44 Best Movies to Watch In Mandarin (Page 3)

Staff & contributors

Find the best Mandarin-language movies to watch. These movies in Mandarin are: highly-rated by critics, highly-rated by viewers, and handpicked by our staff.

This lovely romance is about Ellie, a straight-A student who takes money from a classmate, Paul, to write love letters for him. Ellie does this to help with the household bills but there is one big problem: the girl Paul is in love with is also the girl Ellie has a crush on.

This might seem like the set-up for a standard Netflix comedy (and if you’re thinking Bergerac, you’re right, it is based on the famous play) but as the introduction of the film reads: “This is not a love story … not one where anyone gets what they want."

It is in fact, personal work from a brilliant and quality-focused director, Alice Wu. Her last movie, Saving Face, a pioneering lesbian romance set in an Asian American context, was released a long 15 years ago.

In the crowded genre of Mafia movies, Gomorrah finds its originality in not romanticizing anything. It's authentically gripping, violent without being excessively violent, and something that can only be described as a masterpiece of Italian cinema.  It follows different protagonists' entry into organised crime in Naples, with the two main ones taking their inspiration from American gangster characters.  Just to give you a sense of how well-rooted this movie is, after it was done shooting, many of the characters (including the guy who plays the clan boss in the movie), were arrested. In his case, he was caught trying to collect  "pizzo", otherwise known as mafia tax.

Written like a stage play, directed like the viewer is a fly on the wall, and shot with a love for deep shadows and warm candlelight, Flowers of Shanghai is about as immersive a chamber drama as one could ask for. Having most of the "action" take place off screen, director Hou Hsiao-hsien draws our eye instead to how his characters (including one played by an exceptionally stoic Tony Leung) continue to negotiate for their own freedom against patriarchal norms, pushing against cultural notions of proper decorum. It's a film brimming with repressed emotion, but without ever raising its voice. The vibes, as the kids say, are immaculate.

Jia Zhangke (who NPR critic John Powers once called “perhaps the most important filmmaker working in the world today"), directed this movie based on the story of a gangster he knew while growing up.

And he is far from being the only noticeable talent here. Actress Tao Zhao shines as a character called Qiao, a dancer who infiltrates the crime scene in Northern China by way of her boyfriend (the gangster). When a boss leader is assassinated, Qiao finds herself in jail after she refuses to incriminate her boyfriend. 

This is a gangster movie but it’s also about how Qiao processes her time in jail and what she does once she gets out. It serves more as a character study and a picture of modern-day China.

Even with a plot that wholeheartedly embraces the tropes of a fake marriage and of found families, The Wedding Banquet never falls into the trap of histrionic melodrama. There's a calmness to this film that's made all the more poignant by how none of these characters are truly right or wrong, good or bad. Everyone is just trying to stay in their lane while nurturing the little bits of happiness they can find. The Wedding Banquet is a relatively early example of a lighthearted gay romance and an American co-production that's incredibly sensitive about representing Taiwanese culture properly on screen.

The entirety of Pieces of April takes place on Thanksgiving Day, a busy holiday meant to bring loved ones together. Sure enough, April, the eldest Burns daughter, takes great pains to prepare a nice dinner for her visiting family. But we soon learn that she is motivated less by excitement than by dread: she's long been estranged, disowned even, by her uptight mother, Joy, who is only agreeing to come because she's sick with cancer. April seems to be on a reluctant mission to fix their fraught relationship, but pesky (albeit funny) mishaps, both on her and Joy's end, keep getting in the way. 

Shot digitally and very closely with hand-held cameras, Pieces of April looks as intimate as it feels. It's a snapshot of an era and of a particular family dynamic, one that relatably relies on both love and scorn to keep going. It's an excellent, honest, and underrated gem of a movie.

Though Eternal Summer isn't able to fully engage with its queer characters—maybe due to its being released in the mid-2000s—it still makes for a more interesting character study than you'd expect. This romance between three school friends has more on its mind than simply pitting two romantic pairings against each other. Unrequited feelings, unspoken secrets, and identities that are constantly in flux make Eternal Summer compelling just for the way these people try to dance around one another's emotions. And since it's shot in the muted colors of early digital filmmaking, this is a love story that becomes all the more melancholic just in the way it looks.

