7 Chinese Movies You Have to See Before You Die

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Chinese cinema is often overlooked by Westerners and this is a serious mistake — the film industry in China is humongous, and offers up options on par with some of your favourite Hollywood movies. Furthermore, watching a movie in Mandarin Chinese is a great way to brush up on your language skills. Analyzing the dialogue with the subtitles is an easy way to find colloquialisms that you might use everyday in English, but have no idea how to say in Chinese. We have put together a must-watch list of seven essential movies that you have got to watch… we have also included some Chinese keywords for each film so you can come up with a sentence describing the film.

Write a sentence about your favorite film from the list in Mandarin Chinese in the comments — We will respond with corrections!

Read more to check out the list of 7 Movies in Chinese You Have to See Before You Die.

1. Let the Bullets Fly (让子弹飞 – Ràng Zǐ Dàn Fēi)

7 Chinese Movies You Have to See Before You Die

Click on the image to watch the trailer

What’s it about?

Let the Bullets Fly is an ultra-violent dark comedy set during the roaring 1920’s. The plot centers around a bandit named Zhang AKA ‘Pocky’, who arrives at a remote provincial town [think Western meets China] and adopts the identity of the town’s mayor. Trying to make a quick buck, Zhang soon finds trouble and meets his match with the local mob who is not about to let Pocky run their turf.

Why do I need to see it?

  • Let the Bullets Fly has the perfect balance of stylized ultraviolence and uproarious slapstick comedy
  • The film has a labrynthine, yet manageable, plot that involves hilarious impersonations and keeps the viewer on their toes until the dramatic finale
  • One of the all-time highest-grossing films in China
  • The Director re-wrote the script thirty-one times before he was satisfied with the final product; and this shows in the elabourate plot

Where can I watch the film?

You can rent the film on iTunes in both High-Definition and Standard-Definition.

Chinese Keywords:

dark comedy

黑色喜剧

Hēisè xǐjù

ultra-violent

紫外线

Zǐwàixiàn

turf war

帮派火拼

Bāngpài huǒpīn

2. Lost on Journey (人在囧途 – Rén Zài Jiǒng Tú)

7 Chinese Movies You Have to See Before You Die

Click here to watch the trailer

What’s it about?

Chengong Li, an arrogant CEO of a toy corporation, is planning to head back to Changsha to celebrate the Chinese New Year with his family. His plans change when he accidentally books an economy seat on his flight home and finds himself sitting next to first-time flyer Geng Niu. Niu is a gullible migrant worker and is also setting out on a journey to return to Changsha to claim his defaulted wages from working as a milk-extraction technician. The clash of these two from extraordinarily different walks of life begins a comedy of errors as the two embark on a hilariously chaotic journey as they try to make their way back home.

Why do I need to see it?

  • Think of this movie as the Chinese “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” with the unexpected pairing of the two leads, who must overcome their differences to arrive at their destination
  • The film provides a satirical commentary on contemporary Chinese culture touching on such topics as overcrowding, knock-off luxury goods, and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor

Where can I watch the film?

This movie is a bit hard to find, but it is worth buying.

Chinese Keywords:

CEO

执行长

Zhíxíng zhǎng

migrant worker

     民工 

mínggōng

unexpected pairing

意料之外的组合

Yìliào zhī wài de zǔhé

3. Love is Not Blind (失恋33天 – Shīliàn Sānshí Sān Tiān)

7 Chinese Movies You Have to See Before You Die

Click here to watch the trailer

What’s it about?

A cynical take on the wedding planner rom-com; this one has a refreshingly bitter perspective when a wedding planner must endure happy couples after breaking up with her cheating boyfriend.

Why do you need to see it?

  • Love is Not Blind is a rom-com that manages to hit the mark of funny without being overly sappy or predictable
  • Rich, sumptuous cinematography and set design makes the film a treat to watch; one viewer said every scene

 

Where can I watch the film?

Love is Not Blind is available for free online! Click here to watch it.

Chinese Keywords:

romantic comedy

浪漫喜剧

Làngmàn xǐjù

cheating boyfriend

负心汉

Fùxīn hàn

wedding planner

婚礼顾问

Hūnlǐ gùwèn

4. God of Cookery (食神 – Shíshén)

7 Chinese Movies You Have to See Before You Die

Click here to watch the trailer

What’s it about?

