Tonight is Lunar New Year’s Eve in the Americas. It’s already New Year’s Day in Asia so I suppose I should’ve posted this earlier since a good number of my readers are in (descending order to gently if unlikely stoke a bit of competition) Japan, the Philippines, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Mauritius, Brunei, and Tibet. In all of those countries, Lunar New Year is either an official holiday or one observed by a substantial percentage of the populace — which is why I prefer to refer to it as Lunar New Year rather than Chinese New Year, the name by which it is mostly known in the US. Just as the French don’t refer to “French fries” as such, in China no one apparently refers to it as “Chinese New Year.” Instead, it’s generally referred to 歲首; literally: “year’s start” or 春节; literally: “spring festival.”
Neither is it seemingly ever referred to as Chinese New Year in most countries in which it is widely observed. In Korea, it is known variously known as 설날, 원단, 元旦, 원일, and 신원. It seems to me, as someone who found Hangul so easy to learn but the Korean language so difficult, that perhaps they could narrow it down to three terms. In Mongolia, it is known as ᠴᠠᠭᠠᠨ ᠰᠠᠷᠠ, which is difficult to render for many websites. In Mongolian Mongolian Cyrillic, it’s Цагаан, which literally translates to “white moon.” In Tibet it is referred to as ལོ་གསར, meaning “new year.” In Vietnam, it is Tết Nguyên Đán, normally shortened simply to Tết. A remedial student of Vietnamese, I’ll defer to the website Hello Vietnam that “Tết Nguyên Đán is Sino-Vietnamese, derived from the Hán nôm characters 節元旦, which literally means the First Morning of the Year.”
In Japan, it is known as 正月, meaning “first month.” In 1873, Japan officially adopted the Gregorian calendar and thus 1 January has been observed as New Year’s Day ever since. However, there are still many customs and celebrations tied to the old Lunar New Year. Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times, symbolizing the 108 human sins. People send postcards, eat special foods, give money to children, play games, and earlier, on Setsubun (節分), throw roasted soybeans at demons.
Metro Los Angeles is home to the largest communities of Filipinos, Koreans, Taiwanese, Vietnamese outside their respective homelands and more Indonesian-Americans than any other metropolitan area. Not surprisingly, then, there are numerous lunar new year celebrations held across Southern California — although in sad-but-typical American fashion, their festive energy is somewhat diluted and diminished by moving them to days deemed “more convenient” (i.e. a weekend not shared with another widely celebrated holiday or popular event).
Some organizations decide to go for maximum capitalization and covering of bases by stretching lunar new year observances out over the course of several weeks, like Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland — the latter of which began celebrating in January. The Original Farmers Market probably deserves an award if one exists for jumping the gun, having marked the holiday with observances held more than two weeks ago. Perhaps frightened by the idea of competing with Valentine’s Day or other (better?) Lunar New Year observances, Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles, the city of Alhambra, The Americana at Brand all decided to observe the holiday on the preceding weekend. Perhaps not surprisingly, however, many buffets, malls, temples, and casinos are observing the holiday on the actual date this year, including Chinatown, Asian Pacific Alumni of UCLA, Atlantic Times Square 蒙市大西洋時代廣場 (aka the Asian Americana), Hsi Lai Temple, and the OC Fair & Event Center.
I’m certainly not opposed to celebrating Lunar New Years by taking part in an organized event — but as often as not, I like to stay home and watch a film related to the holiday. This past Christmas I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the first time. China may not
be the only country in which the Lunar New Year is celebrated, but it is closely associated with a subgenre of films related to the holiday. One of the first films specifically marketed as a Lunar New Year Film was 花开富贵 (Bloom and Prosper), made in 1937 by Tang Xiaodan but which is lost today. Sometimes such films have plots which revolve around the holiday but more often than not, films released on the holiday are commercial ones aiming for box office domination. For example, in the 1990s, every Lunar New Year seemingly meant the release of new Jackie Chan and Steven Chow vehicles. Later, the great Johnnie To seems to have dabbled in the subgenre with an auteur of Lunar New Year films, Wai Ka-Fai. It’s also probably worth pointing out that 2011’s “Return Ticket” was executive produced by the great Hsiao-Hsien Hou.
I haven’t watched most of the following (I make these lists as much for myself as for readers) but here is the beginning of a list of Lunar New Year films which you might enjoy on the holiday.
花开富贵 (Bloom and Prosper, 1937, dir. Tang Xiaodan — Hong Kong)
压岁钱 (New Year’s Gift, 1937 dir. Shichuan Zhang — China)
富貴逼人 (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World, 1987, dir. Clifton Ko — Hong Kong)
賭神 (God of Gamblers, 1989, dir. Wong Jin — Hong Kong)
家有囍事 (Alls Well, Ends Well, 1992, dir. Clifton Ko, 1992 — Hong Kong)
射雕英雄传之东成西就 (The Eagle Shooting Heroes, 1993, dir. Jeffrey Lau — Hong Kong)
金玉滿堂 (The Chinese Feast, 1995, dir. Tsui Hark — Hong Kong)
大三元 (Tri-Star, 1996, dir. Tsui Hark — Hong Kong)
鍾無艷 (Wu yen, 2001, dir. Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai — Hong Kong)
呖咕呖咕新年财 (The Fat Choi Spirit, 2002, dir. Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai — Hong Kong)
嫁個有錢人 (Marry a Rich Man, 2002, dir. Vincent Kok — Hong Kong)
百年好合 (Love for All Seasons, 2003, dir. Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai — Hong Kong)
行运超人 (My Lucky Star, 2003, dir. Vincent Kok — Hong Kong)
鬼马狂想曲 (Fantasia, 2004, dir. Wai Ka-Fai — Hong Kong)
喜马拉亚星 (Himalaya Singh, 2005, dir. Wai Ka-Fai — Hong Kong)
最爱女人购物狂 (The Shopaholics, 2006, dir. Wai Ka-Fai — Hong Kong)
心想事成 (It’s a Wonderful Life, 2007, dir. Ronald Cheng — Hong Kong)
家有囍事 (Alls Well, Ends Well, 2009, dir. Vincent Kok — Hong Kong)
Last Train Home ( 归途列车, 2009, dir. Li Xin Fan — Canada)
人在囧途 (Lost On Journey, 2010, dir. Raymond Yip — Hong Kong)
到阜阳六百里 (Six Hundred Miles to Fuyang/Return Ticket, 2011, dir. Teng Yung-shin — Taiwan and China)
龙众舞 (Dance Dance Dragon, 2012, dir. Kat Goh — Singapore)
舌尖上的新年 (A Bite of China: Celebrating the Chinese New Year, 2016, dir. Deng Jie, Chen Lei, and Li Yong — China)
However you choose to celebrate Lunar New Year: Chúc Mừng Năm Mới, 新年快乐, 새해 복 많이 받으세요, and Happy New Year… just don’t tell Alan Dingus that it’s the Year of the Dog!
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LA, Amoeblog, Boom: A Journal of California, diaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft Contemporary, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, the book Sidewalking, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, CurbedLA, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Ameba, Duolingo, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Mubi, and Twitter.