Apple's Lunar New Year film retells Chinese opera through the lens of the iPhone

Developed by TBWA\Media Arts Lab Shanghai, the work was directed by acclaimed Chinese director Peng Fei

Published On
Jan 13, 2023

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As we head into the first few weeks of the Year of the Rabbit, Apple has once again revisited its annual tradition of debuting a new marquee Lunar New Year-related film for the Chinese market.

Directed by award-winning Chinese filmmaker Peng Fei ("Underground Fragrance" and "The Taste of Rice Flower") and created by TBWA\Media Arts Lab Shanghai, this year’s film is a reimagining of “Through the Five Passes,” a classical Chinese opera whose origin work dates from the 14th century. Its release marks the sixth year in a row that the tech giant has commissioned a long-form, Mandarin-language work of this kind.

Clocking in at nearly 18 minutes long, Apple’s newest film is a story of resilience and perseverance set in 1980s China, following a committed opera performer by the name of Gu through a multi-act flashback sequence that draws some parallels to the original “Through the Five Passes,” which he is shown about to perform live as lead character General Guan.

Following a quartet of early-life struggles such as being disciplined by a martial arts master as a child, ruining his sister’s musical performance, and putting up with jabs from friends and family about his dedication to the ancient art form, the cinematic montage concludes with another hurdle for Gu: the variety show production manager’s decision to cut his hour-long opera performance down to just five minutes.

But drawing on the empowerment of overcoming years of hardships and challenges, Gu performs nonetheless, putting on a dazzling show in full costume to thunderous applause from the audience. The film then closes with a written dedication “to those facing their own passes.”

While the present-day Apple brand doesn’t appear in the film, which is set two decades before the release of the first iPhone, its flagship smartphone is omnipresent in a way, with the entire film being shot on iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Maxes.

Equipped with advanced filming features including wide-angle and telephoto lenses, low light adaptation and “Cinematic” and “Action” modes, the triumphant film is meant to showcase the potential of the robust camera technology found in top-of-the-line iPhones.

To further highlight the capabilities of the iPhone, Apple’s “Through the Five Passes” was accompanied by the simultaneous release of a behind-the-scenes film—just as it historically has for its other Lunar New Year shorts—that features sitdown interviews with the production crew and reveals how the mobile devices were used to capture the striking video.


The film is being distributed via traditional paid media in mainland China and online in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as on YouTube in the U.S. with an English-language subtitled version ahead of the Chinese New Year, which falls on Jan. 22 this year.

“Through the Five Passes” is the sixth chapter in Apple’s long-running tradition of creating a cinematic masterpiece on iPhone that’s aimed at Chinese consumers.

Last year, the company also worked with TBWA’s Shanghai team and Chinese filmmaker Zheng Meng to create “The Comeback,” a quasi-blockbuster spanning the genres of comedy, action and sci-fi that is more than 20 minutes long.

The length is a significant departure from Apple’s first such Chinese New Year film, 2018’s “Three Minutes,” which is roughly six-and-a-half minutes long. (The title refers not to the duration of the video but rather to the plot prompt, “If your family reunion only lasts three minutes, what will you do?” Apple said in its description of the film.)