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Great classic Chinese movies

Chinese movies are great resources for students to know about China, Chinese people, history, and to learn Chinese. Regardless being lower level students or higher level students, everyone can benefit from watching a good movie. Some learning tips are published in How to use movies to learn Chinese. 

If you’re interested, watch the following classic Chinese movies as a start. April encourages everyone to explore the endless Chinese movie universe. 

大红灯笼高高挂 (Raise the Red Lantern)

Director: 张艺谋 (Zhang Yimou)

Four wives live in the same house. All want to gain favour of the husband. It is a big house, but conflicts are inevitable. Released in 1991, this movie tells us such a story happened in a dim lit, luxurious, big and mysterious traditional Chinese household.

霸王别姬 (Farewell My Concubine)

Director: 陈凯歌 (Chen Kaige)

From Republic era to post Cultural Revolution, this movie presents us the constraint struggles Beijing opera artists have faced. Released in 1993, this movie merges the reality and the opera stage together, telling compelling stories about art, friendship, love and life. 

喜宴 (The Wedding Banquet)

Director: 李安 (Ang Lee)

Released in 1993, this movie appears as a light-hearted comedy, but really probes into serious issues. While having a boy friend, a gay man from Taiwan living in the USA pretends to marry an illegal immigrate from Shanghai to reassure his old fashioned Chinese parents that everything is fine. But things start to go wrong when the parents come to the America to organise a wedding for him.

洗澡 (Shower)

Director: 张杨 (Zhang Yang)

This is a 1999 comedy, telling us a heartwarming story happened in Beijing around a public bathhouse. It is also about how the public bathhouse, a cherished Chinese tradition, is being demolished in the modern world, and how life is transformed.

花样年华 (In the Mood for Love)

Director: 王家卫 (Wong Kar-Wai)

Released in 2000, this movie has had a huge influence on the representation of Chinese culture and art. Although the story is a simple one, the movie draws people into an aesthetic experience mixed with colour, fashion, music, and subtle expressions of lead characters.

刮痧 (The Gua Sha Treatment)

Director: 郑晓龙 (Zheng Xiaolong)

Gua sha is treatment used in traditional Chinese medicine, using a tool to scrape people’s skin. The result is petechia, or bruises to untrained eyes. Imagine what would happen when a Chinese person giving someone a gua sha treatment in the USA where it is unheard of. This is the background theme of the movie. Since its release in 2001, it has touched many people’s heart, especially Chinese people. 

大腕 (Big Shot’s Funeral)

Director: 冯小刚 (Feng Xiaogang)

Released in 2001, this comedy’s humour is considered dark humour. Who wants to stage a grand funeral for himself? The story ties closely with our commercialised society, and provides us with a good laugh at ourselves.

功夫 (Kung Fu Hustle)

Director: 周星驰 (Stephen Chow)

Released in 2004, this hilarious movie tells us wonderful stories about how kung fu masters are disguised as nobodies and how a nobody becomes a kung fu master. This movie is full of Chinese cultural motifs, and is able to take us to a traditional Chinese martial art universe filled with surprises.