Monday, February 12, 2007

Traditional Chinese New Year practices (2)

(Continuing from yesterday...)

4) The eating of yee sang: A raw fish (preferably salmon these days) dish whose ingredients is meant to be tossed in the air and mixed up, yee sang (which literally translates as "fish toss"!) appears to be one of those Chinese dishes -- another of these is the simply delicious pork bone "tea" or soup known by its Hokkien name of bak kut teh -- that actually is indigeneous to Malaysia rather than China.

Although it's officially meant to be eaten only on the seventh day of Chinese New Year, Malaysians are likely to eat it any time during or even in the few weeks preceding the Chinese New Year period. Also, the use of the term Malaysians in the previous sentence is not accidental, as yee sang (a particularly large example of which can be seen here) is a halal dish that's enjoyed by many Malaysians who are not ethnic Chinese as well as those that are. :)

5) The eating of "steamboat" (AKA "hot pot"): Strictly speaking, this is a tradition that's observed on Chinese New Year eve rather than Chinese New Year itself. But, especially since my return to Malaysia, I've come to think of the gathering together of family -- and, in some cases, friends -- to eat this piping hot dish that has been described as the Chinese equivalent of fondue as the event that starts of each year's Chinese New Year celebrations.

At the same time, like the Singaporean blogger of Foodie Paradise, I have to admit to failing to understand the rationale behind eating "steamboat" in tropical or equatorial climes. (And this especially when my ancestors hail from a southern -- and consequently warm -- region of China.) Still, I can't help but find this culinary concoction which looks to have origins in a colder part of the world to be very tasty and thus worth sweating copiously for! ;)

6) The giving or receiving of lucky red packets (of money!): The traditional Chinese New Year practice that's dreaded by married folks -- especially those who are childless -- since tradition dictates that they are the givers, and looked forward to by young children and similarly unmarried individuals on account of their being the designated receivers! Re the former: This is so much so that some married couples have been known to go away and holiday in far away places where they're unlikely to meet their relatives, friends and/or other Chinese in order to avoid -- or at least minimize -- their festive ang pow giving! ;)

On a more serious note, the practice of giving ang pow (which literally translates as "red packets") in Hokkien -- and the similar sounding hong bao or lai see in Cantonese -- is fraught with superstition. For example, it's a major no-no to use old bank notes as well as to give odd numbered amounts of money. Consequently, it's not just the giver having given insufficient monetary sum that can be responsible for their incurring an ang pow receiver's ire during Chinese New Year!

7) Watching a Chinese New Year movie (Yes, really!): As many a Hong Kong film fan knows, certain movies are made which are not only timed to be screened during the Chinese New Year period but, also, adhere to certain Chinese New Year movie conventions. With regard to the latter: Suffice to say that Chinese New Year movies tend to be on the light(-hearted) , rib-tickling and star-studded side. ;)

In 2007, there appear to be three (made for) Chinese New Year movies jostling for attention and business. Twins Mission is an action-adventure-comedy starring -- you guessed it -- da Twins (i.e., Gillian Chung and Charlene Choi to the uninitated) along with Sammo Hung, Wu Jing and Yuen Wah.

And although it appears to be on the dark side for a bona fide Chinese New Year movie, Protege, a star-studded thriller directed by Derek Yee and starring Andy Lau, Louis Koo, Daniel Wu and -- yes, really! -- Anita Yuen, is scheduled for release during this Chinese New Year period. Still, the one film which actually will open in Malaysian cinemas on the first day of Chinese New Year itself is Lady Iron Chef, a cooking adventure movie(?) starring Charmaine Sheh and Hacken Lee.

As for those Hong Kong movie fans dwelling in territories with zero chance of these movies appearing in your local theatre: Please don't despair and gnash your teeth too much! Rather, should you wish to get into the Chinese New Year (movie-viewing) spirit, here's going ahead and letting you know that the following are festive cinematic gems of years past which I think are worth hunting down and viewing (and should you already have, re-viewing): Fantasia; Fat Choi Spirit; The Chinese Feast; Stephen Chow's King of Comedy; Now You See Love...Now You Don't; Wu Yen; and, last but by no means least, The Eagle Shooting Heroes! :)


Anonymous said...


you've outdone yourself with with your two lastest blog entries. Concise, informative, thorough and one of the more fun writings on Chinese New Year customs I've read.

however I made the mistake of reading your latest entry after work but before dinner......steamboat sounds soooooo good.

YTSL said...

Hi sbk --

Am glad to learn that you've got much out of reading my last two blog entries. However, am not sure that I've outdone myself with regards to them since there are a few earlier blog entries which I'm happy with and proud of as well! ;)

Edmund Yeo said...

Oh yeah, I saw the Protege last night, really good stuff.

(... I don't feel like watching the other stuff coming out on Chinese New Year)

YTSL said...

Hi "the great swifty" --

Lucky you re already having caught PROTEGE. I, OTOH, have just seen its enticing trailer since it's only due to officially open in Malaysian cinemas on 15th February.

Re the other films: Am not all that excited about the prospect of checking out LADY IRON CHEF but da Twins -- and the prospect of Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah back in a movie together -- make THE TWINS MISSION quite an attractive proposition to me! ;)

Madara said...

