Theodore Melfi Shot Apple's Latest Charming Film for Chinese New Year

Hidden Figures director explores mother-daughter bonds

This new short film from Apple, shot by Hidden Figures director Theodore Melfi on an iPhone 11 Pro, weaves an affecting tapestry of mother-daughter relationships against the backdrop of changing times in China. 

Acclaimed actress Zhou Xun portrays a single mom who struggles to earn a living driving a taxi. She takes her young daughter to work with her, delighting some fares while upsetting others. As they traverse spiral highways and crowded thoroughfares, the child gazes at the world through a cardboard telescope, resulting in some delightful and surprising POV photography. 

In flashbacks, we learn of the driver's long estrangement from her own traditionalist mother, who dreams of a well-to-do son-in-law, and disapproves of her daughter's lifestyle. 

Hope and memory entwine during a rainy New Year's Eve …

Shot on iPhone 11 Pro — Chinese New Year — Daughter

… and there's reconciliation in the air, along with the aroma of some special dumplings.

Melfi—whose 2016 feature Hidden Figures notched Oscar nominations for best film and adapted screenplay—lets "Daughter" unfold with poignant simplicity. It's expertly shot and marvelously moody, while the ending, though predictable, feels just about right. Setting the muted multigenerational reunion on a wet, lonely street keeps things real, while the driver's world-weary "Mom, I'm hungry" line conveys a depth of feeling that tears and hugs would surely spoil.

In the clip below, Melfi and cinematographer Lawrence Sher (the DP on Joker, among many other films)—whose misty cityscapes drip with emotional detachment and anxiety—discuss their creative approach. Turns out they used the iPhone 11 Pro for intricate crane, dolly and drone shots, the kind of stuff associated with big camera rigs in Hollywood:

Shot on iPhone 11 Pro — Chinese New Year — Making of ‘Daughter’ with Director Theodore Melfi

Of course, typical consumers won't have access to such resources, or the filmmakers' level of expertise, but Melfi and  Sher's points about the iPhone enabling "everyday creativity" are well made. What's more, this specific story itself serves the brand well, by extension portraying the device as a tool for the hard-working, time-strapped masses. (Despite cheaper handset alternatives, iPhone's China sales have surged in recent months.) 

"Daughter" continues TBWA\Media Arts Lab's tradition of developing Chinese New Year-themed films for Apple, shot on iPhones. Below, you can check out "The Bucket" from 2019, and "3 Minutes" from two years ago.

Chinese New Year – The Bucket – Apple

Closer to home, David Leitch used an iPhone 11 Pro to stage Apple's very merry holiday "Snowbrawl."

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.

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