Length: 91 minutes
Director: Ong Kuo Sin
Cast: Lawrence Wong, Mark Lee, Xiang Yun, Cya Liu, Mimi Choo, Guo Liang, Dasa Dharamahsena
In cinemas from 20 January 2022 (Singapore)
3.5 out of 5 stars
Reunion Dinner is the first film of four Singapore-China co-productions that are being made under a collaboration between Clover Films and iQiyi.
These four movies are helmed by Singapore directors and will be released in cinemas outside China, but available to stream on iQiyi in China.
Although Reunion Dinner was co-produced by iQiyi, the movie will screen only in theatres in Singapore and will stream on iQiyi within China only from 27 Jan.
It's an interesting collaboration as iQiyi, which has been called the Netflix of China, has been trying to expand its audience in Asia.
Reunion Dinner, which is part of the movie line-up during this year's Chinese New Year period, was directed by Ong Kuo Sin (Number 1, Mr Unbelievable).
The movie's lead star, Lawrence Wong, whose career now straddles productions in China as well as Singapore, is iQiyi's official international ambassador. He was recently seen in The Ferryman, iQiyi's first Southeast Asian Original series, which was set in Singapore but filmed in Malaysia.
Chaoyang, played by Wong, is an advertising executive who is ready to marry his girlfriend, Zi Hong (Cya Liu).
Zi Hong's father, a no-nonsense war veteran from Shanghai (Guo Liang), visits Singapore in order to get to know his daughter's boyfriend aka appraise his potential son-in-law.
As Chinese New Year approaches, Chaoyang's client demands that he livestream his own family's reunion dinner in order to promote his abalone brand.
All this is complicated by the fact that Chaoyang resents his mother, Yan Ling (Xiang Yun) and hasn't spoken to her in years.
In order to stage the reunion dinner for his client, as well as impress his girlfriend's father, Chaoyang desperately seeks the help of his mother's ex-boyfriend, Wei, a calefare actor (Mark Lee), to find someone to pretend to be his mother.
However, Chaoyang's real mother Yan Ling unwittingly gets pulled into the fake family act as his aunt.
Needless to say, hijinks ensue as both fake and real relatives attempt to stage the reunion dinner and help Chaoyang win the favour of his future father-in-law.
There are blatant, cringe-worthy product placements, that trademark of local CNY movies that was invented by Jack Neo. Thankfully the storyline is nowhere near as bad as in Jack Neo's films.
The "rental family", played by comedic stars Mark Lee, Mimi Choo, and Dasa Dharamahsena, pulls plenty of laughs, but there's also a family drama storyline between Chaoyang and his mother.
The actors scramble and bumble about their job of pretending to be a normal and happy family – Choo as Chaoyang's mother, Lee as his uncle, and Das as his cousin.
Reunion Dinner is the first acting gig for Das Dharamahsena, or Das, who's known for his multi-lingual viral video mimicking Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s address to the nation about COVID-19 measures.
The mother-son storyline is quite predictable – the misunderstanding that causes them to become estranged feels manufactured, and they're obviously going to resolve their conflict for a happy ending – but Wong and Xiang Yun make up for that with very affecting performances that pulled at my heartstrings.
Xiang Yun, as an ex-convict mamasan, is a loving but long-suffering mother who is misunderstood and rejected by her son. She didn't really have comedic bits but get ready your tissues because Chaoyang and Yan Ling's story is designed to bring on the waterworks.
Although it's a comedy, Reunion Dinner harks back to the purpose of the titular Chinese New Year custom to remind us to value familial bonds even when we drift apart from our loved ones.
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