No, this is not a review of the classic movie that stars James Stewart. Neither is this Hong Kong film a remake of it. As a matter of fact, the Hollywood production is not even specifically cited, recalled or parodied in this drama-comedy (unlike with "Once Upon a Time in China", "Mrs. Doubtfire", "Basic Instinct" and -- I kid you not -- "Jurassic Park"!). What the two festive efforts do share along with the same English title though is an ultimately "feel good" story and optimistic outlook.
This 1994 Chinese New Year offering takes place over a period of time between one Christmas and Chinese New Year's eve. As IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE's Chinese title specifies, its focus is on a "Big Rich Family". In approximately ninety minutes of screen time, we are introduced to thirteen people, learn of their particular dispositions and dilemmas, are witness to the former either getting changed or developed and see the latter (re)solved. Along the way, a pet dog gets thrown out a window, people throw up, a man cross-dresses, Brigitte Lin (a.k.a. Lam Ching Ha as well as Lin Qing Xia...really!) is brought up in a conversation involving a character played by her co-star in one of the most famous of her movies, and a Jurassic Saint (who has dinosaurs for friends /comrades /pets) and his Angel sing a Cantopop song set to the music of "The Dance of the Sugar Plum fairies" in the kind of scenes that could only exist in a Hong Kong movie!
With such screwball and farcical elements, it is amazing that this film actually (also) manages to succeed as a heartwarming family drama. This is in large part due to its amazing cast which includes: Teresa Mo as the daughter just returned from studying in France; Leslie Cheung as the friend who came in tow; Tony Leung Kar Fai as the cartoonist son who can only speak normally when he is anxious; Anita Yuen as the woman who Tony Leung's character falls in love with; Carol "Do Do" Cheng as her flat-chested, disciplinary-cum-art teacher sister; Raymond Wong as the eldest son who cannot handle alcohol well; Petrina Fung Bo Bo as his estranged wife; Lau Ching Wan as the marriage-minded cousin; and Kwan Tak Hing (the first man to portray Wong Fei Hung in a film, forty-two years before Jet Li assumed that mantle in the first "Once Upon a Time in China") as the eccentric-but-definitely-not-senile grandfather.
For the record: The other members of this enjoyable presentation's multi-generational family -- which would not necessarily be considered especially big by most Asian standards -- include the mother, father, a young third son and the product of the marriage between the characters played by Raymond Wong and Petrina Fung (who would be the niece, grand-daughter and great-grand-daughter of various others). And, in keeping with the sentiments traditionally espoused during Chinese New Year, the pleasant film's main -- admittedly mushy -- lesson/message is that while the family is economically well off, its greater treasure is its members and the bonds among them.
My rating for the film: 7.5.