Watching Chinese Movies Improves Your Chinese Vacation


The movies that a nation enjoys will tell you a lot about them.  I believe that watching Chinese movies will help us all get a glimpse into the Chinese people.

June 24th, 2012 – I have just published this, and actually -ahem- don’t have the reviews written for the 15 movies shown on this page yet.  However, ALL these movies make my “Recommend” list. 

Some are not family friendly, so check their IMDB descriptions before watching.


Why Bring Reviews to this Blog?

Hmmm.  It really is an easy answer.  Very logical to me.

I want you to see Chinese culture, social issues, and historical settings in a way that only well-crafted movies can show you.  While this blog gives you some information and tips, seeing Chinese movies will get your mind in the “flow”.  I would liken it to “priming the pump” before trying to draw water.

You will have a better and richer time in China.

If you are going to China for the first time, and you only want to see the big sites, then you will probably never watch a movie made for the Chinese market.  Who wants to bother reading English sub-titles?

But if you really want to get into the Chinese mind, then you would be foolish to not watch their cinema.  To really get your hands around China, you have to see what the Chinese see.

Together: A country boy and his father come to Beijing to compete on violin

The Warloads: Qing general fights the Imperial Court while putting down a rebellion

Beginning of the Great Revival: The events leading to the birth of the Chinese Communist Party


Your Favorite Stars as You Have Never Seen Them Before

A lot of the Chinese names that have made American films have now returned to China to make movies for the Chinese audience.  They have a wider variety of roles there, and you will often see them in roles that will surprise you.

Jackie Chan and Jet Li come to mind as two that I have seen in quite different roles than they played in American films.  Jackie Chan is especially prolific in starring in and making Chinese movies.

The Drummer: Mafia boss's son sent to Taiwan and escapes into Zen Drumming

King of Masks: Elderly street performer needs to find heir to learn his dying art

The Piano in a Factory: Quirky comedy where father and friends build steel piano for his daughter


Aren’t These Just like Hollywood Movies, Except in Chinese?

Nope, not by a long shot.

While you will find the occasional film that feels like Hollywood got their hands on it, most are not that way.  Even the big budget (by Chinese standards) historical movies don’t feel formulaic like the films you expect from Hollywood.

The best way I can frame it is that they feel more “honest”.  They feel more like “indy” films without the gritty “in your face” insensitivity.  Especially on the social issue films, these directors seem to want to better society than just use social issues as stepping stones to make a name for themselves.

The Road Home: Young country girl falls in love with the new teacher from the city

Red Cliffs: Historical battle where North China tries to conquor the South

Rickshaw Boy: Story about the hard life of a rickshaw driver in early 1900's Beijing


What Kind of Subjects Do They Cover?

Movies in China range from a variety of motivations.  Here are the three that I have observed most often.

  • Communist Party Message
    The desire to unite the country to present a “good face” to the rest of the world, and to promote social harmony are definitely messages that the Chinese Communist Party wants its citizens to remember.  The idea of “social harmony” is deeply ingrained in both the Old China and the New China.
  • Chinese Historical Drama
    Despite the Communist desire to shed the Old Chinese Culture as part of the Imperial Past, they still enjoy telling the history.  Who doesn’t love a good tell with fancy costumes, swords, palace intrigue, massive armies, and martial arts?
    The Chinese have 5000 years of their own history to use as a backdrop.
  • Delicate Social Issues
    There is tension in today’s Chinese society where not all citizens are treated equal.  Social activists use movies as a vehicle to expose raw nerves and social injustice.
    By our standards, these movies are very passive in pushing their social points.  Telling stories of fictional people facing these problems is a way of drawing attention, without being censored by the government.  These movies can be very moving to watch.

IP Man: Bruce Lee's mentor - Wing Chun master forced to fight Japanese Karate master

IP Man 2: After the war, Master IP tries to start a martial arts school in Hong Kong

Not One Less: Temporary teacher must not lose a student, or she will not get paid


How Do You Get Access to Chinese Films?

The most accessible ones for Americans will be the large range of Chinese movies that have become available on Netflix recently.

This last year, Netflix has added many movies to their Instant Queue. Many others of these Sino stories can be accessed by requesting the dvds in the mail.  Even Amazon is carrying some of these on their Amazon Prime instant streaming service.

I generally just watch them with my Netflix subscription.  If I really like a particular file and want it for my collection, I will buy the physical dvd on Amazon.

1911: Jackie Chan stars as revolutionary that lead revolt to start the Republic of China

Ocean Heaven: Jet Li is a father dealing with his autistic son while hiding a dark secret of his own

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles: Japanese father attempts to fulfill his dying son's promise to a man in China













I’ll Give You the Best, and Ignore the Rest!

Before I mislead you to think that all Chinese movies are great, I have to say that there are terrible movies there, too.  Stupid movies that will not prepare you for your visit certainly exist.

I am pretty selective, and will only publish reviews for the movies I think will be of value to your understanding of Chinese culture, group think, and social issues.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: Two students sent to the countryside by Mao to be "re-educated"

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