Spring Festival has become a time for huge box office receipts in Chinese cinema (discounting 2020 of course, which was interrupted by the Covid-19 outbreak and saw cinemas lose billions of dollars). In normal times, some of the country’s biggest box office films are released with an eye towards China’s most important holiday — and like the Thanksgiving and Christmas period in the US, the movies generally feature warm and inspiring themes of family and home.
It’s become a time for some of China’s biggest blockbusters to release — think The Mermaid, The Wandering Earth, Detective Chinatown 2. All of these films have benefitted from the growing tradition of Chinese people going to the cinema to see the latest movies during Spring Festival over the past couple of decades.
While Spring Festival movies (or 贺岁片 Hesui Pian as they are referred to in Chinese) are generally agreed to have originated in Hong Kong in the ’80s, Feng Xiaogang’s 1998 hit The Dream Factory is widely though of as the first successful mainland Spring Festival movie.
In general, the holiday season has become popular with genres that range from slapstick comedy to fantasy, and family fare to sci fi blockbusters. But what about movies with Spring Festival themes?
Here are five that deal with the biggest holiday of the year in China.
Focusing on the story of a large Chinese family in northern China who have planned a New Year feast for months, The Spring Festival sees the meal interrupted by arguments and disagreements between the different generations of the family.
Submitted to the Academy Awards as China’s official nominee for Best Foreign Language film back in 1991, The Spring Festival sums up the often tragic sides of family life, with differences irreconcilable, even at the most important family holiday of the year.
WATCH IT YouTube
Hailed as one of the first mainland Spring Festival movies, Feng Xiaogang‘s second film set the standard for the festive fare that would be released during Lunar New Year holidays to come. The Dream Factory‘s story is creative, funny, a little bit silly. It sees a group of friends found a new company that specializes in fulfilling people’s dreams.
While not necessarily dealing with themes around Spring Festival, the movie is considered to be one the most iconic movies to be released during the festive period and helped to launch Feng’s career and reputation as a director in earnest, with him going on to helm the likes of Donald Sutherland-starring Big Shot’s Funeral for the 2002 Spring Festival season and Fan Bingbing picture Cell Phone for the 2004 season.
100 Films to Understand China: Pop(corn) Culture
Zhang Yuan was one of the most celebrated and rebellious directors of the 1990s in China, putting together a slate of films that explored the rock music scene in Beijing, as well as the first Mainland Chinese movie with a homosexual theme. Seventeen Years is generally thought to be the point that he dropped his so-called “bad boy” image.
The film focuses on a young woman, Xiaolan, who has been imprisoned for accidentally killing her stepsister, and who tries to make her way home for Spring Festival seventeen years after the incident. With the help of a young prison guard, Xiaolan travels around northern coastal city Tianjin in search of her family’s current home.
Before he started directing the Lost in… series, comedy actor Xu Zheng starred as a disgruntled businessman in this festive movie. Bearing heavy similarities to the Steven Martin and John Candy road movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles, two unlikely accomplices find themselves making their way home during the busiest time of the year in China, chunyun (春运 or “Spring Festival travel“).
The story is typically heartwarming, as Xu Zheng’s character Li finds himself getting drawn into zany adventures with Wang Baoqiang’s first time flyer Niu Geng, which eventually help to draw out his own ideas of what is important to him in his life.
This intimate documentary set in rural Guizhou (a province in southern China) provides a very up close and personal look at one family’s New Year celebrations. As the title suggests, it’s shot over four Spring Festivals, with director Lu Qingyu regularly breaking through the fourth wall as he interacts with his parents and siblings during the festive period.
There are no big budget effects or known stars. Instead, there are some incredibly tender moments of genuine warmth and humor, awkward conversations applying familial pressure, and an unexpected, emotional twist. In short, it’s true to life.
WATCH IT Mubi
For more films to watch this Spring Festival, see our list of 100 Films to Watch to Help You Understand China below:
100 Films to Watch to Help You Understand China
Cover image via IMDb
We highlight our top stories each week in an email newsletter that goes out every Monday - hot, fresh, and straight to your inbox.
Don't worry, we don't spam
Thousands of earthlings have signed up for our newsletter, and you should do the same