Chinese films – learning Mandarin

Chinese Film Table <– Download Here

I have updated the table of films that I have watched in Mandarin (January 18, 2015). I intend to fill in some details in the coming days. The full file is available for download at the link above, which I recommend for anyone that is serious about using this resource. Please note that if you are only interested in original Mandarin-language films, there is a pre-made filter you can use by choosing the Custom View “Mandarin” in the View menu of Excel.

A summary table is provided below for quick browsing. My goal is to provide a resource for students of Mandarin who want to incorporate watching movies into their learning strategies.

I will update this table from time to time as I progress in my experiment. At the end of the table, there is a brief description of each column.

I have now sorted the films in descending order of how strongly I would recommend them, based on an aggregate score, which I also explain in more detail at bottom of this page.

Name of Movie Rotten Tomatoes Artistic Quality My enjoyment Learning Mandarin Speaking (Beginners) Comment learning Recommend? Other comments
Hero 95% 9 8 8 Dialogue generally slow and measured, so that it’s possible even for a beginner to pick up a word here and there. Yes, absolutely. Great movie from almost any point of view, insights into Chinese culture and history. Cool sword fighting and kung fu scenes, though they are more elaborately artistic than even slightly realistic.
House of Flying Daggers 88% 8 8 7 Dialogue sometimes slow and measured, so that it’s possible even for a beginner to pick up a word here and there. Yes, this movie is very well made and has something for everyone: romance, adventure, fighting, Chinese culture and history, beautiful cinematography, etc.
Dragon (Wu Xia) 84% 8 9 7 The dialogue is measured and a beginner is able to decipher a great deal of vocabulary Yes, a well done and incredibly entertaining movie that also explores basic spiritual, philosophical, and human issues in fascinating ways Important! I watched the abridged version, about 90 minutes long, not the 115 minute version
Mulan 86% 8 8 9 Dubbing seems to be very well done. It’s a children’s movie with lots of dialogue. Yes, this movie has typically high Disney quality and entertainment value, and the fact that it seeks to portray Chinese culture is an added benefit to a student of Mandarin. From the many Chinese movies I’ve seen thus far, it seems they did a superb job in capturing Chinese themes and staying true to how the culture is portrayed by the Chinese themselves.
Not One Less 95% 8 8 8 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin.
Nemo 99% 9 9 9 Dubbing seems well done, it’s incredibly entertaining, meaning you can watch it again and again, and there is constant, rich dialogue from which one can easily extract words and small phrases. Yes, this movie is so entertaining and, though English-language, the dubbed version is great for a beginner learning Mandarin
Shanghai Triad 86% 7 7 8 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, this movie is of high quality, very interesting and enjoyable. The character * is unforgettable. Provides insight into early 20th century culture in China. A unique gangster movie. The only downside, and a reason not to put it at the top of my list for watching again and again, is that it is quite sad.
The Lion King 90% 8 9 8 Simple dialogue makes this good fare beginners of Mandarin
Shower 86% 8 8 6 Day-to-day conversation among family and friends. However, at 165 hours total viewing time, I began watching this movie for the fourth time, and got the impression that the Mandarin spoken is somewhat less standard or classical than many other movies, and that the vocabulary doesn’t closely match my standard fare. Therefore, at least for a beginner, this does not seem to be a great source for learning Mandarin (just good). Thus I downgraded the Learning Mandarin score from 8 to 6. Yes, a well made, unique movie that entertains and provides insight into Chinese culture. Though an adult movie, it’s fine (though not interesting) for kids.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 97% 8 7 6 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, a beautiful movie. A lot of artistic kung fu swordfighting, so if you like that, it’s a must, but even if you don’t, there are many other reasons to watch this film.
Journey to the West 92% 8 9 3 Dialogue often slow and measured, a lot of repetition of terms. I more recently discovered this film contains a lot of dialects! Yes. I found this movie hilarious, full of surprises, well made, and even thought-provoking at times, though mostly light hearted.
A Touch of Sin 92% 7 7 6 I need to watch this again to rate its potential for learning Mandarin. Much closer to a Western movie in style, therefore more banter. Yes, entertaining, well made, and provides insights into contemporary China.
Fearless 73% 7 8 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, entertaining, well done, and tells an inspiring true story from early 20th-century China. A must for those who like martial arts.
The Road Home 89% 7 7 6 I need to watch this again to rate its potential for learning Mandarin. It’s a movie that’s largely focused on visuals and I don’t recall the speaking being either very slow and easy or very difficult. Yes, beautiful visuals and a nice story. Would highly recommend it to those who like romantic movies. Set in mid 20th century China.
The Wedding Banquet 96% 7 6 7 About 70% of this movie is in Mandarin, and the other 30% in English. I need to watch it again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, the movie is funny and well made, and shows the intersection of American, Taiwanese, and mainland cultures
The Emperor and the Assassin 81% 7 8 8 Dialogue generally slow and measured, so that it’s possible even for a beginner to pick up a word here and there. Yes, this is a high quality, entertaining movie that also gives valuable insight into Chinese culture and history. Centered on the same historical period and events as Hero, although the plot is entirely different.
Aftershocks 90% 7 8 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin.
Cinderella 97% 9 8 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, this is a marvelous Disney classic that is surprisingly funny. Impossible not to enjoy, and it is relatively easy to pick up a lot of Mandarin terms with the straightforward dialogue.
