New Year’s Eve is brimming with unspoken turmoil. Hao Zheng’s (co-written with Leqi Vanessa Kong) drama sees a son desperately searching for approval from his mother, who, amidst chronic poverty and low status on the familial hierarchy of importance, clearly wanted something else for her son instead of the Kung Fu school he decided to go to.
The extended family gets together to celebrate New Years at Xiaoyu’s mother’s house in rural Gansu. There’s that universal shiny cousin that every human must learn to live with. Compared, no one really knows how to treat the idea of Xiaoyu (played by Qi Sun) going to Kung Fu school, and mostly cover it up by patronizing him. Xiaoyu puts up with it all, quietly waiting in their midst for his mother to even see him; she is in the kitchen, slightly anxious and shamefaced in the company of well to do relatives (who even buy her an expensive TV). Even as he first arrived, Xiaoyu rehearsed the reunion, the medal he won in his hand. The meeting is strained, almost entirely devoid of any meaningful communication, before his mother rushes off to take care of their relatives. The shiny cousin is appropriately unfriendly and inattentive, while Xiaoyu, perhaps himself feeling the same inferiority that his mother feels so acutely, tries and fails to bond with him. The drunk, overly-friendly uncle is all over the place, while the aunt shows a surprising kindness, even if she is part of the patronizing lot.
Vulnerability in New Year’s Eve continuously peeks through the unceasing merrymaking, an invisible elephant straining through the veneer of all-well. Xiaoyu’s unseen attempts to be heard and acknowledged builds an affecting drama, that speaks to not only the vagaries of parent-child bonds but also the earnest hope of parents of reclaiming the life they had wanted for themselves through their children. Xiaoyu’s mother sees those hopes as entirely dashed. And continues to believe in her inferiority.