Not every film released during the start of the moon calender truly reflects the celebration, and to put together a proper list that does so is tough. In my Lunar New Year Top 10 Movies list, I consider that the story has to touch on either some aspect of the celebration or extols some virtue from it. To really be reflective upon this South Asian celebration means putting some meaning behind the work rather than releasing it at this time of year.
Sometimes these movies feature the zodiac animal as part of its story and other times, they do not, just to help commercialise it. Those living in China had two films–Legend of a Rabbit and Moon Castle: The Space Adventure to enjoy back in 2011 when this bunny leaped into everyone’s hearts. Jumping twelve years later to now, all I could find is the charming-animated short, “Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit!” by animation studio Game Science.
Depending on whom you ask, this jubilee can mean one of a few things. The better ideals include wishing others spiritual well-being, celebrating family togetherness, and looking ahead to brighter futures.
While I have a stockpile of Asian films to watch during the 15-day celebration, not all of them are about this special occasion. A few titles from last year took a while to offer up a home video release I could purchase, others are from the Internet (in public domain or hiding on YouTube), and the rest are playing at cinemas for all to enjoy. I could watch a film each day, but I don’t feel there are enough appropriately themed takes to fill a top fifteen. I am adding shorts which are just as great.
The two Wandering Earth films will count as an entry, and before I go into greater detail about the latest that debuted today, I feel the seminal work that really represents the spirit of the day begins with:
I Am What I Am (2021)
This wonderful animated movie from last year deserves to be revisited time and time again for understanding why Lion Dances are important in any Chinese celebration. They do more than dispel bad mojo lurking at the shops and operations down any street when Lunar New Year rolls around. They also help harmonise positive energies in the air wherever they roam. And no, it’s not about the firecrackers!
But to master the steps is tough. It demands coordination with the drummer, since every move by the two dancers underneath the costume must be in rhythm.
And for the three boys who don’t want to be seen by their peers as local village idiots, what they learn about perseverance is simply beautiful. This movie can easily be missed since it was not well marketed at the time of release for global audiences. Hopefully, we at otakunoculture.com have done our part to say this is a movie deserves a lot more than what was done previously to promote it.
Wandering Earth (2019)
and Part II (2023)
No prior knowledge is needed to enjoy part two, which releases today. As the first film concerned Liu Peiqiang wanting to come home to be with his family during Chinese New Year, this next chapter looks at the events before Earth can depart from its orbit to a better future. I reviewed the first film and rather enjoyed it.
In part two, there’s no huge story synopsis to help newcomers have some foreknowledge in what’s to come. And when concerning this character is back, we’ll get to understand what went wrong between this patriarch and his son, Qi. In the earlier movie, he turned to crime to survive the cataclysm. But as for others, and how they came to become who they are in the first film, this story will explain it all, and give us some global scale catastrophe that only Roland Emmerich can be proud of creating.
All At Once (2022)
(Read Movie Review here)
This epic science fiction what if marvel is simply crazy with exploring possibilities. Here, Evelyn Wang is at odds with life. Nothing is going the way it should, and when a dimension hopping individual who occupies her husband’s body to warn this family of a future cataclysm, what transpires next is absurdist humour at its best! To understand what that means in Chinese New Year isn’t all that hard, since it’s about bridging all those generational gaps that can form when young birds leave the nest too soon.
The New Year’s
Eve of Old Lee (2016)
(Available on Google Play)
Not every movie released at this time of year needs to follow the formula when mending fences are concerned. With this gentle masterpiece, we get to watch how father and daughter can rekindle what’s lost. She left her parents too soon for a better life in the big city, but after learning pops is showing signs of Alzheimer’s, this woman and her daughter return home. But can she have the patience to care for him?
This work also considers how some of that ethnic culture gets lost when living abroad, but as for being able to love your parents again, this film will certainly tug at the heart and give some solid chuckles too. It also lets audiences know why family bonds must always be kept tight.
Lunar New Year’s Day (2017)
This charming short has a lot to admire. Not only do we get a happy feel good musical score accompanying this fable, but also this collection of animated material goes beyond “Yuan Ri.” Here, we see the beauty of life as told through the eyes of a young child. The legend of the “New Year Soup” looks delicious. For those who don’t understand Mandarin, that’s okay. The visuals speak for themselves with no subtitles.
According to Google Translate:
The bustling things in the market and the noise of firecrackers blend with the sincerity and warmth in the “New Year’s Soup” in a poor man’s home, conveying the atmosphere of the Spring Festival in ancient times. In order to restore the true nature of history to the greatest extent, this film consulted three records about the New Year in Jiading local chronicles in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Although this tale is essentially a retelling of Aladdin, what makes this movie stand out is the examination of the social classes which exists in Shanghai. It’s hard to escape the stigmas of what it means to be rich or poor, but for the lead, Din, the idiom of being careful in what you wish for is very important. Apparently, a sequel was made, but it never saw a full release (it was scheduled for 2022). We might not be seeing it until late this year or next.
Fat Choi Spirit (2002)
Available on iQIVI
Put Andy Lau in a motion picture, and fans of his works will flock to theatres. Here, he is a mahjong player with a gambling problem, and just why this work thematically matters is that you don’t want to lose your shirt over a game. Also, the family issues at home don’t help and not only have to mend those fences, but also he better do something about that rival breathing down his neck!
In what makes this movie work is the story about why wealth matters. Does it? I think not. Yes, many Chinese people want to live well, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of others, or cheating your way to the top. Here, we get get a better tale concerning why the alliteration of 恭喜發財 (Gong Hei Fat Choy in Cantonese or Gong Xi Fa Cai in Mandarin) matters.
Last Train Home (2009)
Available on Apple TV Plus
Not every film can finish with a happy ending, and this documentary examines the exodus of many Chinese migrant workers who embark on to be with their clan during the Lunar New Year.
Here, we get a telling product from Lixin Fan, a filmmaker who travelled with the Zhang family in order to chronicle their journey. He’s put on tape nearly all their trials and tribulations into a compelling and humbling work
A Bite of China:
Chinese New Year
One movie about the food culture is not enough to explore everything that makes up why chefs and matriarchs go the extra mile. Here, this documentary looks at more than the customs and believes in why this time must be enjoyed. While there’s plenty of mouth watering footage that considers all the processes required to make each dish delectable.