Chinese New Year is looking a little different this year. With social distancing measures in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, the usual door to door family visits — which may range from comfortably brisk to hectic as the apocalypse — are set to be drastically limited. For most of us who celebrate, this means more time with fewer visitors.
Every year, when the second new moon of the December solstice rolls around, Chinese New Year movies featuring a wide range of themes swarm into cinemas. From children-focused animation, to science fiction and kung fu flicks, these movies offer light-hearted, family-friendly entertainment for the festive season. Of course, there are also the timeless classics that have, for decades, kept their stronghold as the top picks for Chinese New Year viewing.
To avoid small talk with inquisitive relatives, get into the festive mood, or simply enjoy quality family time nestled on the sofa, here’s a Netflix guide for Chinese New Year festivities. Just remember to have your pineapple tarts, love letters, and other Chinese New Year munchies within reach, and you’re all set to celebrate the Year of the Ox.
All’s Well, Ends Well (2009 & 2012 )
Having cemented its status as an essential Chinese New Year selection for almost 30 years now, All’s Well, Ends Well continues to hog TV screens whenever the festive season rolls around. The original 1992 Hong Kong comedy follows the misadventures of three brothers, Foon, So, and Moon, as they navigate tricky relationship issues. It’s not currently on Netflix but fret not — there are now seven sequels since the classic (the latest released in 2020), and two of them are on the platform.
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Here’s another hilarious classic. Starring comedy king Stephen Chow, who also directed and produced the film, Kung Fu Hustle is an action-packed comedy that includes bitter gang rivalry, extraordinary martial arts showdowns, and the tale of an unlikely kung fu hero in 1940s Shanghai. A comical tribute to Chinese wuxia cinema, Kung Fu Hustle promises light-hearted but engrossing entertainment for Lunar New Year family gatherings.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010)
For less comedy and more kung fu, this 2010 action flick promises breathtaking stunts performed by Donnie Yen, one of Chinese cinema’s most renowned action stars.
This incarnation of Chen Zhen — a fictional character who has been played by generations of top kung fu actors including Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li — once again shows off his impressive martial arts moves, this time in a tale of love and espionage. Its overambitious storyline earned this movie critical reception that was iffy at best, but its in-your-face entertainment makes it especially appealing for festive viewing. After all, it’s Chinese New Year — we can all afford to indulge in guilty pleasures, like shrimp rolls and superhuman sparring.
The Wandering Earth (2019)
The Wandering Earth offers Hollywood-esque blockbuster entertainment in the form of a familiar sci-fi tale. Set in a distant future with an unstable Sun that is threatening to consume the Earth, this doomsday epic follows a team of astronauts and Earth-bound heroes who attempt to save the planet from destruction. Having racked up $700 million in the box office, it’s now one of the highest grossing sci-fi movies of all time and has won recognition as an impressive Chinese interpretation of conventional sci-fi spectacles.
This Singaporean musical-comedy features campy getai (Chinese stage performance) show tunes performed in the Hokkien dialect, tear-jerking kinship story arcs, and cut-throat showbiz politics — all infused with a distinctive Singaporean flair. Its garish costumes and set design are a visual buffet. Flashy, melodramatic, and nostalgic, the 881 viewing experience is arguably tailor-made for annual Lunar New Year festivities.
Flavorful Origins (2019)
Technically, this is a show, not a movie. But lines have blurred in the land of streaming anyway, so hear us out. For collective cultural education this festive season, here is a show that dives into iconic Chinese culinary offerings. Produced in 12-minute episodes for bite-sized yet gratifying consumption, Flavorful Origins is a feast for the eyes and food for the soul. The style of this docuseries is characterized by majestic aerial shots of lesser-known parts of China, as well as close-ups of food preparation that both capture viewers in fascination and salivation — as food porn does.