Suzhou River – Movie Review for Chinese Learners

Suzhou River Review – Our Guide for Chinese Learners


Our next film recommendation for Chinese learners is Suzhou River.

The film is set in Shanghai in the late 1990’s and focuses on contemporary China’s gritty urban experience.

The dialogue in the film isn’t too extensive or overly complicated so it’s a great film for Chinese learners.

The film is also narrated by one of the characters which is quite useful to help understand what is going on.

Suzhou River | Introduction

Suzhou River | Main Characters

Suzhou River | The director Lou Ye

Suzhou River | Useful Vocab

Suzhou River | Where to watch

Suzhou River – Introduction

Suzhou River (苏州河 sūzhōu hé) is a 2000 film by Chinese director Lou Ye. The film is set in contemporary Shanghai and depicts a tragic love story.

The film is named after the Suzhou Creek which is a river that passes through Shanghai city centre. At the time the film was made the Suzhou Creek area was a rundown, seedy, dirty area of Shanghai and was a hotspot for criminal activities.

Suzhou River focuses on the intertwined love story of the four main characters, two of whom are played by the same actress.

The film is told from the perspective of the videographer with the camera serving as his first-person perspective for the audience.

Suzhou-River (1)

The first part of the film focuses on Mardar who is being paid to transport the Moudan, the daughter of a local crime lord around the city. The two become fond of each other, but things end up taking a bad turn.

The second part of the film is set many years later with Mardar desperately trying to find Moudan.

He ends up meeting the videographer’s girlfriend Meimei who works in a bar performing a mermaid show. Meimei looks exactly like Moudan and he is convinced she is his lost love.

You’ll have to watch the film to discover what happened between Mardar and Moudan and whether years later Mardar is able to be reunited with her.

If you’re interested in Chinese films and TV shows set in modern Shanghai, why not check out the Chinese drama series Ode to Joy.

Ode to Joy Chinese Drama 💁‍♀️ A Review for Chinese Learners Thumbnail

Ode to Joy Chinese Drama 💁‍♀️ A Review for Chinese Learners

One of the best ways to learn Chinese is through watching Chinese TV shows. Here we tell you why Ode to Joy is the perfect Chinese drama to watch.

Suzhou River – Main Characters

Mardar (马达 Mǎdá) – played by 贾宏声 (jiǎhóngshēng).

Mardar is a delivery driver and small time crook.

  • Moudan (牡丹 Mǔdan) – played by 周迅 (zhōuxùn).

Moudan is the daughter of a local crime lord.

Her father pays for Mardar to transport her around the city.

  • Meimei (美美 Měiměi) – also played by 周迅 (zhōuxùn).

Yes, that’s right Zhou Xun plays both Modan and Meimei, however they are different people.

Meimei works at a bar where she dresses up as a mermaid and swims in a tank of water.

  • Videographer – played by 华仲凯 (huá zhòngkǎi).

This is the narrator of the film, which is told from his viewpoint.

You never actually see him in the film. Lao B is hired to take photos of Meimei and the two end up going out.

Have you ever watched any films played by Zhou Xun? Leave comments below to share with us please.

Suzhou River – The Director Lou Ye

Suzhou River is directed by Lou Ye (娄烨 lóu yè), who is known as one of the ‘sixth generation’ directors of Chinese cinema.


‘Sixth Generation’ films are known for their documentary type feel and low cost production. The films focus on more contemporary issues in China and the grittiness of life in urban China.

These films emerged post 1990s and contrast to the big budget films made by Beijing’s ‘Fifth Generation’. Such as Zhang Yi Mou’s House of Flying Daggers or Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine.

The film received a lot of international praise when it was released, however it was banned in China.

Lou Ye was also given a two year ban on film making as punishment for screening the film without permission form the Chinese authorities. However, the film is now available to watch in China.

This wasn’t the only time that Lou Ye has got into trouble with the Chinese authorities. His 2006 film Summer Palace got him banned from film making for five years.

Many critics see the film as being heavily influenced by famed Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai and the renown British director Alfred Hitchcock.

Another famous ‘Sixth Generation’ film is Beijing Bicycle which you can read about in our Films Set in Beijing blog.

Suzhou River – Useful Vocab

The dialogue in the film isn’t too complicated and a lot of the vocabulary used is reasonable basic.

However, there are some words or phrases that you may not have encountered before.

Here is a list of some useful vocabulary to learn before watching the film:

撒谎 sāhuǎng Lie, to tell a lie
piàn Deceive, cheat
警察 jǐngchá Police
tuō Pull, drag
驳船 bóchuán Barge (boat)
美人鱼 měirényú Mermaid
摄影师shèyǐngshī Photographer
阳台 yángtái Balcony
摩托车 mótuōchē Motorbike
兜风 dōufēng Go for a drive
送货 sòng huò To deliver goods
姑姑 gūgū Paternal aunt
没劲 méijìn Dull, boring
史瓦辛格 shǐwǎxīngé Schwarzenegger (the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger)
对眼 duìyǎn Fall in love
黑道 hēidào Criminal society, underworld
监狱 jiānyù Prison
失踪 shīzōng Disappear
分手 fēnshǒu To break up
野牛草伏特加 yěniú cǎo fútèjiā Bison Grass Vodka (this brand of vodka has special significance in the film)
故事 gùshì Story

Where to Watch

Now that the film is no longer banned in China it can be found on most Chinese streaming sites such as iQiyi.

Most of these sites only have the film available with Chinese subtitles, however we encourage intermediate and more advanced Chinese learners to watch without English subtitles anyway.

However, if you don’t feel ready to watch the film with only Chinese subtitles, it is also available for free on YouTube with English subtitles.

Suzhou River – FAQ’s

Is Suzhou River banned in China?

When Suzhou River was first released in 2000 it was banned in China, however the ban has now been lifted and it is available to watch.

Where can I watch Suzhou River with English subtitles?

You can watch Suzhou River with English subtitles for free on YouTube.

Who is the director of Suzhou River?

The director of Suzhou River is Lou Ye, he is a famous ‘Sixth Generation’ Chinese film director.

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