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Best Chinese Movies in Mandarin


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I'm 7 months into an experiment wherein I am trying to learn to understand Mandarin exclusively by watching videos. I only put in an average of 30 minutes per day, so this is a project that will take a few years. I've been delighted to discover many good and a few great Chinese movies in the process. I've pasted the first 3 paragaphs of my latest blog post on this topic below. If you're interested in reading more, please visit my blog www.mandarinexperiment.com. You will find a spreadsheet of all the films I've watched with critics' and my own assessments of each film.

I’ve watched 27 films in Mandarin since I began my experiment 7 months ago. Twenty-one of these are Chinese movies, while six are dubbed Hollywood productions for kids. I would recommend 17 of these Chinese films, and strongly recommend 10: Hero, Journey to the West, Shower, House of Flying Daggers, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Shanghai Triad, The Emperor and the Assassin, A Touch of Sin, The Road Home, and Fearless.

I would recommend these movies to anyone who likes good cinema, but think it would be a real shame if any student of Mandarin did not watch these 10 movies. My truly short list—movies I would rate among my favorites regardless of language—are
Hero and Journey to the West, but a strong runner up is House of Flying Daggers, namely for the visuals, while Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Shower are both just very good original cinema.

I would greatly appreciate it if anyone can point to other high quality Chinese movies in Mandarin!

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I understand you are watching movies with the aim of being able to understand them, are you attempting to learn to speak Chinese as well? I read your blog and it wasn't clear.


if you learn only to understand what you hear, what is the purpose?


I understand the idea behind natural learning but just comprehension in isolation seems a bit useless to me.


Now don't get me wrong i am not disagreeing with what you are doing, just trying to understand it better.


Maybe I missed it but I could not work out your long term plans and goals, just so I can work out the usefulness of this method.

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Hi Shelley, thank you for your reply and questions. I think the motivations behind my experiment become more clear by reading my hypothesis and methodology pages, as well as my Week 14 post. I'll paste the relevant section of that post below.


First, let me address your specific questions: first of all, I disagree that just understanding a language (without speaking) is useless. If I could just understand German, Italian, Arabic, or Mandarin, that in itself would be very useful to me. However, if I reach my goal of understanding Mandarin, I'm fairly certain I will not stop there, but rather will then endeavor to not only learn to speak, but also to read and write characters. I think focusing exclusively on listening comprehension as the first step to acquiring a language with such radically different pronunciation and grammar has real benefits, and will undoubtedly make learning to speak correctly much easier later on. It is similar to what children do with their native tongue. Is it the best method for adults? In my assessment, no, it would be better to tackle the four language skills simultaneously. So why am I taking this approach? Mainly, to test a hypothesis, to really prove--which requires isolating variables--that even a beginner (and certainly intermediate students) can benefit from watching authentic videos in their target language. A secondary reason is that, not having the time to study Mandarin intensively, this is a logistically easy approach. I don't have to hire teachers, set a regular schedule, or find the energy very late at night (which is when I usually have a bit of free time) to study boring textbooks, and so on.


Here is the relevant bit of the post I mentioned:

Why am I trying to learn Mandarin through this unusual experiment?


1.As an English teacher during several years, and at present in my advisory role at the institute, I constantly touted the benefits of watching authentic video sources for improving one’s listening skills. I always insist that, along with reading literature and other high quality texts, speaking with natives, and writing essays, watching authentic videos (especially movies) and listening to audiobooks and radio are the very best methods for learning a foreign language. Students often resist watching videos because they feel that they don’t understand enough. They think they don’t benefit if they’re not understanding most of what they hear. This experiment, by isolating variables, has the potential to prove that watching videos can be beneficial at any level. It’s not just a way to reinforce what you’ve already learned, but also to learn more.


2.I like the idea of conducting a quasi-scientific experiment and contributing to understanding about language acquisition. Though I am not a linguist, I like the field of linguistics.


3.I hope to drive quality, long-term traffic to the website of The Natural Language Institute. In particular, I want traffic that will improving rankings worldwide and help attract teachers, translators, and other collaborators. Although the Institute operates pretty much exclusively in Brasilia at present, my vision is to expand it internationally (at least via the internet), especially in the fields of distance learning and translations. I believe the way to build traffic is by creating interesting, valuable content. That is one of the main purposes of this blog and, indirectly, of the experiment itself.


