10 Best Chinese Movies About Growing Up

Updated on December 27, 2016

When you bring up the subject of Chinese Movies, most people would automatically think of martial arts, which is not surprising because the Chinese movie industry really does have a lot of martial arts films. However, to say that it’s the only thing they have on offer is inaccurate and horribly unfair, because they also have quality offerings on different genres such as romance and comedy.

Outside of narrow genre distinctions, the Chinese movie industry also has a lot of films that tackle the all-too-common yet challenging subject of growing up. Whether it’s fledgling triad urchins wanting to make a name for themselves on the streets, a young deaf and mute growing up during a period of revolution, or a couple of young women experiencing puberty - China has a lot to offer when it comes to coming of age films. Here are ten of the best.

#1- In the Heat of the Sun

Set in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution, In the Heat of the Sun follows teenage boy Monkey during one summer as he roams the streets day and night with his male friends, and also focuses on his crush on a girl named Mi Lan.

What Makes It Unique

In the Heat of the Sun is based on the director Jiang Wen’s recollection of his own experiences as a teenager during the Cultural Revolution, which meant that the film provides a very personal take on life during that time instead of a historical one. Additionally, Wen admits that his memories are hazy and can no longer tell what is real or imagined, so the movie is presented as a mellow and possibly over romanticized series of events.

#2- American Dreams in China

The movie follows 3 friends who decide to build an English language school in China. Dubbed the “New Dream,” the school aims to help Chinese teenagers achieve their dreams.

What Makes It Unique

Unlike most coming of age films, American Dreams in China doesn’t approach the subject from the perspective of young people. Rather, it is told from the eyes of men whose youth have already faded and are now trying to make a name for themselves as adults.

The film addresses the sad but very real issue that even the best of friends might not necessarily be good business partners, particularly if their professional and personal aspirations contradict each other.

#3- So Young

Based on the director’s own experiences during her college days, So Young follows the young woman Zheng Wei as she tries to finish college as a civil engineer major, all the while trying to build a connection with the men she fancies – first her childhood playmate Lin Jing, then the aloof Chen Xiaozheng, who initially rejected her affections but eventually warmed up to her.

What Makes It Unique

Zheng Wei is not the typical young female protagonist as she’s proactive and will not shy away from taking the initiative when she fancies someone, yet she’s paradoxically a slacker when it comes to her studies and career.

The film features characters who abandoned their love in order to seek careers overseas, which makes it resonate with people who feel left behind as they lose touch with their childhood friends, especially if these former friends end up becoming successful.

#4- Tiny Times

Based on the first half of the first novel in the Tiny Times novel series, the movie follows a group of friends as they deal with work, relationships, and friendship while living in Shanghai.

What Makes It Unique

Tiny Times shows how the passage of time and being away from each other can negatively affect even the closest of childhood friends: the friends tried to reconnect after striking out on their own in different companies and locations, but their formerly tight camaraderie is now tainted by misunderstanding and jealousy.

#5- 11 Flowers

11 Flowers follows the boy Wang Han, who has an accidental encounter with a murderer, who in turn was simply taking revenge for the rape of his 16 year old sister. The 16 year old girl is someone that Wang Han fancies, and it introduces a conflict in his life amidst the cultural revolution.

What Makes it Unique

Unlike most coming of age films, 11 flowers is unique because of the difference in growing up during a time when China was under what many consider to be a very oppressive regime. In one of the scenes, Wang asks his father why he doesn’t just work in the factory like the mother, since that would allow him to be home more often. The father just answered that they are not allowed to choose their occupation, and why he wants him to be a painter – so that he can be free.

#6- Monga

Set in 1980s Taipei, Monga follows Mosquito, Monk, Dragon, Monkey, and A-Poi as members of the local gang called “Gangs of Princes.” The group enjoys the gangster lifestyle but finds their lives turned upside down when a new heavily armed gang enters their territory.

What Makes It Unique

This is less of a coming of age film than it is a rude awakening. Mosquito and his friends, like many of the fans of gangster films, had a romanticized view of life as a gangster, and have enjoyed it immensely, reveling in the freedom and adrenaline rush it brings. However, the arrival of a mainland gang intent on taking over – using heavy weapons unavailable to Mosquito’s gang – shows the protagonists that gang life isn’t as enjoyable as they originally thought it was.

#7- Unknown Pleasures

Unknown Pleasures focuses on three young individuals in the industrial city of Datong in China’s Shanxi province; 19 year old man Bin Bin, his best friend Xiao Ji, and the young singer/dancer Qiao Qiao. When Xiao Ji falls for Qiao Qiao, he gets into trouble with her boyfriend, the loan shark and local gangster Qiao San.

What Makes It Unique

Unknown Pleasures’ 3 main protagonists are aimless and either under or completely unemployed, but they strike a connection with each other through mundane things, from hanging out at discos to talking about Quentin Tarantino’s films. The seeming lack of a true happy ending is also unique, considering that many of the events in the film happened in their favor (such as Qiao San dying in an accident, freeing Qiao Qiao and absolving Xiao Ji.)

#8- Blue Gate Crossing

Blue Gate Crossing is a coming of age story told through the eyes of a young Taiwanese girl, a boy she fancies, and a girl that she fancies as well. Over the course of the film, the trio learn to adapt to their understandably complicated situation and become true friends.

What Makes It Unique

Blue Gate Crossing’s appeal is that it manages to tackle a sensitive issue – that of gender identity – while still retaining an innocent and positive tone that will resonate with anyone who’s every fallen for someone during their teenage years.

#9- A Brighter Summer Day

Set in Taipei during during the 60s and based on the director’s experience during his teenage years, A Brighter Summer Day follows two rival youth gangs and a girl who’s stuck in the middle.

What Makes It Unique

There is a lot going on in the movie, but the four-hour runtime is ample time to give them enough attention. While there are plot points that will be relevant to people who remember growing up and falling for that one girl or boy, there is a big incident partway through that makes the movie take on a dark tone.

#10- Taking Father Home

Taking Father Home follows a 17-year-old boy from the Sechuan province who resolves to go to the big city in order to find his father, who has abandoned him and his mother 6 years prior.

What Makes It Unique

If this were your average film, the protagonist would be looking for his father out of a need to reconnect, but not so in Taking Father Home. The boy is angry at being abandoned and the fact that they still receive money from his father does not change his mind – he’s determined to go to the big city and give his father a piece of his mind, and if possible, drag him back. Unfortunately, he’s young and lost in the big city with nothing but a basket of ducks on his back. It’s a good thing that there’s no shortage of mentor figures and kind strangers on his way to his goal.


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