Reunion Dinner's Mark Lee says he is 'too old to do slapstick'

Actor Mark Lee (centre) said he wanted a project that was a comedy, but also warm and meaningful. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

SINGAPORE - In the Chinese New Year drama-comedy Reunion Dinner, a man is forced to choose between his career and a secret pain that has separated him from his mother for years. It is a secret that he has hidden from everyone, including his fiancee.

Buried childhood trauma is an unexpectedly heavy theme for a holiday movie, but actor Mark Lee would not have it any other way.

"I wanted a project that was a comedy, but also warm and meaningful. I think audiences are changing too. They don't want slapstick movies for Chinese New Year," says Lee, 53.

"I'm too old to do slapstick anyway," he adds, speaking to The Straits Times at a press event on Jan 18 at Marina Bay Sands.

Reunion Dinner opens in Singapore on Jan 20.

Li Chao Yang (played by Beijing-based Singaporean actor Lawrence Wong) is a successful advertising agency creative director who becomes distraught when a client forces him to involve his real family, including his parents, in a Chinese New Year reunion dinner product campaign.

Instead of dealing with his issues, Li opts to spin a web of lies to protect the enviable social status he has struggled to achieve.

He ropes in his friend and father figure, freelance actor Wei (Mark Lee), to help maintain his facade. Li's scheme allows him to keep his mother Yan Ling (Singaporean actress Xiang Yun) out of his life.

His girlfriend Liu Zi Hong (Chinese actress Cya Liu), unaware of his deception, invites her father Lan Ting (China-born, Singapore actor Guo Liang) to fly from China to Singapore for the dinner, complicating her fiance's plans.

Reunion Dinner, jointly produced by Chinese media company iQiyi and Singapore's Clover Films, is tentatively scheduled for release in China on the iQiyi service on Jan 27.

It is directed by Singaporean Ong Kuo Sin, whose credits include Number 1 (2020), which also stars Lee. The musical comedy received two Golden Horse nominations, including Best Leading Actor for Lee, who did not win. The film triumphed in the Best Make-up and Costume Design category.

Lawrence Wong and Cya Liu star in Reunion Dinner, opening in Singapore on Jan 20. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Lee is all for a movie that looks beneath the surface of a happy reunion scene to take stock of the feelings of disappointment and resentment children may harbour about their parents, and vice versa.

In his own family, he is trying to avoid Li's predicament by being gentle with his children and never punishing them for telling the truth. When parents punish their kids for that, he says, the kids just get better at lying.

He is married with two daughters and a son, who are aged from nine to 14.

Lee adds: "Communication is important. If you are fierce with children, they will keep things to themselves and you will never know how they feel. They will tell small lies so you won't shout at them. The small lies will grow into bigger lies as they grow up."

Wong tells ST at the same conference that, as the film suggests, bringing family members around the reunion dinner table is not an instant solution to long-held hurts.

"Sometimes, you need to let time pass. In my family, I am the oldest child. And when I was a child, I was rebellious - I didn't focus on my studies and things like that - so my parents made my younger siblings their favourites. But now that I'm older, I can see their point of view. Time plays a part," he says.

Reunion Dinner joins other films tapping the Chinese New Year mood. Opening on Jan 27 is the Chinese animated feature I Am What I Am, telling the story of three teenage social outcasts whose lives change after they take up lion dance training.

Opening on Jan 28 is the Taiwanese romantic drama My Best Friend's Breakfast. It features singer Eric Chou in his first lead role in a feature film, starring opposite Moon Lee in a story about growing up and chasing one's dreams.

Reunion Dinner opens in Singapore on Jan 20.

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