6 AAPI Movies for Lunar New Year

Celebrate the Year of the Tiger with six movies this Lunar New Year.


Red envelopes or “lai see” in Chinese, are traditionally given to children, family members and friends to represent good luck. Graphic made in Canva by Jenelle Lum.

Jenelle Lum

The Lunar New Year is traditionally celebrated over a span of several days, depending on the year, by countries in Asia who use a lunar calendar, but anyone can celebrate it.

I look forward to this holiday each year because it brings my family together and we watch movies. For the past few years, I have looked for movies specific to the new year.

The Lunar New Year creates a fresh start with new opportunities for those who celebrate it. Accurate AAPI representation in movies continues to evolve in cinema and I enjoy learning about my heritage and AAPI cultures, so I selected a few of my favorite movies that are entertaining and reflect real customs.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Marvel’s first Asian superhero movie is an absolute must-watch.

When I saw “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” I was blown away by the action scenes, special effects, the storyline, and the accurate portrayal of the film’s characters.

In the film, Shang-Chi, the protagonist, reconnects with his complicated past and ultimately becomes a superhero.

Shang-Chi is an entertaining movie to watch for Lunar New Year because it signifies progress for accurate AAPI representation.

It steers away from harmful stereotypes and gives new life to kung fu by performing stunts that have not been seen before.

Since this is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it may be helpful to watch some of the previous Marvel films, such as “Doctor Strange” and “Iron Man 3” beforehand.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Based on the book series by Kevin Kwan, “Crazy Rich Asians” is an extravagant way to start the Lunar New Year. It highlights the differences between Western and Eastern cultures.

The main character, Rachel Chu, travels from New York to Singapore with her boyfriend, Nick Young, to meet his family, only to find out that they are all extremely wealthy.

Throughout the film, Rachel finds herself trying to prove to Nick’s family that she is “worthy” of being with him and that she is not just after their money. She is seen as an “outsider” because she did not grow up in Singapore.

I really enjoy this movie because it is entertaining, dramatic and full of surprises. It sets itself apart from the typical romantic comedy by giving full storylines to multiple characters, instead of only focusing on Nick and Rachel.

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” is a step towards properly representing Southeast Asian cultures.

The premise of the movie revolves around a warrior named Raya, and a dragon named Sisu who save the land of fictional land of Kumandra.

The message of this movie is very relevant to today because it represents trust and bringing people together.

The Lunar New Year is often referred to as “Chinese New Year.” While this is true for individuals who are Chinese, the New Year is actually celebrated by several Eastern and Southeastern countries such as Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand and Singapore.

Raya and the Last Dragon is an important movie to watch because it is one of the first animated films to distinguish the similarities and differences between the Eastern and Southeastern regions of Asia.

The Joy Luck Club (1993)

Though it is a long movie, I recommend watching “The Joy Luck Club” at least once.

The film explores the dynamic of social and cultural differences between two generations, which is common in many families.

It tells the stories of four immigrant mothers and their obsession with wanting what they think are the best lives for their American-born daughters.

Prior to watching “The Joy Luck Club”, I did not know what the movie was about and it took me by surprise. It even featured scenes of the characters having their own Lunar New Year celebration.

It was interesting to see each character’s story and actually relate to what some of them were going through.

Always trying to be the best is a lot of pressure to put on oneself and “The Joy Luck Club” acknowledges that pressure in a unique way compared to other movies.

The Farewell (2019)

Based on a true story, “The Farewell” emphasizes the importance of family, which is a large part of Lunar New Year.

The family from this movie explain that in China, they believe individuals will live a happier life if they remain ignorant of the negative aspects of it.

The main character, Billi, played by Awkwafina, learns that her grandmother has cancer, but she is prohibited by her family from telling her. Billi then decides to visit her grandmother and enjoy the time that she has left.

Educating Chinese customs, including hiding the fact that a person has a life-threatening disease, provides a strong familial setting.

“The Farewell” is a rollercoaster of emotions, but it is definitely worth watching. A few of the scenes, especially the wedding scene, made me think about family parties I used to go to when I was growing up.

Everyone in my family would gather at a restaurant with large tables and catch up with relatives we rarely see, similar to scenes in the movie.
Be sure to watch until the end of the credits of the film as well.

Mulan (1998)

Mulan is one of my all time favorites, especially for Lunar New Year.

This classic movie brings comedy, action and storyline that is unlike any other princesses from major Disney films. It is loosely based on a Chinese folk tale called “The Ballad of Mulan,” which tells the story of a young woman who disguises herself as a man and takes her father’s place in the army.

When I was little, I did not really understand some of the jokes, the pressure Mulan went through to be “perfect” or what was going on in the war scenes.

Watching it in more recent years, I have developed a deep appreciation for this movie and I laugh at almost every scene with Mushu the dragon. I love that Mulan herself is a complex character who speaks her truth and breaks free from stereotypes.

Now that the Year of the Tiger has begun, I hope it will lead to more Lunar New Year and AAPI movies! Hollywood is slowly moving in the right direction, but there is still room for improvement, since there are few movies with accurate representation and knowledge about Lunar New Year.