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‘The Reunion Dinner’ Channels the Warmth of the Yearly Affair Into a Succinct Short

27 January 2020

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‘The Reunion Dinner’ Channels the Warmth of the Yearly Affair Into a Succinct Short

With Chinese New Year Eve as a backdrop, The Reunion Dinner shows how a Singaporean Chinese family grows and evolves over 40 years. Told through the eyes of 10-year-old schoolboy Boon, starting in 1970, it traces the relationship between him and his barber father Teck. The film is a moving portrait of family life in Singapore that captures the often awkward, subdued and unspoken love between father and son.

Director: Anthony Chen

Cast: Tuen Wai Meng, Choo Ai Keow, Guan Jin Sen, Lin Liyun, Maxs Wong

Year: 2011

Country: Singapore

Language: English, Hokkien, Mandarin

Runtime: 15 minutes


Depending on who you ask, the annual reunion dinner can either be an invaluable opportunity to catch up with loved ones or a dour, miserable experience with relatives passive-aggressively bragging about their children around the dinner table. 

Anthony Chen’s short film The Reunion Dinner 回家過年 presents a brightly-coloured, heartfelt vision that nails the optimistic spirit of the yearly affair. The short follows a Singaporean Chinese family’s growth from the 1960s to the modern day, centreing on the relationship between son Boon and father Teck (Tuen Wai Meng). 

With his previous film, Ah Ma, being Singapore’s first short selected for Cannes, Chen is no stranger to the format. Much of what makes The Reunion Dinner so effective is with Chen’s focus on the quiet, intimate moments of Singaporean life; a signature that continues with his films today. He turns the limited runtime of the format into opportunities to distill full, clear sentiments in its most succinct form. 

With the short taking place over three time periods, Chen fills every scene with artifacts of each distant past to fully immerse the audience. He leaves no stone unturned, even going as far as seeking and renting vehicles that were common sights on the roads of 1980s Singapore. The short must have been a production nightmare! But all the hard work truly pays off with sweet nostalgia seeping through every frame, especially when paired with the use of archival footage to usher in each new decade. 

To capture the joyous atmosphere of the Lunar New Year, the short taps on the virtuosic Singapore Chinese Orchestra to deliver both soaring and tender soundtracks to accentuate the emotions on screen. Although the role of Boon rotates between three actors, the loving chemistry between father and son remains constant. This is a testament to the acting chops of Wai Meng, fully understanding and bringing the relationship between the two characters to life. 

Gentle comfortness exudes throughout The Reunion Dinner, created through its repeating themes and emphasis on familial dynamics. Even if its characters have grown older and have gathered around different tables through the decades, there is solace in them reuniting as a family to what has become acutely familiar for all of them. Not a whiff of conflict is present in The Reunion Dinner, leaving room for only growth and ever-deeper entrenchment. 

Intricate camera work furthers its narrative. Most shots frame two characters at a time with sensitive close-ups quite literally bringing its audience closer to their kinship. Scenes of the reunion dinners are filmed with equal tightness, as if using the warmth of the food and busy sounds of cutlery to signify the heart of the family. The short’s emphasis on these close-ups pays off in satisfying fashion by its end, leaving the audience with its only wide-shot which mimics a complete family portrait.

When it is not dazzling the audience with its true-to-period props and backdrops, The Reunion Dinner offers a vivid yet simple answer to why the annual tradition carries forward from generation to generation. The short gracefully shows the irreplaceable role of family, where happiness does not necessarily have to be determined by material riches but rather by an abundance of familial warmth and care. And it is at the dining table every year where this wealth can – and should – be celebrated and cherished.

Check out the short below:

There's nothing Matt loves more than "so bad, they're good" movies. Except browsing through crates of vinyl records. And Mexican food.
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