It's slower and stranger than most comedies you may be used to, but there's still lots of heart to be found in the way Classmates Minus follows the lapsed hopes and wishes of its core characters. Beneath all its stereotypically male yearnings for control and romantic wish fulfillment, there are potent ideas here about how a tired economy and jaded political culture can turn those in their middle age into completely different people. Writer/director Huang Hsin-yao provides narration for his own film, but rather than being distracting or conceited, his words add a level of needed sympathy to everything we see on screen.

When Émilie finds a new roommate in Camille, she also gains a friend and a lover. Still, the parameters of their relationship are never quite sure, causing a complicated chasm that both divides and arouses them. Eventually, they meet Nora, who brings her own desires and insecurities into the mix. Experimentation ensues as the film follows the trio coming into their own as sexual and human beings. 

Shot in rich black and white against the backdrop of Paris' urban Les Olympiades neighborhood, Paris, 13th District is a finely balanced film that never overstays its welcome in the contrasting ideas it takes on. Classic love stories offset modern setups of romance, while fast-paced city life levels out the uncertainty of its inhabitants. Paris, 13th District is an engaging watch, not despite but because of its bold attempt to be many things at once. 

Though it doesn't delve too deeply into any pressing issues in baseball or into its protagonist's Taiwanese roots, Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story still makes for interesting viewing, mostly for its extremely specific discussions on baseball. Part sports documentary and part study on physical therapy, the film rejects any narratives about innate talent and greatness and aims to depict most great players as they really are: athletes who have had to train hard and maintain their progress through sheer force of will. And at the center is Chien-Ming Wang himself, a gentle and humble giant who makes for an unlikely but refreshing sports celebrity.

Happy Together is a beautifully devastating tale about a gay couple, portrayed by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Leslie Cheun, who struggle with maintaining romance and fidelity in their relationship. Despite their efforts, they find the emotional distance growing between them, especially as they leave their home of Hong Kong for Buenos Aires.

Filmed and set in the late 1990s, Happy Together explored the depths of queer love in a way most films hadn’t. 

Since its release, it has touched the souls of many and caused tears to be shed. It serves as a reminder that love isn’t perfect, but it’s always worth the effort.

American Girl follows 13-year-old Fen as she returns to Taiwan from the US and tries to make sense of a culture that’s supposedly her own. In addition to her awkward but relatable attempts to understand identity and adolescence, Fen also struggles to connect with her mother Lily, whose own problems further push her away from her teenage daughter. If you’ve seen Lady Bird, you may recognize a bit of Christine and Marion in Fen and Lily as they throw themselves into an endless tug-of-war of emotions. Their fights are genuinely frustrating, but only because of how true-to-life they are.

As painful as it sometimes is to see them clash, it’s their love-hate dynamic that charges much of the film’s emotional energy and makes it ultimately irresistible to watch. 

As the value of ivory appreciated by the Chinese middle-class, the demand for it has skyrocketed. This brought elephants to a dire outlook: extinction in as early as the next 15 years. “Traders in ivory actually want extension in elephants, the less elephants there are the more the price rises” as one of the commentators in the film says. To bring awareness to this threat, filmmakers went undercover for 16 months and followed the ivory from where it was stolen to where it hits the shelves of Hong Kong. The result is a genuine thriller, far more gripping than you’d expect from a documentary. It portrays the brave and hopeful men and women trying to combat these atrocities, the battle they may be losing, and all the obstacles they face. An extremely important watch.

There isn't anything about Man in Love—a remake of the 2014 South Korean film of the same name—that you haven't already seen before. But this iteration of the love story between a kindhearted woman and a scoundrel in business with gangsters and creditors benefits from high production values that help Taiwan stay romantic despite the grit of the film's plot. There's also an undeniable earnestness to even the most predictable beats here, helping the love story at its center feel more like a heat-of-the-moment bond forged in desperate economic times, and less like an abrupt bout of passion.