If Gordon Ramsey were the lead character of the hit movie “Chef” that was in theaters last year, you might end up with something like God of Cookery. The story follows Stephen Chow (played by the real-life Stephen Chow of Shaolin Soccer fame), a pompous chef who has the title of the “God of Cookery”. An understudy reveals that his achievements are actually a fraud, and Chef Chow has a serious fall from grace. Roles are reversed when Chow unites with a meek street vendor, and they work together to help Chow reclaim his title.

Why do you need to see it?

  • This movie retains Chow’s signature nonsensical comedic style, while delving into darker themes — it creates a truly complex, yet hysterical viewing experience
  • Kung Fu meets Master Chef film makes for an awesome melting pot of genres

Where can I watch the film?

God of Cookery is available for free online! Click here to watch the full movie for free (in HD!).

Chinese Keywords:

master chef

主厨

Zhǔ chú

–or–

大厨

Dà chú

fraudulent

诈欺

Zhà qī

street food vendor

小吃摊

Xiǎochī tān

5. Monga (艋舺 – Báng-kah)

7 Chinese Movies You Have to See Before You Die

Click here to watch the trailer

What’s it about?

Mongo is a Taiwanese film, taking place in the late eighties after the military dictatorship had ended. Mosquito, the narrator of the film, receives an invite to join a gang after he participates in a foolish fight over a chicken leg. Mosquito is intoxicated by the brotherhood and kinship he finds from the gang, yet soon begins to question the violence he finds himself surrounded by.

Why do you need to see it?

  • Stand by Me meets The Outsiders in this coming-of-age tale, that provides a unique historical perspective to post-dictatorial Taiwan
  • Won a slew of international awards; shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy awards; Monga has critical acclaim to back it up

Where can I watch the film?

Click here to rent it from Amazon Instant Video.

Chinese Keywords

coming-of-age story

青春剧

Qīngchūn jù

dictatorship

独裁

Dúcái

movie awards

电影奖

Diànyǐng jiǎng

6. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (狄仁杰之通天帝国 – Dí Rénjíe Zhī Tōng Tīan Dì Gúo)

7 Chinese Movies You Have to See Before You Die

Click here to watch the trailer

What’s it about?

Detective Dee is very loosely based on the mythical Chinese detective of the same name. The film is set during Empress Wu’s reign during the Tang Dynasty… and the historical similarity ends there. The stories centers around mysterious, grisly occurrences in which the townspeople are self-combusting. Empress Wu releases the infamous Detective Dee from prison to help solve the case, taking the viewer on a roller-coaster ride as he works against the clock to solve the ‘mystery of the Phantom Flame’.

Why should you see it?

  • Michael Bay effects but with a story that is actually cohesive and watchable
  • The set pieces are over-the-top (in a good way) and the kung-fu scenes are beautifully choreographed

Where can I watch it?

The movie is available on Netflix! BONUS: the equally bad-ass sequel, Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon is also available on Netflix!

Chinese Vocabulary:

detective

侦探

Zhēntàn

Tang Dynasty

唐代

Táng dài

Phantom Flame

火焰魅影

Huǒyàn mèiyǐng

mystery

神秘事件

Shénmì shìjiàn

7. Red Cliff (赤壁 – Chìbì)

red-cliff-chinese-movie

Click here to watch the trailer

What’s it about?

John Woo directs this historical epic about a civil war between the ‘Three Kingdoms’ thousands of years ago. General Cao Cao declares war against the rebellious southern provinces during the Han Dynasty. His intention of unifying the entire country soon hits a major roadblock: the two southern provinces form an alliance causing Cao’s army to be outnumbered. Cao must utilize complex formations and radical strategy to defeat the overwhelming number of troops.

Why should you see it?

  • The battle sequences are gigantic, with production value to match
  • Makes history a lot more badass AKA a lot more digestible; you will actually feel like you learned something after watching this film
  • Directed by John Woo, a director known for both directing both American AND Chinese blockbusters

Where can I watch the film?

You can watch the entire film for free (in HD!) on YouTube. 

Chinese Vocabulary:

historical epic

历史剧

Lìshǐjù

civil war

内战

Nèizhàn

Add these movies to your viewing list and don’t forget to leave a comment on which one was your favorite! Also, if you want to practice using any of the vocabulary above, leave a comment and we will correct it for you :-).

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