Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Directed by: #HaoZheng
Written by: #LeqiVanessaKong and Hao Zheng
Silence speaks volumes in Hao Zheng’s visually rich and emotionally beautiful film about a family reuniting during Chinese New Year celebrations. Xiaoyu, whose attendance to a kung fu school has created a divide with his mother Juan, clearly embarrassed by his decision. Made all the worse by the other relatives playfully asking him to demonstrate his kung fu skills, Juan forced to borrow money from her relatives as she resides in a small home in the mountains while Xiaoyu’s cousin seems to be heading towards a lucrative career path by attending college. Despite Xiaoyu’s passion and excitement in his field, he’s disheartened by Juan’s humiliation as he realises he’s become the joke of the family even after presenting evidence of his skills.
The dialogue that surrounds Xiaoya and his mother, relatives nattering, karaoke and an exuberant Uncle who wants everybody to have a drink just reinforces this echo chamber around the two characters unable to communicate with each other. Kong and Zheng’s script doesn’t fall into a trap of having Xiaoya and Juan blowing up with full melodrama but have the visuals tap into the unspeakable emotional pain of a parent’s disappointment towards their child. New Year’s Eve subtly address cultural expectations within China as Xiaoya’s dilemma has his passion, an ancient cultural skill that has lost its nobility in the wake of modern popular culture, kung fu can no longer be seen with honour among Chinese families. Juan would rather her son seek a vocation that could secure financial independence as Zheng has Chinese stereotypes of martial arts and tiger parenting be examined through the exquisite performances and cinematography.
New Year’s Eve has an alluring aura to it all as Jake Hossfeld’s cinematography not only utilises the breathtaking locations of the mountains but makes the modest home of Juan such a visually rich space. The use of lighting and framing lures the audience into Xiaoya and Juan’s conflicting pains all while trapped in the wonderful festivities of the night. Production design by Katelyn Budke alongside Kiki Qi’s set direction make the film absolutely beautiful in its simplicity and familiarity, a truly lived-in space teeming with subtle history to the characters. Every element of Zheng’s direction and his production teams efforts work in harmony creating an extremely immersive experience for audiences.
While Qi Sun and Grace Chang’s performances as Xiaoya and Juan are the standouts of the film as they capture subtle inflexions of frustration and regret, Zheng and Kong’s meticulous details in their script and his direction fleshes out every character. It’s a living breathing family existing before you in New Year’s Eve and even in the short time Zheng can communicate so much about the dynamics through the periphery performances. Chang has such dignity on-screen as she expertly instils that atmosphere of resigned disappointment that audience sympathies ache as Sun’s performance captures and returns the pain.
New Year’s is a festival that reunites one another but these feelings and how to reconcile with them go beyond words. Zheng captures that helplessness in navigating these demoralising differences alienating mother and son but still offers hope that the love we all share within our family can be the true guide to bring us all back together. Even if the road ahead is still uncertain.