable and while it is a simple storyline, it provides a great insight into the struggles and joys of multi-generational families in contemporary Taiwan.

Reclaim movie to study Chinese
  1. The Great Magician 大魔术师 (2011)

Set in 1920’s Beijing, this movie has a bit of everything: drama, comedy, romance and mystery. While the story is a little more complicated than the everyday, the language is definitely accessible for intermediate and advanced learners. It has some great one liners to impress your friends: 识字的狗还是一条狗 (a clever dog is still just a dog). With a happy ending to end the story, you can’t go wrong.

The Great Musician movie to study Chinese
The Great Musician
  1. Wish Dragon 许愿神龙 (2021)

Even as an adult, there is great joy in watching a quality animation. This is certainly one of those. You may have already watched the English version, if so, then watching the Chinese version is a natural next step. It combines simple everyday language with a cute story of a boy reconnecting with his childhood love, meeting a charismatic wish dragon and of course defeating the bad guy. A fun movie that you can certainly watch over and over again.

To sum up, movies are a great way take your Chinese language skills and cultural knowledge to the next level. What are you waiting for? 去看电影吧!

Wish Dragon movie learn Chinese
Wish Dragon


Marnie Foster

Marnie Foster 

Curious about other languages and cultures since she was a child, Marnie has embraced language learning as both a hobby and profession. Fluent in English and Mandarin and competent in French, Marnie has been teaching languages in schools for over 25 years and is Head of Languages in her current school. She is a curriculum writer and workshop presenter. Marnie is always looking for innovative ways to learn and teach languages and loves sharing her passion for learning languages with anyone who will listen.   

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