Chinese short films

Short films are a great way to make languages lessons more culturally enriching and inspire students to take a greater interest in language learning. With films as short as four minutes, introducing short films into your lessons need not take up hours of valuable lesson time.

grandfather smallerAs “micro-films” (微电影) have become very popular in China over the past couple of years, there are many different Mandarin short films out there to choose from. In this post, we will introduce some ideas on how to manipulate short films to maximise their teaching potential, as well as ten short films that could be used in secondary school Mandarin Chinese lessons.


Ideas for using short films in the languages classroom

Before watching the film

  • Predictions – ask the class to predict what will happen in the film from a selection of images.
  • Order the images – ask pupils to put the images in the order that they think they will come in the film.
  • Listen to the soundtrack – categorise the clips according to mood; put them in the order that they think they would come in the film.
  • Show the title and opening credits of the film – brainstorm predictions and vocabulary that they might need.
  • Brainstorming on cultural themes of the film.

While watching the film

  • Play a film clip with no sound – write dialogues based on what you think the characters might be saying.
  • Vocabulary bingo – tick off words when you hear them in the film.
  • Map changes in the characters/mood of the film; annotate pictures of characters from the film.
  • Create mind maps about the film including details such as setting, characters, mood.

After watching the film

  • Reading activities: reading exercises based on the transcript e.g. gap fill exercises, true/false activities, comprehension questions; work out which character said which line in the film; grammar exercises based on transcript.
  • Listening activities: listen again to clips from the film and order; transcript with multiple-choice options on the phrases used– listen to the clips and circle the correct phrases.
  • Speaking activities: describe what happens in the film to someone who hasn’t seen it; give the film a rating and justify it; voice overs of clips from the film; interviews with the characters/director; role plays, e.g. what do you think would happen in the next scene; produce own spin-off films/prequels/sequels; debates on cultural themes.
  • Writing activities: write own subtitles for the film; write a diary entry for one of the characters; write an alternative ending; write the scene before/after the film; write film reviews; write a letter to the director suggesting improvements to the film; design a new poster for the film; develop a story about a minor character in the film; use images from the film as inspiration for a story about a journey in China; essay writing based on cultural themes; comparisons of life in China and the UK.


Chinese short films

Key Stage 3/4

1.The Butterfly Lovers 梁祝 (YouTube, 4 minutes)
This short film is an animated version of the classical Chinese story of two lovers, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. At just four minutes long, it does not tell the whole story, but would be a good way to introduce this traditional Chinese tale to pupils.

heaven's lunch to use2.Heaven’s Lunch 天堂的午餐 (YouTube, 6 minutes)
Produced on a budget of just 200 yuan, this simple yet moving story of a son cooking lunch for his mother addresses the universal themes of family and loss. This film could tie in with the topic of food for KS3/KS4 classes, as well as offering an insight into family relationships in contemporary China.

3. Dream Catcher 追梦 (YouTube, 6 minutes)
This film tells the story of a young girl from a rural area of China, who is a talented singer. It explores her relationship with her mother, as well as attitudes to education in rural China. The film ends without a real conclusion to the story, but pupils could be asked to come up with their own endings to the film.

oddly picture edited4. Oddly怪哉 (YouTube, 5 minutes)
This is a rather dark animated film, based on Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (聊斋志异), a collection of almost 500 supernatural tales written by Pu Songling in the Qing Dynasty. Stills from this film could be used to practise topics such as colours or body parts, and its expressive music could be used to great effect in the teaching of the film.

5. Kitty and Lala, 80 Impressions (YouTube, 7 minutes)
This short film is actually an advert for Intel, but takes the form of a documentary about a group of photographers, who run a very popular wedding photography blog in China. The film offers an interesting look at the wacky world of Chinese wedding photography and the post-1980s generation. With all the different outfits on parade in this documentary, it would fit well into the KS3 topic of clothes and shopping.

Key Stage 5

1. Grandfather 爷爷 (CNTV, 13 minutes)
This short film addresses the social impact of China’s rapid economic development on China’s “left-behind children” and elderly people. A touching story about a grandfather and granddaughter, the film explores the themes of migration, filial piety and the generation gap in contemporary Chinese society. There is great scope for analysis of film’s three central characters, as well as the issues of the urban-rural divide and family dynamics in China today.

Bus_44_poster2. Bus 44 车四十四 (YouTube, 12 minutes)
This award-winning film, which is based on a true story, tells the story of highway robbers holding up a bus on the outskirts of a small Chinese town. With some disturbing scenes, it may not be suitable for younger year groups, but could be used to stimulate discussion about the dynamics of human behaviour with Sixth Form classes.

3. Cry me a River (Part 1) 河上的爱情 (YouTube, 10 minutes)
Cry me a River (Part 2) (YouTube, 10 minutes)
This film, by renowned Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke, tells the story of a group of university friends reunited after ten years for their professor’s birthday meal. It is a poignant film that would work well as a character study or to explore the themes of growing up and the passing of time.

4. Mei 美 (YouTube, 12 minutes)
A Taiwanese short film set at a noodle stall in a Taipei night market, which explores the themes of love and loss in its three central characters – a father, daughter and a young male co-worker.

5. 路过 (YouTube, 7 minutes)
This touching film tells the story of a mother going to see off her business man son at the train station after spending the whole afternoon preparing food for him to take with him. It is a good film to use to explore family dynamics and the pace of life in contemporary China. This film would be suitable for use both with Sixth Form pupils and younger age groups.