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Eight Films You Need to Watch for Learning Chinese

When learning Chinese as your second language, you could be greatly benefited from watching Chinese films. Through listening and observing how people deliver real conversations in different circumstances that related to authentic life contexts, you could cultivate a better language sense of Mandarin Chinese. Phrases and expressions that are often used in Chinese daily life would be well demonstrated in films too. Watching Chinese films would be an ideal way to accelerate your Chinese learning process if you picked a good one to watch and learn. Besides language learning, you could also enjoy a chilling time while appreciating a good film. 

Film Top 1. Eat Drink Man Woman (yǐn shí nán nǚ饮食男女)

Eat Drink Man Woman” is a 1994 comedy-drama film directed by Ang Lee. The title is a quote from the Book of Rites, one of the Confucian classics, referring to the basic human desires and accepting them as natural. The beginning of the quote reads as follows: “The things which men greatly desire are comprehended in meat and drink and sexual pleasure.”

The setting is the 1990s contemporary Taipei, Taiwan. Mr. Chu, a widower who is a master Chinese chef, has three unmarried daughters, each of whom challenges any narrow definition of traditional Chinese culture: Chu Jia-Jen, a school teacher nursing a broken heart who converted to Christianity; Chu Jia-Chien, a fiercely independent airline executive who carries her father’s culinary legacy, but never got to pursue that passion; and Chu Jia-Ning, a college student who meets her friend’s on-again-off-again ex-boyfriend and starts a relationship with him.

Each Sunday Mr. Chu makes a glorious banquet for his daughters, but the dinner table is also the family forum, to which each daughter brings “announcements” as they negotiate the transition from traditional “father knows best” attitudes to a new tradition which encompasses old values in new forms.

As the film progresses, each daughter encounters new men. When these new relationships blossomed, their roles are altered and the dynamics within the family are changed. The father eventually brings the greatest surprise by marrying Liang Jin-Rong.

Film Top 2. Infernal Affairs (wú jiàn dào无间道)

“Infernal Affairs” is a 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller film directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak and written by Mak and Felix Chong. It tells the story of a police officer who infiltrates a Triad, and another officer secretly working for the same gang. 

The Chinese title means “The Unceasing Path“, a reference to Avici, the lowest level of Hell in Buddhism, where one endures suffering incessantly. The English title is a wordplay, combining the adjective ‘infernal’ (concerning hell) with internal affairs – the police department concerned with investigating its officers.

Chan Wing-yan, a police officer, goes undercover into an organized crime triad; only his direct superior, Superintendent Wong, is aware of his mission and true identity. Around the same time, Lau Kin-ming, a triad member, infiltrates the Hong Kong Police Force on the orders of a powerful gang boss, Hon Sam. Each mole has been planted by the rival organization to gain an advantage over the other side. For ten years, Chan experiences great stress from his undercover work while Lau quickly rises through the ranks in the police department.

Film Top 3. The Wandering Earth (liú làng dì qiú流浪地球)

“The Wandering Earth” is a 2019 Chinese science fiction action film directed by Frant Gwo, loosely based on the 2000 novella of the same name by author Liu Cixin. 

In the year 2061, the aging Sun is about to turn into a red giant and threaten to engulf the Earth’s orbit within 300 years, forcing the nations of the world to consolidate into the United Earth Government to initiate a project to migrate the earth out of the Solar System to the Alpha Centauri system 4.2 light-years away, to preserve further human civilization. Enormous planetary thrusters running on fusion power, known as the Earth Engines, are built across the planet to propel the Earth. The Human population is reduced severely due to catastrophic tsunamis that occur after the Earth’s rotation is made to stop, and later as the planet moves away from the Sun, much of the surface is frozen, forcing the remaining humans to live in vast underground cities built adjacent to the engines. 

Film Top 4. Let the Bullets Fly (ràng zǐ dàn fēi让子弹飞)

“Let the Bullets Fly” is a mainland Chinese movie released in 2010. 

Set in China during the warring 1920s, “Poxy” Zhang leads a group of bandits, each of whom is numbered rather than named, and ambushes a government horse train carrying Ma Bangde, who is on his way to Goose Town (鹅城 E-cheng) to assume the position of the county governor. Ma’s train is derailed, killing both his bodyguards and his adviser, Counsellor Tang. Ma has no money, having spent it all to bribe and buy his position. To avoid being killed by Zhang’s bandits, he lies to them claiming that he is Counsellor Tang and that his wife was the dead governor’s wife. He tells the bandits that, if they spare him and his wife, he will help Zhang to impersonate Ma and pilfer Goose Town’s finances.

Film Top 5. Better Days (shào nián de nǐ少年的你)

“Better Days” is a 2019 Chinese romantic crime coming of age film directed by Derek Tsang. Better Days is adapted from Jiu Yuexi’s novel In His Youth, In Her Beauty (the novel was also translated as Young and Beautiful by some sources).