When are the Twins gonna make a bonafide musical? Y'know, with lots of songs and dances and comedy and such? I got ten seconds of them doing a line of a song together in FANTASIA and that was it!

YTSL said...

Hi leo86 --

"When are the Twins gonna make a bonafide musical?"

I don't know. And, to be honest, I wouldn't care for their doing so because I'm not particularly a fan of musicals and, also, because I'm not sure that singing is exactly the Twins' forte!

OTOH, neither is their martial arts prowess -- and they, or their agents, etc., seem to want to continue having them carve a niche out as action stars.

Sad, really, since I think that drama is both Gillian and Charlene's strong suit. That, and comedy plus sheer kawainess, that is! ;)

Edmund Yeo said...


Hah, just call me Edmund, though most people prefer to refer me as Swifty. (including Sharon Bakar, whom I see is on your blogroll too :D)

While the action scenes I saw did look sort of decent from the trailers of The Twins Mission, previous experiences told me that that any film with both girls in it = instant disaster. They work fine when separated.

Maybe I'm still scarred by Protege La Rose, or whatever the hell it was called. But then, before that, there were already scratch marks on my eyes that I inflicted upon myself whilst watching Twins Effect.

Sigh, missed those days when they had those Eighth Happiness-type films, you know, star-studded ensemble flicks about a family where the eldest son is always played by Raymond Wong. Yeah, those.

YTSL said...

Hi Edmund/Swifty --

"any film with both girls in it = instant disaster."

Please don't tell me that you consider the charming wallow in nostalgia that's JUST ONE LOOK to be an "instant disaster"! :(

Also, have to admit to having been able to enjoy both of the TWINS EFFECT movies. Though I would agree that PROTEGE DE LA ROSE NOIRE was an awful, awful film. (So awful, in fact, that it actually caused me to have a migraine attack!)

"Sigh, missed those days when they had those Eighth Happiness-type films"

Would agree that some of those movies had their charm. And my favorite of these is IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (The 1994 Hong Kong movie rather than the same-titled Frank Capra offering).

OTOH, a couple of Chinese New Years ago, I tried to view but just could not complete viewing the too "in your face" NINTH HAPPINESS... ;(

Edmund Yeo said...

I agree, 9th Happiness was way too insane. 8th Happiness was better though.

I saw Twins Mission... I'm writing a review for it.

... sigh.

YTSL said...

Hi again Swifty --

It's Chinese New Year. Perhaps you shouldn't be too harsh. Or *shudder* *shudder* are you telling me that TWINS MISSION is more headache inducing than THE SHOPAHOLICS and/or HIMALAYA SINGH? ;(

Edmund Yeo said...

... yes. Imagine those movies, but with lower production values (it was shot on video, not film), and without a single shred of redeeming quality.

My review is here.

YTSL said...

Hi once more Swifty --

So help me more after reading your review, I *want* to see TWINS MISSION because I feel obliged to see and gauge for myself how bad the movie really is! ;b

Though the shot on video bit sounds *really* scary and sad... :S

Anonymous said...

I never thought of Tsui Hark's Chinese Feast as a New Year flick but I sure love that film. If only there were a better DVD edition out there with better English subtitles.

And I love the song that plays during the montage after they've rescued Kenny Bee from his grocery store job whatever it is. Any clue?

And how can you say you don't like musicals? What about all the old Shaw musicals?

For this white guy raised on Gene Kelly's American MGM musicals, discovering these on my own has been such a small miracle. Like an alternate MGM studio system on the other side of the world.

I just watche Blue Skies with Cheng Pei Pei and that so far is one of my faves of the Shaw musicals, although HK Nocture and HK Rhapsody are both good the Yellow Muffler had its moments of fun too.

Peter Chen has a kinda Fred Astaire vibe to him which I like a lot too.

OH, and you are right: Just One Look is pretty darn good. The Twins are better apart than together except for that flick (though I will watch almost anything HK no matter how bad these days).

Happy New Year!

YTSL said...

Hi glenn --

FYI: "THE CHINESE FEAST was presented as a Lunar New Year release, and so it falls into the subgenre of New Year's "Gung Hey Fa Choy" movies, which traditionally end with the entire cast turning directly to the camera and toasting the audience. In THE CHINESE FEAST the gesture feels genuine; it's a perfect finale to an honestly presented feel-good movie." (Excerpt from Lisa Morton's "The Cinema of Tsui Hark", 2001:120)

As for the Shaw musicals: Weird but true I know but while I love the huangmei operas (which are a (sub-)genre unto their own), I haven't been all that enamored by the likes of HONG KONG NOCTURNE. All in all, I've found that I can appreciate music (instrumentals and sung pieces) in movies -- Shaw and otherwise -- but just am not that appreciative of song-and-dance numbers.

Still more re da Twins: In all honesty, I reckon that JUST ONE LOOK is the work that's a cut above all of the movies they've appeared in, be it apart or together. All in all, an often sadly under-viewed and -rated sweet gem of a film.

YTSL said...

As a postscript to the the Twins movie talk: Finally viewed TWINS MISSION yesterday. Maybe it's because I went in with *very* low expectations but...I didn't find it to be that bad!

Alternatively put: Yeah, it's dumb but parts of it still were pretty fun(ny)! And, as I had hoped, no way could the action be all bad when Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao and a Wu Jing who's in his prime are in the movie... :)