Eat Drink Man Woman 93% 7 5 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, this movie is well made and interesting. It’s bordering on a chick flic, but is still definitely worth watching even for guys not into family drama type movies.
Snow White 98% 8 8 8 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin.
Beauty and the Beast 93% 8 7 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin.
The Story of Qiu Ju 86% 7 7 6 I found this film particularly difficult. Characters are uneducated rural people. Perhaps not a very good choice for beginners like me. Yes, good movie and great for gaining insight into China.
Casablanca 97% 8 7 6 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. My enjoyment of this film, and assessment of its artistic quality, in its original English is a 9 or 10; the score I gave here is of my enjoyment of the Mandarin version
Pinocchio 100% 8 6 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin.
Lust, Caution 72% 7 7 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, an entertaining, original movie directed by Ang Lee. Good acting. This is an NC-17 movie, and it deserves that rating. Not to watch with your kids. Tony Chiu (Broken Sword from Hero) has an impressive performance, in my opinion.
Farewell my Concubine 88% 7 4 5 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, it’s considered a great movie and I can see why, even though I didn’t enjoy it at all. This movie just didn’t jive with my taste at all. However, I watched it without subtitles at the very beginning of my experiment, so, although I don’t think I would have liked it anyway, I will need to watch it again with subtitles or when my comprehension is decent to assess it fairly.
The Little Mermaid 92% 8 7 6 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, if you enjoy the genre.
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles 80% 7 6 4 I would give it a 6 for learning Mandarin, but half the movie is in Japanese. As long as you don’t mind “wasting” a bit of time on these parts to enjoy the movie, it’s a pretty good bet. And there are many scenes that involve or even revolve around translating between the languages, which are actually opportunities to learn words or gain insights. Yes, it’s a very different genre from the other Chinese movies I’ve seen, it has positive messages and is very well done.
Warlords 65% 6 7 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, exciting war movie.
Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon none 6 7 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, fun, interesting movie that mixes history and detective themes.
Red Cliff (I and II, abridged) none 7 6 6 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, great epic war movie with impressive visuals and good acting. I was able to watch this 5 hour film (considering both parts) without subtitles and enjoy it. My enjoyment would probably be much higher with subtitles.
Curse of the Golden Flower 66% 6 6 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Yes, although not strongly. The visuals are very impressive and are the main reason I really enjoyed the first half of the movie. However, the second half disappointed me a bit by comparison. Still worth watching, though. The story is a veritable tragedy, in the classical Greek sense.
Getting Home none 6 7 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin.
Uproar in Heaven (Monkey King) none 6 6 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin.
14 Blades 64% 6 6 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin.
Mulan: Rise of a Warrior none 6 7 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin.
True Legend 63% 4 5 7 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Maybe. If you like wu xia, it’s worthwhile, but if you don’t, skip it.
Lost on Journey none 5 5 5 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Maybe. It is mildly funny and not a bad movie, but there are many better and more original Chinese movies out there. Copies from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
Secret none 5 4 5 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. Maybe. No for most viewers, although there are some nice scenes. Yes, for anyone who is really into music or piano, and also it’s barely good enough if you’re really into romantic movies.
Lost in Thailand none 4 4 6 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. No, not a very good movie. However, I heard it was hugely popular in China, so it might be worthwhile if you want to understand contemporary Chinese tastes.
Slam none 4 5 5 I need to watch this again to better assess its potential for learning Mandarin. No, although it does have positive messages and give insight into teenage/school culture in contemporary China, including Western influences. Otherwise, it’s just not a very well made movie.
The Jesus Film none 4 6 5 Vocabulary somewhat uncommon and “technical”. Perhaps good for an intermediate or advanced student, but too difficult and specific for a beginner Maybe. Yes, for people who like Christian themes; no, for everyone else. It’s positive that it is available in English as well as Mandarin (and many other languages). Even when watching just in Mandarin, a beginner can pick up a few terms by context, especially if he is familiar with the Gospels. By the way, I’m 95% but not 100% sure I’ve got the right movie on IMDB. It seems to me that more recently an introduction with scenes from Genesis was added to the original 1979 movie, making it a bit longer.

4 thoughts on “Chinese films – learning Mandarin

  1. Bete Browne says:

    Thank you for this table. I’m almost persuaded to start watching films and try to build up my Mandarin. Having studied it for a year about five years ago my experience might be a little different. My greatest interest would be to see how much I can retain and how much I start speaking it in my mind.

    • I have really enjoyed the movies and found that those on my short list are very much worth watching multiple times. With what you’ve already studied and not having my experimental limitations–which means you could use study guides, multilingual subtitles, and so on–I think you could make a lot or progress and have fun with it!

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