—This epic story of an aspiring filmmaker who brings hope to his little village brought back powerful memories for Craig Redmond.—
Next week, many of us will be greeting friends and family with a hearty “Gong Hei Fat Choi!” Apologies to my Chinese friends if I’ve butchered it. There seem to be as many phonetic spellings of the celebratory Cantonese salute as there are non-Asians like me trying to interpret it.
Regardless, here’s to wishing an early Happy Chinese New Year.
That is the theme of both this week’s review, and a story about professional misadventures that became a turning point for my young family.
I was a novice copywriter based in Hong Kong when I had the good luck to pen a TV script for AT&T that was filmed on two different continents at opposite ends of the world.
It told the tale of two brothers separated during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and reunited during a long-distance cell call 25 years later, at Chinese New Year.
The first half of the story unfolded in a remote Hakka village in southern China. It was a brutal 30-hour road trip from where we flew into, Guangzhou, and seemingly two centuries behind that modern industrial city.
When we eventually arrived at the village in the middle of the night, we were greeted by its elders and treated to a huge feast—the leftovers of which fed us for the rest of the week, and made yours truly morbidly unwell.
Then, during the shoot, I turned out to be the main attraction as the only white person in the crew. Children kept running up to me and poking me in the side before running off again. The director explained that it was the first time they’d ever seen a “Gweilo,” as we foreigners were called, and they wanted to know if the “white ghost” was real.
The second half of the production took me to my hometown Toronto, where I secretly spent every free hour shopping my portfolio around to agencies in the hopes of landing a job and moving my young family to Canada before China took back control of Hong Kong.
Which finally brings us to this Chinese New Year story from Apple.
Every year, Apple has made it a tradition to release a long content film to celebrate Chinese New Year and honour the mass pilgrimage home made by millions to celebrate. And each year, those films have become more and more elaborate to showcase the production possibilities of shooting on an iPhone—as evidenced last year by the classic, pastoral folktale of Nian.
While the production values of this year’s film are still astonishing, it’s the storytelling that feels so much more elaborate: A tale of the prodigal son returning to his poor village feeling like a failure rather than the heroic saviour they expect. And how he regretfully agrees to put his iPhone to the test and help resuscitate hope and restore dignity to the beleaguered villagers by making a movie.
I promise, it’s a charming, funny, and endearingly worthy 22 minutes of your time.
But for me personally, seeing its medieval reality of modern-day life in rural China took me right back to that Hakka village on the first leg of our AT&T journey: The hardwood bed I slept on, underneath the single lightbulb dangling from its rat-chewed wire above, and the open-air toilet trench behind the village that beckoned me nightly—after each salmonella seasoned meal at the end of our shoot days.
More importantly, it reminded me of the grace and decency with which those impoverished villagers welcomed a strange, ghostly white kid into their homes. And happily adopted me as their own.
A few months after we returned to Hong Kong, finished all the postproduction and launched the commercial in China, I was offered a position as a senior copywriter with Leo Burnett back in Toronto. A few months later, I arrived with my wife and infant daughter at Pearson Airport in the middle of the first snowstorm either of them had ever seen. And shortly thereafter, we celebrated our first Chinese New Year in Canada.
That’s why even the title of this Apple film resonated with this Gweilo. So, enjoy “The Comeback,” and may the Lunar New Year bring you and yours good fortune and happiness.
Craig Redmond is a Creative Leader with Palmer Stamnes and Co, an independent family of marketing communication companies.