Alibaba Pictures’ What’s Peppa, the promotional short for China Mobile and the upcoming film Peppa Celebrates Chinese New Year (scheduled for release on February 5), has already logged over 80 million views on video platform Miaopai.
The five-minute video has earned police warnings against the dangers of DIY welding, and prompted People’s Daily to criticize the sale of copycat “leaf-blower Peppa Pig” sculptures on Taobao for copyright infringement (see below). But the viral short is just the latest—and most successful—example of a recent trend, in which major brands partner with well-known directors to make schmaltzy product placement films ahead of the holidays.
Stylistically, these “annual tearjerkers” (年度催泪片), also known as “New Year short films” (贺岁微电影), resemble emotionally manipulative Thai commercials which use engrossing plots and clever editing to hide their mercenary nature. They also seem to be inspired by the public service videos that air on CCTV close to the holiday season with recurring themes of homecomings, family reunion, and filial obligation.
Below are some previous popular tearjerkers—prepare to watch and weep.
Three Minutes (2018)
“How would you spend your family reunion, if you only had three minutes?” asks the tagline to this seven-minute film by Hong Kong director Peter Ho-sun Chan (American Dreams in China, Dearest). Supposedly based on a true story, the short depicts a train attendant who has to work over the holidays, and her young son who comes to visit her on the platform during the short stop that the train makes at their local station. The title cards, plus that unmistakable Apple logo before the credits, reveal that all was “shot using the iPhone X.”
The Sparkling Iron Tree (2017)
Rated a respectable 7.3 on Douban, director Sun Zhou’s (Breaking the Silence, I Do) short focuses on an elderly practitioner of dashuhua, the traditional skill of making fireworks with molten metal, and his gaming executive son who hasn’t visited home in 10 years. This Spring Festival, a declining skill will pass from father to son to grandson along with love, reconciliation, and bagfuls of Hsu Fu Chi nougat candy.
Fu and Li (2016)
Probably the most surreal entry on this list, this short, directed by Zero Lin, has an existential feel. While kuaiban clappers play, a young boy and an old man sit at an abandoned mountain pass, chase a rooster, and form an unlikely friendship as they wait for loved ones to return home. The short was produced by Rural Taobao, which makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance on a village banner advertising New Year sales. In 2017, the producers followed up with the similar Mr. Kong’s New Year, featuring shadow puppetry.
This Year, Just for this Moment (2014)
This tearjerker tells overlapping stories of three rovers—a top architect, a low-level office worker, and a migrant laborer—who’ve left home to seek their fortune in the city. For all the questions they develop during this year in the life, Baidu’s app is there to provide the answers. There are three alternative cuts of the film, each focusing on one of the characters (Video 1, Video 2, Video 3). Director Wang Qiang is also behind another Baidu-sponsored weepie (and Michael Jackson tribute video), The True Story of a Janitor (2012).
Cover image: screenshot of What’s Peppa