Lulu Wang’s charming iPhone short explores the fear of the unknown

The latest Shot on iPhone ad celebrating the Chinese New Year comes from The Farewell director, and tells a tale of fear, friendship and the folkloric beast nian

Apple’s new Shot on iPhone short by The Farewell director Lulu Wang tackles the fear of the unknown through a child’s eyes. At the heart of the film’s narrative is the nian, a beastly creature drawn from Chinese tradition, as well as the character symbolising ‘year’ or ‘new year’ – coming just in time for the Chinese New Year.

Shot entirely on an iPhone 12 Pro Max, the film follows a young girl who has a penchant for exploration in the nearby forest, only to discover the seemingly fearsome nian – a beast who, according to her mother, has an appetite for kids. However, when she puts her fear to one side, a friendship with the nian follows.

The short weaves in various settings that showcase the iPhone’s camera capabilities, namely low-light shots of fireworks by night and the nian’s dark cave. Other unusual camera angles aim to highlight the benefits of the iPhone’s small size compared to typical camera equipment, including a frenetic shot taken from inside the nian’s mouth and a clip filmed from the bottom of a kitchen sink.

“We had a lot of fun just trying to figure out where else can we stick the phone so we can get angles and perspectives that are just a little bit more unique,” Wang said.

The project was an intercontinental effort due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, with Wang – who’s based in the US – remotely directing a separate crew filming on the ground in China, as shown in the making-of video.

Nian is the latest in a string of Apple projects marking the Chinese New Year, with previous instalments including Daughter, directed by Theodore Melfi.

Agency: TBWA\Media Arts Lab Shanghai 
Production company: Iconoclast 
Director: Lulu Wang 
Music: Original score by Alex Weston


Milton Keynes