Lunar New Year begins on Feb. 10, marking the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. Lunar New Year is the beginning of a calendar year that aligns with the lunisolar cycle, with the months based off of moon phases. The holiday – a celebration based on the ancient Chinese lunar calendar that has continued for over 3,000 years – is considered the most important holiday in China, and is also celebrated in other Asian countries like Vietnam, South Korea, North Korea, and the Philippines.
In China, the Lunar New Year is not just celebrated for one day; the Lunar New Year is celebrated for 15 days culminating with the Spring Lantern Festival on the final day. Other countries celebrate the Lunar New Year differently. In South Korea, for instance, the celebrations go on for only three days.
A.frame and Academy members from the Asian Affinity Group, including PJ Raval, May Leung and Mynette Louie, selected a list of films to mark the celebration. You'll find films like Yellow Rose, Minari, Children of Invention, Chungking Express and more.
As one of the first films to truly and unflinchingly address anti-Asian discrimination in America, Who Killed Vincent Chin? told the true story behind Chin, a Chinese American draftsman who was murdered in suburban Detroit in 1982 by two Chrysler autoplant workers over their resentment at the success of Japanese cars in America. The abhorrent lack of proper punishment for Chin’s killers caused national outrage at the time, and the multiple trials resulting from Chin’s murder helped draw long-overdue attention to how inadequate America’s legal system was at prosecuting hate crimes.
This year marks the 30 year anniversary of All’s Well, Ends Well, a romantic comedy – with themes centered on love and wealth – that is considered to be a quintessential Lunar New Year movie. The movie portrays the lives of three brothers who live with their father, lie, play pranks, and get into hilarious situations. Ten different writers received credit for working on Clifton Ko’s All’s Well, Ends Well, and the comedic scenes that they came up with sure did pay off as the movie was a massive hit that spawned several sequels.
Wayne Wang’s drama, a film adaptation of the novel by Amy Tan of the same name, portrays a group of aging Chinese women in 1980s San Francisco, who meet regularly to play Mahjong and trade familial stories. In a series of vignettes – that spans generations and continents – the film explores cultural conflict through the depiction of the complicated relationships of the Chinese mothers and their first-generation Chinese American daughters.
Wong Kar-Wai has long been considered one of the most romantic of filmmakers, and this unabashedly sexy film about connection and longing in ‘90s Hong Kong beautifully showcases why. Chungking Express tells two stories, both about lovesick police officers who can’t stop dwelling on their recent breakups, until they encounter exciting new women in the Hong Kong urban jungle that capture their hearts and imaginations. Wong memorably uses recurring music and needle drops to an almost Pavlovian effect, and it creates a playful lust that you’ll feel deep in your bones.
After several acclaimed English-language films – including 1995’s Sense and Sensibility and 1997’s The Ice Storm – Ang Lee returned to his native Taiwan to make one of the most successful and beloved films of his celebrated career. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon not only revitalized the wuxia genre (leading to several other excellent films, like Zhang Yimou’s Hero), but it also became the most successful subtitled film ever at the U.S. box office. For many movie fans, Ang Lee’s spectacular vision became the film that helped to introduce them to the innumerable rewards of world cinema.
Do you ever wonder just how many people share your name? And what they’re all like? Those were some of the many questions held by filmmaker Grace Lee, who happened to possess one of the most common names for a Korean American woman. So, she set out to answer them, finding numerous other women named Grace Lee around the country, and talking to them about their lives. Through it all, The Grace Lee Project subtly grows in scope and ambition, quickly transforming from a fun, kitschy starting point into a beautiful exploration of the realities and cultural expectations inherent to identity.
The alienation and loneliness of the immigrant experience in contemporary America is seen through the eyes of two children left to fend for themselves in Boston after their mother disappears, in this austere and heartfelt film by Tze Chun. A critical hit at the Sundance Film Festival, Children of Invention is loosely based on Chun’s own childhood, and it displays a purity of vision that could only come from that type of firsthand experience with the urgent, powerful subject matter.
Every year, over 100 million Chinese migrant workers return home to their villages for the Lunar New Year. Lixin Fan's acclaimed documentary depicts the harsh lives of the factory workers who embark on this journey. The film focuses on one family in particular while portraying scenes of the entire migration – resulting in a film that is epic in scale while also quite intimate in focus. The powerful documentary received recognition at film festivals around the world.
In the feature debut of director Andrew Ahn, who also made 2019’s acclaimed Driveways, a closeted Korean American teen discovers a hidden gay culture at the Korean spa he starts working at in Los Angeles. Spa Night delicately tackles the sexual awakening of an LGBTQ+ teen, who is unfortunately already used to feeling othered by his ethnic and cultural identity. The film is beautifully shot in a way that feels like the camera is excitedly discovering the human body – in all its beauty, mystery, and sexuality – right along with the protagonist.
Revisionist history seems to remember the 1992 LA Riots as predominantly something that afflicted Black neighborhoods; however, Koreatown actually received the most damage. Gook puts us in the middle of those fateful few days. Justin Chon, a California native of Korean descent, wrote, directed, and starred in this story of two brothers trying to protect their shoe store from the riots, while also sympathizing with the anguish of their Black friends and patrons. Equal parts measured and chaotic, Gook is a stunning film that won the top prize in Sundance’s beloved NEXT program, and firmly cemented Chon as an exciting new cinematic voice.
The premise is, somehow, equal parts unbelievable and completely believable: when a Chinese American family finds out that their beloved grandmother is terminally ill, they, instead of telling her and causing her distress, decide to keep her in the dark. The family stages a fake wedding so that all can gather and say their goodbyes. The film’s protagonist travels to China from the United States to be with her family and to attend this fake wedding. The Farewell at times feels like a fish-out-of-water story, but the confusing new environment the protagonist finds herself in happens to be within her own family. Awkwafina made an unforgettable star turn in this often hilarious and thoroughly poignant semi-autobiographical film by writer-director Lulu Wang.
As the first international film to win the Oscar for Best Picture (and the first Korean film to win an Oscar of any kind), Parasite changed Oscar history forever, and its influence will likely reverberate for decades. But even independent of historical context, Parasite works as a masterpiece of cinematic style, vision, and empathy. Director Bong Joon-Ho referred to it as his “staircase movie,” and he perfectly distilled that idea into an unforgettable story of class struggle in modern Seoul.
After Filipino American actress Eva Noblezada earned a 2017 Tony nomination for dazzling audiences as Kim in the revival of Miss Saigon, she carried that talent and acclaim over to Yellow Rose, her film debut. In the charming drama, Noblezada harnessed her substantial musical chops by playing Rose, a small-town Texas teenager who dreams of making it big as a country singer. Rose and her family, however, are undocumented immigrants, and Rose faces a harsh reality when her mother is detained by ICE agents. Yellow Rose addresses one of the defining socio-political issues of our time with all the stripped down honesty and hard truths of the classic country songs that helped to inspire it.
Korean American filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung mined his own childhood experience growing up on a farm in rural Arkansas for this quintessentially American story about starting over in a new place and hoping that the opportunity will be all that you are imagining it will be. Minari won over critics and audiences alike to the tune of six Academy Award nominations (Yuh-Jung Youn won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance as the unforgettable grandmother).