Here are 7 family-friendly Chinese movies for International Women’s Day to help kids who are learning Chinese get immersed in the language while being entertained and educated!

I grew up surrounded by strong women in my family and also on the screen—all these brilliant women warriors who kick butt!

For International Women’s Day 2022, I consolidated a list of Chinese films with strong women characters for your enjoyment. I made this list of seven films based on the following criteria:

  • There must be a variety of women characters with a variety of emotions;
  • The Bechdel test – there are two women who talk to each other about something other than a man… AND the women are named;
  • The list provides a wide range of perspectives, experience, and time periods;
  • The film facilitated a really enjoyable and exciting conversation between my daughter and me, and made us curious to find out more.

These are definitely films that #BreaktheBias and support “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow”. International Women’s Day 2022, on March 8th is a great time to binge-watch these films!

1.《我的姐姐》”Sister”

Title: “Sister”《我的姐姐》(Wǒ de jiějiě), 2021, Chengdu

Suitable for ages: 6+

Available on: YouTube

Language: Mandarin

Subtitle:  Chinese

Trailer:

Summary:

An Ran is a young nurse whose parents suddenly die in a traffic accident. She had been independent from her family for a while and has always been angry that her parents forced her to pretend to have a disability so that they would be allowed to have a second child, a boy, who is now 6 years old. While sorting out her resentment against her parents for favoring a boy, she is also under tremendous pressure to take on the responsibility of being “mother” to her 6 year-old brother. She has to decide on whether to have her brother get adopted by another family or to bring him up herself, which would mean giving up her independent life where she is pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor.

Why we recommend it:

  • Won Best Supporting Actress at the Huading Awards and the Golden Rooster Awards
  • An Ran’s character is superbly written – she is selfish, strong-willed, complex, and independent. The acting is simply superb. Watch not just for the lead actress Zheng Zifeng, but also the aunt, Zhu Yuanyuan, who is a joy to watch.
  • It was a hit in China when it opened, beating the blockbuster, Godzilla VS Kong!
  • This filmed sparked a lot of critical conversation in China about the roles of boys and girls, men and women in society.

Topics I discussed with my daughter after the film:

  • If you were An Ran, would you bear the responsibility of bringing up your younger brother knowing that you would have to sacrifice all your dreams?
  • There is some expectation that the older sister would take care of her younger brother. If the roles were reverse and the film is about an older brother and a younger sister. Would there be the social expectation that the older brother would bring up the younger sister? Why?

2. “On Happiness Road” 《幸福路上》

Movies-To-Help-Learn-Chinese-幸福路上-OnHappinessRoad

Title: “On Happiness Road” 《幸福路上》(Xìngfú lùshàng), 2017, Taiwan

Available on: Catchplay+ and Netflix (certain territories only)

Language: Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese (Hokkien), English

Subtitles:  English and Chinese

Summary:

Chi is an immigrant to the United States from Taiwan and returns to Taiwan upon her grandmother’s death. Her return prompts memories of her growing up just after the death of Chiang Kai-Shek. Through her memories of schooling, her relationships with her family and friends, and the changes in her own hopes and dreams, the film draws a poignant picture of this period of martial law in Taiwan.

Why we recommend it

  • Won Best Animation Feature at the Golden Horse Awards, Best Feature Grand Prize at the Tokyo Animation Awards, Best Animation at the Taipei Film Festival
  • The hand-drawn art is quite delightful.
  • The Taiwanese dialogue is delightful. My own background is Hokkien, which is similar to Taiwanese, but had heard very little of it in the official media in Singapore.
  • The sense of loss of being an immigrant and returning to a “home” that has changed is very intimate and familiar. It reminds me of George Orwell’s 1939 novel, “Coming Up for Air” – though it’s got a much less pessimistic tone.
  • The character’s personal journey takes us through Taiwan’s political history.

Topics I discussed with my daughter after the film:

  • How people separate each other through labels such as “番仔” or “huan ah” in Taiwanese to refer to the native people. It means someone different from who I am with derogatory tones.
  • How in the story, the protagonist was not allowed to speak in Taiwanese, only Mandarin, in school … what does it feel like to be told that your home language is not allowed?
  • How politics shapes our hopes and dreams and what we value.