The college entrance examination was approaching. Hu Xiaodie, a girl in the repetition class of a middle school in Anqiao City, committed suicide by jumping off the building because she could not bear school violence anymore. Chen Nian, a classmate of Hu Xiaodie, was subsequently bullied by the three girls headed by Wei Lai after Hu’s suicide. At the same time, Chen Nian saw a group of people beating a person on the way home from school, and chose to call the police to help that person, but she was found by the abuser and was forced to kiss the victim Xiaobei. After that, Xiaobei resisted and drove the abuser away. Through this accident, Chen Nian and Xiao Bei got acquaintances with each other. Later, Xiaobei became Chen Nian’s friend and protected her from bullying in school.

Film Top 6. Ne Zha: Birth of the demon child Nezha (né zhā zhī mó tóng jiàng shì哪吒之魔童降世)

“Ne Zha” is a 2019 Chinese 3D computer-animated fantasy adventure film directed and written by Jiaozi in 2019, mainland China. 

A Chaos Pearl, birthed from primordial essences, begins siphoning energies gluttonously. Yuanshi Tianzun dispatches his disciples Taiyi Zhenren and Shen Gongbao to subdue the sentient pearl. Due to its ability to absorb energy, Taiyi and Shen are unable to gain the upper hand. Eventually, Tianzun separates the pearl into two opposite components: the Spirit Pearl and the Demon Orb. Tianzun places a heavenly curse upon the Demon Orb: in three years, it will be destroyed by a powerful lightning strike. Tianzun then instructs Taiyi to take the Spirit Pearl to be reincarnated as the third son of Li Jing, to be named Ne Zha.

Shen conspires to steal the Spirit Pearl and in the ensuing battle, the Demon Orb is placed on the ritual altar instead, causing Li Jing’s pregnant wife Lady Yin to give birth to a child, Ne Zha, whose demonic nature is apparent. Taiyi tells them that Ne Zha’s fate is sealed: in three years the heavenly curse placed upon the Demonic Orb will kill him regardless. Li travels to Heaven with Taiyi in an attempt to plead for Ne Zha’s life but is told that the curse is unremovable.

Meanwhile, it is revealed that Shen stole the Spirit Pearl for the Dragon King to reincarnate as his son, Ao Bing. The dragons resent their role as jailers of the Heavenly Court and being confined to a hellish existence on the ocean floor. They hope that through the blessed nature of a son born from the Spirit Pearl that dragon kind would be deemed worthy by Heaven, allowing the dragons to ascend. The Dragon King allows Shen to take Ao Bing as a student.

Film Top 7. If You Are the One(fēi chéng wù rǎo非诚勿扰) 

“If You Are the One” is a New Year comedy film directed by director Feng Xiaogang in December 2008. 

Qin Fen (Ge), in his late forties, returns to China after many years of overseas life. He did not earn any degree while he was overseas but he is good at convincing others. After selling an “innovative invention” to a high-profile (but foolish) angel investor (Fan), Qin becomes a multimillionaire and with his new fortune, he decides to put an end to his bachelor life, advertising online for potential marriage partners, to apply “if you are the one”, that is, only if they are sincere.

He encounters various candidates, from a homosexual former workmate, a cemetery saleswoman with a thick southern-Chinese accent, a pathological amnesiac, an ethnic minority pecking hen, an asexual widow, an expectant single mother (Hsu), and a stock-holding trader. Eventually, he crosses paths with air stewardess Liang Xiaoxiao (Shu), who previously had a painful love affair with a married man (Fong). Qin strikes up an unexpected friendship with Liang, and they start dating, under the agreement that Liang’s heart will always be with her previous lover. Qin sets out to woo her completely, and their business-like arrangement eventually blossoms into love during a trip to Hokkaido.

Film Top 8. The Final Mater (shī fù师父)

“The Final Master” is a 2015 Chinese martial arts action film written, co-produced, and directed by Xu Haofeng, about the last Wing Chun master’s quest to pass down his art in pre-WWII China.

Grandmaster Chen, the last surviving practitioner of the Wing Chun style of martial arts, arrives in Tianjin with the desire to open a martial-arts school. Upon defeating all of Grandmaster Zheng’s disciples, Chen receives an offer from Zheng to establish a school jointly, which Chen declines. Zheng then threatens to expel Chen from the city. He gives Chen another offer: if Chen can train a disciple to defeat the eight schools of Tianjin, then Chen will be allowed to open his school. Zheng reveals that he plans to defeat the disciple after the eight schools are defeated, thus enhancing his reputation. Meanwhile, Chen decides that he should marry a local woman, and proposes to a waitress named Zhao. One day, Chen and Zhao are beset by thugs, whom Chen easily defeats. This catches the attention of Geng a local rickshaw-puller, who visits Chen’s residence. Chen approves of Geng’s courageous personality and decides to take Geng as his disciple.

Hope you could find a proper film among this list to enjoy and learn Chinese with.

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