There are a few things that just make Chinese New Year, Chinese New Year. There’s the eating, the handing out (or, in our case, accepting) of red packets of cash, the countless rounds of mahjong, the relentless grilling on why you aren’t married yet, and, of course, the movies.
Lunar New Year films (or hor sui pin in Cantonese) are typically either ensemble comedies or slapstick action films either set during, or released around, the Chinese New Year celebrations. The family-friendly films inevitably have a happy ending, which usually means the family coming together, lovers getting married, or fortunes being made.
Just as Christmas isn’t Christmas without It’s A Wonderful Life and Die Hard, Chinese New Year isn’t Chinese New Year without some of these classics from the golden age of Hong Kong cinema.
So, for those of you looking for some films to fill the hours over next week’s holiday, here are some that we think you should check out.
All’s Well Ends Well (1992)
Considered a classic, All’s Well is one of the films that gets played on TV every Chinese New Year. The screwball comedy follows the lives of three brothers played by Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer), Raymond Wong, and the late Leslie Cheung (Happy Together). Wong plays the eldest brother who cheats on his wife, played by Sandra Ng, instead preferring the company of his young and beautiful mistress. Cheung plays an effeminate floral arranger (progressive, this ain’t) who is constantly at loggerheads with his abrasive second cousin, played by Teresa Mo. Chow, meanwhile, is the playboy younger brother and radio DJ who makes it his mission to woo a film-obsessed woman played by Maggie Cheung (In The Mood For Love).
The Eagle Shooting Heroes (1993)
The Eagle Shooting Heroes is a parody of a trilogy martial arts epics called The Legend of the Condor Heroes by the novelist Louis Cha, who passed away last year. Legend has it that the film came to be because acclaimed director Wong Kar-wai’s own martial arts epic Ashes of Time went over time and over budget, and so the parody adaptation of Cha’s novel was hastily cobbled together so the studio could make a quick buck. (Fun fact: The Eagle Shooting Heroes has the exact same cast as Ashes of Time.) We may never know what really happened, but this is a fun film to watch nevertheless.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1994)
Although it shares the same title as the Frank Capra classic, Hong Kong’s It’s a Wonderful Life has nothing to do with suicidal savings-and-loan managers and their I-wish-I’d-never-been-born bellyaching. In this film, Leslie Cheung plays a man called Roberto (the film plays up the fact that his name sounds like the Cantonese word for “turnip head”) who visits the wealthy family of his friend (or maybe more?) Kau-an, played by Teresa Mo. While there, he meets her siblings, who are dealing with romantic problems of their own: Kau-an’s older brother, played by All’s Well Ends Well‘s Raymond Wong, is an alcoholic who tries to reconnect with his young daughter by dressing up as a nanny a la Mrs Doubtfire; while her other brother (Tony Leung Ka-fai) is a stuttering comic book artist who falls for a pretty schoolteacher (Anita Yuen).
Aces Go Places (1982)
A box office hit when it was released, and often-considered the film that set the template for Lunar New Year action-comedies, Aces Go Places was praised for its winking references to Hollywood blockbusters and its spectacular action scenes. This film stars Sam Hui as a thief who helps the police solve a case, and in the process wins the heart of a feisty policewoman played by Sylvia Chang.
King of Comedy (1999)
King of Comedy marks its 20th anniversary this year and stars Stephen Chow as an aspiring actor who is dedicated to his craft but finds himself overlooked and relegated to small roles. During filming he meets two women: one a famous actress, and the other a plucky club hostess who takes acting lessons from Chow in order to win over clients. (No points for guessing who he ends up with.) And aside from the romance and hijinks, there are plenty of Bruce Lee and John Woo references to keep you entertained.