Gōng xǐ fā cái! (May you be prosperous!)
One of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world, Lunar New Year (LNY), aka Spring Festival, is on its way. LNY films, much like Christmas films, play an important part of getting into the festive spirit. Unlike Christmas films, where the stories are set around Christmas time, LNY films normally refer to those feel-good films or comedies which hit the cinemas in the Spring Festival periods, featuring renowned stars such as Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow.
The tradition of LNY films are considered to originate from Hong Kong in the 1980s, when Hong Kong cinema reached its golden era. Since then, watching LNY films has become a popular pastime to enjoy the holidays. The production of LNY films has now expanded far beyond their birthplace in Hong Kong, to Taiwan, China, Singapore and Malaysia. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the number of films available, and need a guide, yours truly is here to help with six LNY films which will carry you nicely into the Year of the Pig.
Security Unlimited (Michael Hui, 1981, Hong Kong)
This classic Hong Kong comedy is considered the first LNY film. The story centers on two security guards who work in a private security company and how they fight against their mean supervisor while getting themselves involved in a robbery. The film was greatly acclaimed for its depictions of ordinary people’s lives and was not only Hong Kong’s highest grossing film of 1981, but also won Michael Hui the Best Actor at the first edition of Hong Kong Film Awards, and began the tradition of LNY comedies.
The Eagle Shooting Heroes (Jeffrey Lau, 1992, Hong Kong)
This parody adaptation of the famous WuXia (martial arts and chivalry) novel series, The Legend of the Condor Heroes, by Jin Yong is a personal favourite of mine. I should point out that except the characters names, the film has nothing to do with the books. However, its mouthwatering all-star cast includes the top stars in 90s Hong Kong cinema: Tony Liang, Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin and more. This is your sole opportunity to see so many legendary talents goofing around in one hilarious watch. Even the story behind the production of the film is unique, as it was originally a WuXia film by Wong Kar-Wai, however, the production was long overdue and the budget was running out. Under the investors’ pressure, Wong got Lau involved to make this parody in a month with a small budget and the original cast in Wong’s film, and accidentally made a huge hit.
God of Gamblers (Wong Jing, 1989, Hong Kong)
Strictly speaking, God of Gamblers is not a LNY film since it was not originally released around the Spring Festival time. However, gambling and Mahjongg are indispensable parts of the holidays. During the festival time, Hong Kong gambling films dominate TV broadcasts. This comedy-drama turned a new page for gambling films and started a series of sequels and spin-offs which revealed many stars in 90s Hong Kong cinemas, including Stephen Chow and Andy Lau.
The Dream Factory (Feng Xiaogang, 1997, China)
After LNY films had become a tradition in Hong Kong for more than a decade, the trend spread to China in the late 1990s. 1997 comedy film The Dream Factory is the first Chinese produced LNY film – a heart-warming story about four friends starting a company to fulfill people’s dreams. After it gained huge success, the director made two other LNY films in the following years with his frequent collaborator Ge You, Be There or Be Square and Sorry Baby, and the three films are normally referred to as Feng Xiaogang’s classic "he sui pian" (LNY films) collection.
Tiger Woohoo! (Chiu Keng Guan, 2010, Malaysia)
Tiger Woohoo! is the first Chinese-language LNY film to have been produced in Malaysia. The film celebrates the festive time with the traditional custom of the Tiger dance and tells a story of five young men gathered in a small village to help preserve this endangered traditional performance. It was a box office success locally and was released in other Chinese-speaking areas.
I Not Stupid (Jack Neo, 2002, Singapore)
When talking about Singaporean LNY films, Jack Neo is definitely the name that comes to mind. This comedy-drama which criticised Singaporean culture and the education system stirred discussions in society and even debates in the government regarding education reform. The story surrounds three pupils’ lives in school and their relationships with their parents against the backdrop of the modern Singaporean education system and social attitudes. I Not Stupid was shown at several international film festivals, bringing Singaporean cinema to a wider audience than ever before.
Twa-Tiu-Tiann (Tien-lun Yeh, 2014, Taiwan)
During the golden era of Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s, Taiwanese cinema was relatively weak, especially in the LNY period and only Kevin Chiu’s regular comedic productions held their own to the popular Hong Kong films. Things went downhill in the 1990s before a new wave of Taiwanese commercial films emerged in the late 2000s. With legendary comedian actor Chu Ke-liang’s return to the big screen in the 2010s, Taiwanese LNY films found their new star. Chu Ke-liang was once one of the most popular comedians in Taiwan, but he disappeared from show business in the 1990s due to his gambling habit and debts. His return marked a revival of Taiwanese LNY films. Twa-Tiu-Tiann is a time traveling comedy-drama led by Chu Ke-liang, a feel-good comedy with added value that teaches you about the history of the Twa-Tiu-Tiann area in Taipei under the Japanese rule in the 1920s.
Although "out with the old, in with the new" is the typical mantra when welcoming the new year, when it comes to LNY films, classics will never be out. Enjoy an authentic festive film and and we wish you a prosperous new year!
Kuan-Ping Liu is the founder of website Gaze (https://www.gaze-cinema.org/) which explores East-Asian cinemas and organises regular film events in Scotland (Edinburgh).