3. Wing Chun 《咏春》

7 Family-Friendly Chinese Movies for International Women’s Day 2022

Title:  Wing Chun 《咏春 | 詠春》(Yǒng chūn), 1994, Hong Kong

Available on: Amazon

Language: Cantonese

Subtitle:  English and Chinese

Trailer:

Summary:

Wing Chun manages her family tofu shop together with her father, sister, and aunt and in order to fend off bullies, she is highly skilled in kung fu. One day, she protects an attractive widow from villain Flying Monkey and incurs his wrath. She proceeds to defeat Flying Monkey and as a result, makes an enemy of Flying Monkey’s brother … Flying Chimpanzee! (So much monkey business!) Wing Chun figures out an ingenious strategy to defeat the two brothers with airborne simian noms de guerre.

Why we recommend it:

  • The fight scenes are a lot of fun and very inventive. There’s one particular fight scene that has Wing Chun challenging her enemies to try smashing a tray of tofu.
  • Michelle Yeoh is awesome in this! Her fighting stances are solid and her training shows. She just looks sooooo powerful!
  • The enemies are Flying Monkey and his brother, Flying Chimpanzee! In the final battle, Wing Chun says, “I’ll destroy your cotton belly … This time, you have to call me mom.” Wow!
  • Donnie Yen plays Wing Chun’s obedient and compliant husband!

Topics I discussed with my daughter after the film:

  • How awesome is Michelle Yeoh?
  • How awesome is Michelle Yeoh?
  • How awesome is Michelle Yeoh?

4. “The Soong Sisters” 《宋家皇朝》

7 Family-Friendly Chinese Movies for International Women’s Day 2022

Title: “The Soong Sisters” 《宋家皇朝》(Sòng jiā huángcháo), 1997, Hong Kong

Available on: Youtube

Language: Cantonese and Mandarin

Subtitle:  English and Chinese

Trailer:

Summary:

It is the story of the three Soong Sisters—Soon Ai-ling, Soon Ching-ling, and Soong Mei-ling—in the early part of the 20th century, taking place over one of the most tumultuous periods of Chinese history, which resulted in the current state of affairs between Taiwan and Mainland China. Soong Ai-Ling influenced banking in China, Soong Ching-Ling married Sun Yat-Sen and later became known as the “mother of modern China”, championing Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party. All three were Chinese women who were educated in the West at Wesleyan College in the USA.

Why we recommend it:

  • Because it stars the amazing Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Vivian Wu!
  • Because it provides an excellent historical background that weaves personal story and political history to explain the fraught relationship between Taiwan and Mainland China.

Topics I discussed with my daughter after the film:

  • The compromise the film makes between telling an engaging story and trying to be comprehensive in its relating of a complex and long period involving so many characters.
  • What are the differences between the movie version and the historical account?
  • Which parts of the film were found to be problematic in Taiwan and in Mainland China and why?
  • How did these women’s global competence allow them to be politicians, ambassadors, and business people?
  • What were family dinners like in the Soong family?
  • Do you think they made the right decisions/ backed the correct side?

5. “Heroic Trio” 《东方三侠》

7 Family-Friendly Chinese Movies for International Women’s Day 2022

Title: Heroic Trio 《东方三侠》(dōng fāng sān xiá), 1993, Hong Kong

Available on: Drafthouse and Amazon (some territories)

Language: Cantonese

Subtitle:  English and Chinese

***NOTE TO PARENTS AND TEACHERS: There is some ridiculous and gratuitous violence in this movie.  ***

Trailer:

Summary:

There were two of these movies made in the same year! 1993! The plots don’t really matter in these films because they are all about the stars and the action sequences. Outlandish and fantastical.

But here are the plots in case you’re interested:

They both take place in a dystopic futuristic universe.

In Part 1, babies are getting stolen by an evil force and 陈三 (Michelle Yeoh) initially fights for the evil side, but has a change of heart and joins the other two heroines to defeat the evil eunuch who’s been stealing the babies.