4.Although I’m honestly not sure, I do believe that in the long run my method will actually be effective and efficient. If my hypothesis is proved correct, and at the end of 1,200 hours I’m understanding a decent amount of what I watch (enough to “get” what is going on in any normal type of video), I think that will be an excellent basis for expanding my studies—adding speaking and study of characters, as well as continuing my viewing.


5.Logistically, it’s a very easy (not to mention cheap) way to study.


6.It’s a very enjoyable and relaxing method!

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I think I understand more now your aims and goals. It will be interesting to see how you progress and if you do start learning to speak and read and write if it will make it any easier or different from normal learning methods.


How do you hope to quantify your progress, are you planning on taking any kind of "test or exam"?


It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds :)


I will watch with interest and I wish you the best.

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Hi Shelley. I would like to take some type of exam to have an objective measure of my listening proficiency at the end of my 1,200 hours. However, I don't know if such a test exists. Remember I should not be expected to be able to read any Mandarin or speak at all. In any case, I will do some research down the road to see if a such a pure listening exam exists!


For now, I am just self-assessing, with the obvious downside that this is entirely subjective.


I am carefully tracking my viewing time and have started making a word-a-day list, but these measure inputs, not output. About once a month, I try to assess what percentage of a brand-new video I can understand (for now, that basically means what percentage of words I can pick out with correcting meaning). This is still in the very low single digits. And it will probably always be not only a subjective, but also a very gross estimation.

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I think this is great. Learning a language while keeping the fun is an excellent extra motivation.

While I do think Chinese is special, meaning only listening will bring you only that far language wise, like victorhart said, he is conscious on the limits of his methods.

I mostly learned my English from watching TV. I have to concede that is far easier that Chinese, watching TV gave me the ability to learn a great deal vocabulary wise on the listening, writing and reading sides. Again, that can't happen with Chinese as you need to work on writing and reading separately.

After a few years of "practicing" English that way, I ended being able to listening to the radio or any given audio podcast. At the same time, I picked up a reading interest (news and books).

Of course, I have some difficulties at first when it comes to speaking because I hardly practice English but after a bit, English comes quite naturally.

What was really great about that experience : it seemed effortless.

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Interesting project!


Here´s three really good movies for you:






Also this could be good for learning a little culture and history on the side:



Suzhou river from the same director might be good, haven´t seen it yet.

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Dr. Gorgon, thanks a lot for the suggestions! I got very excited about Yi Yi in particular, but also Summer Palace, neither of which I had heard of--unfortunately neither are available for download on Amazon, but I'll find another way. Eat Drink Man Woman I had on my mental list but somehow forgot about it. Now with your reminder I purchased it on Amazon. A Simple Life seems to be in Cantonese, so I think I'll skip it for now.


Thanks again!

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Ah, a simple life is indeed in Cantonese, I guess i saw it dubbed in Mandarin back in mainland. It is absolutely great movie. Directors like Edward Yang, Ye Lou and Ang Lee have a good reputation, in case you run out of movies...

At the moment shows called 爸爸去哪儿.(celebrity dads go travel with their kids and do all kinds of funny task with them) and 舌尖上的中国 ("Bite of China" Best food documentary ever made) are really popular in China - both are in the middle of second season at the moment. Both of them are perfect for learning. First of all, listening small children to talk (5-7 years old) can give a great "feel" for the language, make you understand how it functions with a small vocabulary and simple grammar.

In Bite of China the narrator speaks really pure and educated standard Mandarin, whereas in the movies characters usually speak dialect of the area where movie is based on. Bite of China´s every episode´s focus is on certain area and the people there and how their lives are related to the local food culture. This show is absolutely gorgeous - at least the first season, second one is just a copy of the first one.


Both of these shows can be found on youtube, just copy/paste the Chinese name. Bite of has English translated versions too.
These are easy to follow and enjoy even without any English subs.     

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gato, that's a superb idea. is there no problem with content being blocked due to geographical restrictions? i get that a lot here in Brazil with US content, and have to use a VPN, but haven't set that up with a set-top box yet (only on computers).


i would really appreciate any further guidance on buying and setting up such a box.

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Some Chinese video sites block overseas viewing, while others do not.  My mom lives in the US and has been able to watch videos from iQiyi on the Skyworth tv box.  There is, of course, always a chance that the sites will change policy and start blocking overseas viewing in the future.  

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