SINGAPORE - There seems to be an especially healthy crop of movies in cinemas this Chinese New Year. For starters, how about three pictures from the titans of the holiday season: action superstar Jackie Chan, Hong Kong actor-director Stephen Chow and Singapore's own Jack Neo, making his first action comedy.
On the Hollywood side, there is a young-adult science-fiction spectacular, Alita: Battle Angel, a James Cameron-produced work based on a popular manga, and the sequel to a popular hit, The Lego Movie 2.
Whether you are looking for a few hours of entertainment or seeking relief from reunion overload, there is plenty to take in, in cinemas or online.
MOVIES IN CINEMAS
Opens Jan 31
Director: JY Teng
Starring: Joyce Cheng, Lo Hoi Pang, Lin Min Chen, A-niu, Alex Lam, Jerry Lamb
When the Siew family from Hong Kong fly to Malaysia for a holiday, comedic consequences ensue when nothing goes right. The movie features a Hong Kong cast playing the Siews, who go on the road to tourist spots in Cameron Highlands and Ipoh, among others.
Opens Jan 31
Director: Pang Ho Cheung
Starring: Dada Chan, June Lam, Isabella Leong, Gigi Leung, Patrick Tse, Miriam Yeung
Award-winning writer-director Pang is known for comedies that blend social satire with adult humour (Women Who Flirt, 2014; Vulgaria, 2012). In this send-up of Hong Kong values and female bonding, a bottle of breast milk left in an office refrigerator by a senior executive, used by mistake as creamer, becomes the catalyst for a group of estranged friends to reconnect.
Opens Feb 5
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali
A new cinematic universe beckons with this big-budget young-adult picture, based on Yukito Kishiro's manga series with a Pinocchio-like story of the relationship between a scientist and a cyborg who yearns to be a real girl. While out scavenging for parts, Dr Ido (Waltz) finds the head of a cyborg he names Alita (Salazar). He re-animates her and finds that while her memory has been wiped, she possesses fighting skills that everyone believes has been lost in the last great war.
Opens Feb 5
Director: Yan Jia
Starring: Jackie Chan, Ethan Juan, Elaine Zhong, Lin Peng
If Hollywood can launch a new cinematic universe with Alita this Chinese New Year, why not China? In this big-budget fantasy picture that pits Chan's demon hunter Pu Songling, played by Chan, against a range of beings in human and non-human form, viewers should expect spells, computer-driven visuals and lots of action.
Opens Feb 5
Director: Stephen Chow
Starring: Wang Baoqiang, E Jingwen
Chow's sequel to the 2016 hit, the eco-fantasy The Mermaid, seems to have been delayed in production, so to fill the Chinese New Year slot, he has gone all the way back to his King Of Comedy (1999) to find a follow-up. Like the original, this new movie is set in the world of wannabe actors dreaming of their big break, but find each day more humiliating than the last. Chow does not act in this, but from the trailer, it looks like a return to his earlier style of rapid-fire physical comedy.
Opens Feb 7
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Starring: Keira Knightley, Dominic West
Talk about counter-programming. For those seeking refuge from red packets and oranges, how about a biography of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, better known by her last name? Born into Belle Epoque France, Colette, played by Knightley, would marry a famed literary figure, then become a writer of note herself, while causing the tongues of Paris to wag because of the sexual frankness of her stories and the taboo-breaking nature of her love affairs.
Opens Feb 5
Director: Jack Neo
Starring: Amber An, Jay Shih, Nadow, Apple Chan, Gadrick Chin, Ryan Lian
Singaporean comedy icon Neo goes Asia-wide in this, his first action-comedy. This picture, set briefly in Singapore before moving on to Taiwan, features actors from both territories bringing, one hopes, mirth and mayhem to a tale of spies and assassins out to grab a top-secret device.
