LTL’s Top 5 Films Set in Beijing – Discover Beijing Differently
Want to learn more about Beijing’s history, culture and traditions? Then films set in Beijing are a great way to go!
Below LTL gives you our top 5 films set in Beijing. Each one explores a different part of Beijing and China’s history and culture. Sit back and enjoy!
For those who want a challenge try watching some of these with only Chinese subtitles, a really great way to test your Chinese!
Or check out our blog for the best Mandarin movies to learn Chinese.
Films set in Beijing #1 – Shower
Films set in Beijing #2 – The Last Emperor
Films set in Beijing #3 – The Blue Kite
Films set in Beijing #4 – Farewell My Concubine
Films set in Beijing #5 – Beijing Bicycle
Films Set In Beijing #1 – Shower
Shower (洗澡 xǐ zǎo) is a heartwarming film that truly celebrates Beijing daily life.
📍 Set in a bathhouse in one of the Beijing Hutong neighbourhoods this film depicts the ongoing battle of traditional Chinese culture against modernity.
The film centres around the owner of the bathhouse Old Liu and his two sons: the mentally challenged Liu Erming and his older son Liu Daming.
Old Liu and Erming run the bathhouse making sure it remains open for their strange assortment of regular customers.
The bathhouse is much more than just a place for people to come and get clean. Instead, it is the heart of the local community with customers spending entire days here and forming close friendships.
The bathhouse is a place where customers can escape “modern China” and embrace the simplicity of a bygone time.
In contrast, there is the arrival of Daming who has returned from Shenzhen where he is a married, successful businessman.
At first, Daming fails to see the importance of the bathhouse, planning on only staying for three days. He has become used to a modern way of life and struggles to adjust to this older, slower way of life.
However, Daming is soon seduced by the charm of the bathhouse community and delays his return home.
Looming in the background of the film is the news that the bathhouse is set to be demolished to make room for commercial housing and shopping malls.
This will be a very familiar scene for any of you who have been living in Beijing in recent years and has witnessed the many “brickenings” in Hutong areas of the city.
The film serves as a warning against the rise of the impersonal modern world. Instead, showing the importance of community and traditions.
📍 You will find Hutong mainly around the Forbidden City the most famous Hutong being Nanluoguxiang. You can go there by subway and stop at the station with the same name, on line 6 and 8.
Not sure how you can watch these films in China? Have a look at our list of Chinese streaming sites.
Films Set In Beijing #2 – The Last Emperor
Now this is the only film on our list that is in English, so if subtitles aren’t your thing, this is definitely the film for you!
📍 The Last Emperor is a truly breathtaking film that really gives insight into the lavish lifestyle of Emperors inside the Forbidden City.
In short, it is a biographical drama film about the last Emperor of China, Emperor Pu Yi.
It is based on his autobiography entitled “From Emperor to Citizen”. It follows his life from when he was crowned Emperor of China at two years old in 1908 up to 1967, the year he died.
Told in flashbacks from Pu Yi’s time in a Communist Re-education Camp, this film depicts the turbulent history of 20th century China.
Touching on subjects such as the War Lord Period, the Japanese occupation of China and the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, you can really get a taste of modern Chinese history.
The film focuses on Pu Yi’s development from a spoilt child forcing his tutor to drink ink, to power hungry puppet Emperor of Manchuria for the Japanese and eventually his transformation into a humble gardener.
Winning an amazing NINE Academy Awards including ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’, it is easy to see why this is one of the top films set in Beijing.
DID YOU KNOW? – It was the first foreign produced film given permission to film inside the Forbidden City!
📍You can access to the Forbidden City subway, station Tian’anmen West or Tian’anmen East, on line 1. Don’t forget to bring your passport!
Interested in who was the last Empress of China? Have a look at our Famous Chinese Women blog to find out more!
Films Set In Beijing #3 – The Blue Kite
Told from the perspective of a young boy called Tietou, The Blue Kite (蓝风筝 Lán fēngzheng) is split into three parts titled: Father, Uncle and Stepfather.
