Celebrate the Chinese New Year on Film with These Picks

The epic, month-long Chinese New Year (or CNY, as it’s commonly referred to), is celebrated by people of Chinese descent across the world. It begins in late January or early February, marking the beginning of a festive family time in China, Southeast Asia, and Chinatowns all over Europe and the Americas.

Guided by the Lunar calendar, the Chinese ring in a new year not only by circling back to a date on the calendar, but also by referencing the twelve-year zodiac calendar, with its rabbits and monkeys and dragons and boars. That means each year, for a sequence of twelve years, there’s a different animal representing the destiny of an entire year.

These and other traditions, from food to fortune to fate, are all connected in some of China’s favorite extravagant New Year’s fantasies. Stock up on traditional New Year dumplings, filled with hope for an auspicious and prosperous year to come, as you watch some memorable Chinese New Year’s flicks and prepare to celebrate in style.

All’s Well, Ends Well

1992, PG

Hong Kong’s Chinese New Year classic, All’s Well, Ends Well, has been required viewing for a generation of Hong Kongers, but don’t confuse it with any of the sequels or you’ll be missing most of the jokes! The comedic tale features three brothers who each learn the hard way that taking women for granted will never earn them true love.

The characters of the unfaithful patriarch, the effeminate middle child and the playboy youngest brother are tried and true tropes, but they’re also classic archetypes who are sure to grow and and transform through the course of the story. Sequels to the movie continue their journey to forgiveness and redemption.

The movie contains a bit of profanity and the acknowledgement of sex, although it doesn’t explicitly show any sexual encounters. All in all, it’s an enjoyable romp for most ages – as long as the kids don’t mind reading subtitles.

Last Train Home

2009, NR

Want something a little bit more complex to sink your teeth into? Spend Chinese New Year learning where all of that “Made in China” stuff comes from and the people who make it. The documentary Last Train Home follows a few of the migrant workers who spend their lives toiling away in big city factories in the cities, only to return once a year to their families in the villages.

While it may not be upbeat holiday fare, a documentary like this is a great way to expose your kids to the sacrifices made by 130 million Chinese workers, and countless others in developing countries around the world, to feed their kin. The displacement of families and variety of children growing up mostly without parents is astonishing, and the families’ tearful reunions will go a long way opening up a conversation about consumerism with your kids.

Let’s Eat!

2016, NR

Hailing from Singapore and Malaysia, two smaller countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year along with China, Let’s Eat! is the quintessential film about holiday food. It centers around a traditional master chef, who clashes with the restaurant owner’s daughter when she takes over the business and decides to modernize it.

The comedic characters will have kids laughing at their slapstick foibles, but kids will also get an idea of how Chinese New Year is celebrated in different parts of Asia. Instead of more traditional Chinese dishes, the cuisine featured in the film is called Hainanese Chicken Rice, an iconic dish in Singapore. It’s a great excuse to learn how to cook something new!

Although the movie isn’t rated, it’s comedy is pretty kid-friendly.

The New Year’s Gift

1937, NR 

This early gem has endured throughout the ages, and remains one of Shanghai’s proudest films. It’s plot revolves around a New Year’s coin that gets passed from one character to another, all of whom have a part to play in the holiday plot. A common Chinese New Year tradition is for the oldest members of the family to give the younger members some money, so the idea of a New Year’s coin is based on this tradition; however, in the movie, the coin unites families of different classes, too.

It’s a black and white movie, but should keep kids intrigued; after all, it does suggest (as does the Chinese New Year holiday) that kids should get money from their family members just for crossing the threshold of a new year.

Of course, beyond the plot itself, this is a really interesting way to look back in time at a faraway place that is also ancient history compared to the modern, tech-heavy metropolis that Shanghai is now. Both the rigid class system and the cultural touchstones have completely transformed since the 1930s, and it will be interesting for your children to chart the difference between this and other films on your Chinese New Year agenda. Prepare for an anthropology course!

What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year? Share with us!

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