Opens Feb 7
Director: Mike Mitchell
Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish
The follow-up to the 2014 smash sees the return of Emmet (Pratt), Batman (Arnett) and the rest of the gang, teaming up to defeat an alien invasion led by Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (Haddish). The original's directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have handed the reins over to Mike Mitchell (Trolls, 2016; The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water, 2015). Judging from the trailer, the cheerful zaniness of the first film thankfully seems to be intact.
Opens Feb 5
Director: Han Han
Starring: Shen Teng, Huang Jingyu, Yin Zheng, Yin Fang, Tian Yu
This motor-racing drama-comedy featuring a cast from China trades on racetrack action and a feelgood story of a veteran driver trying to make in a comeback in the sport while becoming a better father to his six-year-old son.
Opens Feb 7
Director: Alan Mak
Starring: Sean Lau, Nick Cheung, Karena Lam, Anita Yuen
Mak and producer Felix Chong, the force behind some of Hong Kong's top thrillers (the Infernal Affairs trilogy, 2002 to 2003) are basing this white-collar crime story on the work of the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption). Lau is the anti-fraud analyst while Yuen plays a senior customs officer suspected of cigarette smuggling. As with Infernal Affairs, a trilogy is planned.
Live action, animation
Opens: Feb 7
Director: Zhang Dapeng
Starring: Zhu Yawen, Liu Yun
The cartoon character Peppa Pig is popular around the world, especially in China. This Mandarin-language co-production between Peppa's Canadian owners and Chinese studio Alibaba Group is the first set in that country to mix live action with animation. The story revolves around a family coming together for Chinese New Year. As they celebrate the traditional way, the parents and grandparents tell the young ones stories of how Peppa's own family marks the occasion.
Here is a selection of uplifting short films, which are easy to watch on the go, as well as a few movies that could be a counter to all that holiday cheeriness.
In this short drama about second chances from Singapore film-maker Chang Kai Xiang, shortlisted for the Vidsee Juree Singapore prize in 2018, Ah Ma (grandmother) likes to come back from the other side to find something she has lost. One day, her grandson, to his horror, becomes aware of her presence.
Wei and her mother do not argue any more because her mother has, for months, been exchanging notes with her instead of talking to avoid conflict. In this award-winning comedy-drama short from Singapore film-maker Leon Cho, when Wei tells her mother she is going to live on her own, a blowup ensues.
Malaysian film-maker Quek Shio Chuan recently turned his short project into a feature. Wen Guang is autistic and struggles with communication. Forced to find a job to make ends meet, he sets out on an odyssey, but in secret, he nurtures a passion that has nothing to do with what others think is essential.
This Oscar-nominated work of animation from Dutch film-maker Michael Dudok de Witt draws graphics and storytelling inspiration from both Western and Japanese styles. The near-wordless fairy tale is an account of a man marooned on an island, doomed to be alone, until one day, he meets a turtle who seems to be as lonely as him.
In this comedy gem from 2010 - the follow-up to the 2005 original - Emma Thompson stars as the snaggle-toothed, unibrowed, black-clad figure of the title, a stern woman who does not hesitate to use her magic to deal unusual punishments to badly behaved children.
Netflix (from Feb 1)
This Taiwanese comedy-drama opened last year's Singapore International Film Festival, but not before it won a clutch of nominations, including Best Feature, at the Golden Horse Awards. It won three, including for Best Actress for Hsieh Ying-hsuan.
Co-directors Mag Hsu and Hsu Chih-yen inject plenty of emotion to this story about a widow (Hsieh) who is shocked the nominee for her dead husband's insurance payout is his male lover. The resulting conundrum drags in her son, leading to soul-searching and divided loyalties.
This Western anthology from the duo of Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men, 2007) is made of six short works, so it is perfect for watching on the go. Each work is a gem of black comedy set in the Old West, viewed by the Coens as a place where men and women go to learn the bitterest truths.
You might want to watch this privately on your phone because of the nudity and violence. Mads Mikkelsen is a super assassin looking forward to a peaceful retirement in his snowy cabin, but old colleagues just will not leave him alone. This stylish, pulpy piece of B-movie fun features gloriously over-the-top villains and taut action.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.