If you want to immerse yourself in the language and culture of China, a great way to do it is by watching a Chinese language movie. Don’t worry if you don’t know any Chinese (Simplified or Traditional), luckily many Chinese films are available with subtitles and can be streamed online.
I asked our Chinese linguists for recommendations of their top Chinese language movies. Here are the Comtec top five.
5 ‘not to miss’ Chinese language movies
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) 卧虎藏龙
This is the Chinese movie you’re most likely to have seen. Ang Lee’s martial arts film was a huge international success; it grossed $213.5 million worldwide and won four Oscars and numerous other awards. Its dialogue is in Mandarin.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a literal translation of the Chinese idiom 卧虎藏龙. It’s from a poem by the ancient Chinese poet Yu Xin’s (513–581), which says “behind the rock in the dark probably hides a tiger, and the coiling giant root resembles a crouching dragon.”
- Farewell My Concubine (1993)
This classic Chinese movie, directed by Chen Kaige, has also seen international success and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1993. Spanning Chinese history from the 1920s to the 70s, it provides an insight into the impact of political change on the lives of Chinese people.
- Aftershock (2010) 唐山大地震
Directed by Feng Xiaogang, this is the story of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake and its aftermath. The film follows twins who are buried in the rubble after the collapse of their home; one is found by their mother, the other is displaced and adopted by another family. This movie was also the first commercial IMAX film produced outside of the US.
- In the Mood for Love (2000)
This film, directed by Wong Kar-wai, is the second part of an informal series which includes Days of Being Wild, 2046 and the soon to be released Blossoms. However, you don’t need to watch the others to enjoy this romantic drama. The costumes, music and choreography are stunning, and the story of two lonely neighbours falling in love, but not quite living happily ever after, is captivating.
- The Wandering Earth (2019) 流浪地球
Finally, a Chinese language film that was released early this year and marks a departure from martial arts movies, and historical/romantic dramas. The Wandering Earth is a sci-fi blockbuster, and is predicted to be one of the highest-grossing Chinese films ever. Chinese sci-fi is a new genre in film, although there is an active sci-fi literary market. Frant Gwo says, “2019 could be remembered as year zero of Chinese science-fiction blockbusters. It is not just about one successful movie, but about the emergence of multiple films.”
We haven’t seen The Wandering Earth yet, but it’s available to stream, so let us know what you think if you’re a sci-fi fan. You can find Comtec on Twitter and LinkedIn if you would like to share your thoughts.
It’s expected that by 2022, the Chinese film market will overtake the US as the world’s biggest, so you should find that Chinese language films become easier to find and stream over here. I highly recommend exploring these movies, not just to learn more about Chinese language and culture, but also because of the great stories they have to tell.