In Part 2, 陈三 is now good and works together with 东东 (Anita Mui) and 陈七 (Maggie Cheung) to fight the evil villain and find water for a waterless world.

Part 1 is more about 陈三’s journey from evil to good, and Part 2 is more about 东东’s journey from giving up her job to be a stay-at-home mom to returning to her true calling as a kick-butt sword-flying dagger-gun-toting flying superhero, 女飞侠!

Why we recommend it:

  • Because it stars the amazing Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and the late Anita Mui!
  • And you get to see them in crazy futuristic sci-fi costumes!
  • And the kung fu sequences are a whole lot of fun!
  • Because the theme song, “女人心“ , “A Woman’s Heart” is a very important song in HK pop history, winning Anita Mui the award for Best Movie Song in the 1994 Hong Kong Film Awards.

Topics I discussed with my daughter after the film:

  • How awesome is Michelle Yeoh?
  • How awesome is Maggie Cheung?
  • How tragic that we lost the awesome Anita Mui to cancer when she was only 40 years old.

6. “Little Big Women” 《孤味》

7 Family-Friendly Chinese Movies for International Women’s Day 2022

Title: “Little Big Women” 《孤味》(Gū wèi), 2020, Taiwan

Available on: Netflix

Language: Mandarin and Taiwanese/Hokkien

Subtitle:  English and Chinese

Trailer:

Summary:

Lin Shoying is a successful restauranteur in Tainan who holds the secret recipe to the ultimate deep-fried shrimp roll. On her 70th birthday, her estranged husband dies and she and her three daughters have to hold a wake for him while dealing with their memories of him.

Why we recommend it:

  • Strong writing and subtle direction. The story has quietly surprising twists and turns. Mom, played by Chen Shufang is especially engaging.
  • It’s the best acting that I have seen from the highly popular Taiwanese actress Hsieh Ying-Xuan (谢盈萱)
  • It makes me really hungry for deep-fried shrimp rolls 蝦捲!

Topics I discussed with my daughter after the film:

  • Why is Hsieh Ying-Xuan’s acting so different here from her TV roles? What did the director do differently?
  • What secrets do families keep from each other? Why do we keep secrets from those we love?

7. “Anita”《梅艷芳》

7 Family-Friendly Chinese Movies for International Women’s Day 2022

Title:  “Anita” 《梅艳芳 | 梅艷芳》(Méi Yànfāng), 2021, Hong Kong

Available on: Disney+

Language: Cantonese

Subtitle:  English and Chinese

Trailer:

Summary:

The life of Cantopop phenomenon, Anita Mui, who started performing at age 4, and passed away far too young at age 40 due to cervical cancer. She was highly unusual as a performer because of her low contralto voice range, and through her career, inspired countless other performers. She was also known as the Madonna of the East, with her sold-out concerts and outlandish costumes.

Why we recommend it:

  • Because Anita Mui was a phenomenon and super star! The most influential Cantopop singer of all time!
  • Because, as my daughter said, Anita is soooooooo cool!

Topics I discussed with my daughter after the film:

  • Why did the film leave out Anita’s political activism?
  • What did Anita have to sacrifice to be a super star?
  • What does it mean to start working and performing at age 4? What kind of childhood did she have?
  • Why was “Bad Girl” so controversial and popular at the same time?
  • What films did she perform in during the 1990s and why were they such strong women characters? For example, she plays the hilarious and highly unusual step-mom to Jackie Chan’s Wong Fei Hong in Drunken Master II.

Have an amazing and powerful International Women’s Day 2022!

 

 

Dr. Yen Yen Woo works on educating for a multicultural and multilingual world through popular culture.  She most recently co-created the Dim Sum Warriors app, characters and stories for Bilingual Learning. She has a Doctorate in Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and has been a tenured professor of education. She is also an award-winning film director and screenwriter. Her works have been licensed by HBO and Netflix and featured on BBC, Fast Company, Wired, and other global publications. Email: yenyen@dimsumwarriors.com.