📍At the heart of this film is the traditional Beijing Courtyard, with the majority of the film taking place here.
The colours of the courtyard change over time to reflect the events of the film. First being shown in warm, bright colours by the end of the film it becomes a scene of cold blues.
The film was banned on completion in China due to its negative portrayal of these periods. However, it found international acclaim, winning the Grand Prix at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
Starting with the marriage of Tietou’s parents the film follows the struggles ordinary Chinese families faced during the 1950s, 60s and 70s due to communist oppression.
Each chapter of the film also coincides with a dramatic period of recent Chinese history: the Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
The film’s director Tian Zhuangzhuang wanted to show the impact that these political campaigns had on the daily lives of Chinese people.
The Blue Kite is known as one of the quintessential examples of China’s Fifth Generation film making. However, unlike its counterparts such as ‘Farewell My Concubine’ it is not theatrical in its depiction of events.
DID YOU KNOW? – Although the film is not autobiographical, the film is built on Tian’s own experiences of growing up through these turbulent times.
📍You can see several traditional Beijing courtyard around Shichahai along the lake, and visit some of them such as former residence of Guo Moruo or even Mao Zedong.
Speaking of the film Tian has said: “The stories in the film are real, and they are related with total sincerity”.
Films Set In Beijing #4 – Farewell My Concubine
Similar to The Blue Kite, Farewell My Concubine (霸王別姬 Bà wáng bié jī) spans across numerous decades in Chinese history.
📍 This is a great film to learn about the cultural importance of Peking Opera in China.
Beginning in 1925 the film follows the lives of two Peking Opera School students Dieyi and Xiaolou who become famous opera stars.
Their signature performance is ‘Farewell my Concubine’ where Dieyi plays the female lead and Xiolou the male.
Over their years growing up together Dieyi has fallen in love with Xiaolou. However, Xiaolou does not share the same feelings and marries a headstrong courtesan named Juxian.
The film follows the lives and drama of these three characters against a backdrop of historical turmoil.
Spanning over 50 years the film journeys from the warlord period, to the Japanese occupation of China and finally finishes with the Cultural Revolution.
DID YOU KNOW? – Due to its portrayal of homosexuality and violence during the Cultural Revolution, the film was banned in China.However, internationally the film had great success and even won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival.
📍Temple Theatre Beijing Opera House in Qianmen area is one of the most famous place to attend opera performances in Beijing. Subway station: Qianmen on line 2.
If you’re interested in more Chinese culture, why not learn about traditional Chinese musical instruments? 👇
Films Set In Beijing #5 – Beijing Bicycle
The most modern film on our list of top films set in Beijing is Beijing Bicycle or, in its original Chinese title: 17 Year Old’s Bicylce (十七岁的单车 shí qī suì de dān chē).
📍 If you’re a fan of the Beijing hutongs then you really must watch this film. It really captures the bustling hutong life and the vast maze of alleys that are an important feature of Beijing.
Set in Beijing in 2001 the film follows the story of two 17 year old boys living in Beijing. The film starts with the arrival of Guei who has moved to Beijing from the countryside to work. Soon after arriving in Beijing Guei secures a job as a bike messenger (快递 kuài dì).
Anyone who has lived in Beijing will be very familiar with this term!
Given to Guei as part of his job is a brand new mountain bike. The bike soon becomes Guei’s most prized, and perhaps one of his only, possessions.
However, one fateful day the bike is stolen and ends up in the hands of the film’s other main protagonist: Jian.
Jian is a schoolboy who also prizes the bike due to the social status it gives him in front of his friends and girls. When Guei finds his stolen bike a bitter battle ensues, with both boys desperate to remain in possession of the bike.
Although both the same age, the lives of the two boys in Beijing are radically different. The film uses this to show the inequality that exists in Beijing between it’s migrant workers and local “Beijing ren”.
Similar to ‘Shower’, the film contrasts this traditional Beijing and its shiny, new high-rise buildings.
Want to check out some films set in other places in China, have a look at our blog here 👇
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