Film, TV + Theatre

Chinese New Year 2021: Top 9 CNY commercials of 2021 that made us feel things


By Sanjeeva Suresh

Chinese New Year 2021: Top 9 CNY commercials of 2021 that made us feel things

While most Chinese New Year advertisements of years past are typically filled with some level of comedic relief or sentimental family narratives, this year they mostly all had a similar notion. It was the adapting and coping of festivities and the sense of unity amidst the ongoing pandemic. The main takeaway? It’s that there isn’t much we can’t get through with some familial love and a sense of togetherness. While we enjoy this Chinese New Year weekend, let’s look back at some of the stand-out commercials that really resonated with Malaysians. So grab your box of tissues because tears and laughter will ensue. I’m not crying, you are! 

1. Etiqa’s “How do you get from C– To A+?”

Theme: Choose love before anger

This touching video from Etiqa shows a son amidst his exam preparations. Adjusting to classes from home, he tries to concentrate on an online Zoom class but is continuously distracted by his family who delegates him random chores. In a fit of anger and frustration, he leaves the house saying, “I don’t want to be a failure because of my family”. Once he calms down, he returns to find his family members have left, leaving behind symbols and displays of luck. Racked with guilt, he returns to his room to find his family gathered to surprise him with a plate of yee sang. He soon realises that the distractions were all a ruse by his family to get him out of the house so they can hang these decorations and displays of luck. He apologises and regrets his behaviour, leaving viewers to remember that family comes first above the stress of exams and deadlines.

2. TNB’s “Nian-tastic New Start”

Theme: Unity against adversity

Tenaga National combines comedy with traditional festivities. The advertisement takes us on a journey to a time from long ago, where rural villagers search far and wide to learn the ancient secret to triumphing over evil and unlocking true prosperity. Every year the evil “Nian” makes an appearance. Leading up to this, various problems plague the village, from a family cat losing its fur to a chicken laying smaller eggs. To put an end to these problems, a few villagers seek out a mystic master who lives a life of solitude (apart from a modern touch-screen iPad) in a cave. He “advises” them to chase away this terrible “Nian” by a display of unity. They believe a converging of firecrackers and auspicious music and singing should scare him away, and it works! The theme here is that with joy and good energy, challenges are easier to overcome together. The clip closes with the phrase “together, we’ll rise above adversity and welcome prosperity”.

3. Celcom’s “Story of Strength”

Theme: Bonds from union strengthen with every reunion

This short and sweet video from Celcom highlights what most Malaysians celebrating Chinese New Year are facing. The question of how to adapt and cope with the celebrations this year. The clip shows a little girl asks her “Ah Po” about Chinese New Year. Her grandmother explains that while yes, things will be different this year, this is not the first time she’s seen hardship. As images from colonial Malaysia and World War II flash onscreen, viewers are reminded that history has seen difficult moments too. The “Ah Po” tells the little Wei Wei that “there is nothing we cannot overcome when we are together”. The video ends with the grandmother saying “as long as we are together, there is no obstacle we cannot overcome” while a virtual gathering takes place.

4. RHB’s “Love Carries On”

Theme: Progress starts by lifting others to reach their dream

Have your box of tissues ready because this advertisement from RHB—based on a true story—is guaranteed to pull at your heart-strings. The audience is immediately drawn into a speech given by a graduate during her convocation ceremony. In the speech, she thanks her dedicated father, who not only lifted her to reach her dreams but physically carried her when she was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy. The story shows how far a father’s love goes, especially as she says “when it would have been easier to give up”. The story is based on Ngu Nyok Ping’s 2016 convocation ceremony speech. Her father Ngu Ee Kiong carried her to school after she lost her mobility. Nyok Ping now dedicates her life to helping other disabled people.

5. Maxis’ “Little Lion”

Theme: Happiness and health is worth more than luxury

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how Covid-19 affects children. Imagine being a young child growing up during a pandemic. That’s what Maxis highlights in their Chinese New Year film. We see a family struggle to cope financially, all the while placating their youngest family member who is an aspiring lion dancer. As Covid-19 sees the cancellation of lion dancing classes, the boy steals moments to practise it with a wicker lion’s head before an older family member asks him to do household chores. We soon come to discover that the adults are trying to incorporate nuanced lion dance moves while carrying out the chores, from the stance to the jump. The underlying message is that the family’s health is truly their biggest wealth. While the family may have moved into a smaller house and sacrificed on luxuries, the family members are still together, united and happy.

6. Prudential’s “The Reunion”

Theme: Happiness is a place within you

This heartfelt short film highlights a photographer’s life as she battles between work-related stress and passion for her art. This stress soon has her suffering a mild stroke, and she awakes to find herself at her family home. Brooding and stir-crazy, she rejects all the joy that comes from Chinese New Year and prefers time on her own rather than with family. It takes a little girl to reunite her with her love of photography, and soon she’s back on her feet again. Here’s the twist: the little girl is actually herself. Viewers discover that the main character has been reminded of her younger self from a photo album from 1998. She ultimately discovers that true happiness can only be found within oneself. The message is subtle but a strong one. That it is only we who can choose to wallow in sorrow or dig from within and find happiness instead.

7. Watsons’ #HappyBeautifulNewYear

Theme: Surviving hardships together

This video starts off with a flashback from 1998 (although to be honest, the styling and hair are more mid-80’s if anything). It begins with a catfight from two budding stars that results in the performing duo parting ways. We fast forward to the present day, and there’s still a grudge between the two. The daughter (played by Jenn Chia) decides to use the power of music to bring the pair together—and it works. This short incorporates nostalgia and shows viewers that ultimately love and friendship are worth holding on to rather than decades-old petty grudges. There is also a heavy display of Watson’s cosmetics products, predominantly their eyeliner. The ad also features a plethora of local celebs including Amber Chia (who really displays some acting chops here), JinnyBoy, Lizz Chloe and Ayda Jebat, to name a few.

8. Tesco’s “Ong Medley”

Theme: Adapting to a “new normal”

We are introduced to a family coping with a “new normal” brought on by Covid-19. Mother, father, son and daughter each face their own personal battle against boredom. Kudos to the team for featuring an Indian lead actor and including him with a Chinese voiceover. The video incorporates music (or medleys) with different genres representing various offerings from Tesco. 80’s pop for fresh produce and seafood, R&B for hampers and gifts, a 90’s ballad for grooming and promoting a healthy lifestyle and a 2000s-style rap for streetwear fashion. The video has already garnered over five million views.

9. Apple’s “Discovery of the Nian”

Theme: Sometimes the biggest fear we face is the fear of the unknown

“Why is everyone afraid of the Nian?” It’s a question asked by Ah Ting, the protagonist of this short film. Shot on an iPhone 12 Pro Max (something viewers may easily forget because of the sheer quality of the video), this coming-of-age story highlights the unhindered spirit and bravery of a curious young girl. Ah Ting refutes her parents’ belief that the “Nian” is a child-eating creature and seeks to find out the truth for herself. Her dangerous adventure leads her to befriending Nian. As she grows older, she realises that the fear towards Nian was based on rumours and hearsay, so she attempts to ingratiate the creature back into society. The film appears to end on a cliffhanger. Viewers see Ah Ting’s parents accompany her into the forest—though they were initially against this idea—and befriend Nian. As the closing credits roll, we see a happy ending as Nian joins the family for an evening meal. The short film is directed by Lulu Wang and created by the team behind the Golden Globe-nominated film, The Farewell.

For more more Chinese New Year 2021, click here

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