13 Best Modern Movies About China to Watch in 2024

You can learn a lot about a country through its films, actors, and cinematic themes! China is no exception. There are some excellent Chinese movies available for foreigners to watch that paint a picture of modern Chinese life and its historical influences.

If you want to learn more about China, settle in with a snack and watch these amazing films about Chinese life and culture! In no particular order, this list contains everything from sci-fi to documentaries to romance.

1. Dying to Survive (我不是药神)

Based on a true story, this movie follows the journey of a leukemia patient in China smuggling in cheap cancer drugs from India. The film inspired a debate about the cost of cancer healthcare in China and was cited as a reason to keep cancer price drugs affordable.

Watch it to learn more about: Healthcare in China

2. The Wandering Earth (流浪地球)

A sci-fi epic, this action-packed film tells the story of the far-future Chinese people and the global community as they attempt to steer Earth away from the dying sun and into a new star system.

Watch it to learn more about: Chinese visions of a future society

3. Return to Dust (隐入尘烟)

This 2022 film takes place in the northwestern corner of Gansu, a remote desert area in China. The film follows the life of two poor farmers as they struggle to survive and deals with many issues relevant to rural China.

Watch it to learn more about: Poverty and marriage in rural northwest China

4. Little Big Women (孤味)

A mother and her three daughters survive life together and find success, but the untimely death of her estranged husband brings the past back in a complicated and emotional web.

Watch it to learn more about: Family life and dynamics in Taiwan

5. An Elephant Sitting Still (大象席地而坐)

This acclaimed film explores the lives of four people in an unnamed industrial city as they deal with social issues, selfishness, and economic hardship–all over the course of one day.

Watch it to learn more about: social struggles in post-industrial-boom China

6. The Battle at Lake Changjin (长津湖)

This epic war movie is the highest-grossing movie in China. It is about a battle between US and Chinese forces during the Korean War, a pivotal battle that left a huge impact on Chinese history.

Watch it to learn more about: Chinese military history

7. Last Train Home (归途列车)

Following the story of migrant worker parents who can only return home infrequently, and their daughter, who must make her own path in life.

Watch it to learn more about: The lives of migrant workers

8. Nezha (哪吒之魔童降世)

The highest-grossing animation film in China, and based off a 16th-century book, this colorfully animated movie tells the story of the demon child Nezha, his adventures in the spiritual realm, and his journey to uncover his true nature and identity.

Watch it to learn more about: Chinese mythological and historic characters

9. One Child Nation

China’s One Child Policy was known all around the world, but what was it like for parents and children in China? This raw documentary explores the social impact of the policy upon Chinese family life.

Watch it to learn more about: The history and impact of the One Child Policy

10. Ascension (登楼叹)

This documentary explores the impact of consumerism and “The Chinese Dream” throughout 51 locations in China.

Watch it to learn more about: Chinese urban life and economic development

11. Dear Ex (誰先愛上他的)

The characters in Dear Ex present a complicated family story: a gay father, his boyfriend, his wife, and their son. When the father dies, all remaining family members are thrust into a emotional drama about the complex realities of love, family relationships, and duties.

Watch it to learn more about: LGBTQ and family dynamics

12. Better Days (少年的你)

A tragic and hopeful film about the costs of school bullying, follow bullied high school student Chen Nian, her struggles to move forward, and her relationship with local petty criminal Xiao Bei. Dealing with difficult and profound subjects for young people, the film inspired a national conversation about school bullying and the need to provide mental health support to youth.

Watch it to learn more about: High school life and social issues facing teenagers in China

13. Hi, Mom (你好,李焕英)

After her mother is fatally hit by a car, daughter Jia Xiaoling is magically transported back to 1981, where she meets her mother as a young woman and has a chance to become her mother’s close friend and even influence her own future.

Watch it to learn more about: Chinese life in the 80s and mother-daughter relationships

Savannah Billman has a master's degree in Chinese Law and Society at the Yenching Academy of Peking University. She holds a B.A. from NYU Shanghai and has also written for The World of Chinese, TechNode, SupChina, and Sixth Tone.
Savannah Billman
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