Last year’s Lunar New Year celebrations were muted in China as the coronavirus continued to spread. This year, though some areas of the country are in lockdown and travel restrictions are in place, 1.7 billion people are expected to travel home for the holiday, for celebrations including fireworks, red lanterns and drums.
According to Chinese mythology, these flashy displays scare away the Nian, a child-eating monster with sharp teeth and horns that emerges each year to attack villages. Loud noises, the color red—and the frightening visage of the lion dance—spook the beast, and offerings of food appease it.
As with other pop-culture monsters in recent years (think dragons, vampires and sasquatch), the Nian gets a cuddlier reimagining in Apple’s Chinese New Year spot, the latest in its “Shot on iPhone” series. Directed by Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), the short film follows a fearless young girl who tracks the Nian to its cave and befriends it to escape strife at home.
Her bravery is contagious, and when she eventually persuades the creature to join her for New Year’s festivities, the playful, docile Nian can’t handle the cacophony. The film blurs the line between fantasy and reality, and it’s never quite clear whether the monster is real or just in the little girl’s head. A sweet post-credits scene (The Avengers eating shawarma, anyone?) does nothing to clarify the situation.
A behind-the-scenes featurette shows how the spot was filmed and showcases the durability and flexibility of the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Apple releases a Chinese New Year spot every year, though entries are usually more grounded, even bittersweet, and focus on reconnecting with loved ones, whether at a train station, in a taxi or after a long journey. But with billions of people separated from their loved ones by a deadly disease, a fanciful story of childhood friendship may be just the thing we all need right now. Grab some rice cakes and dig in.