I was thrilled when LEGO announced that they were creating special sets to commemorate the Chinese Lunar New Year AND that they were going to be made available in Australia.
We all know how that kinda turned out, as demand overwhelmingly exceeded supply here in Australia, and it was a struggle to get them. I have my own thoughts to share about this whole saga, so expect a more in-depth blog post soon.
That said, I was very lucky to get my hands on both the Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner and the Dragon Dance set!
I’m very grateful and as someone with Chinese heritage, the significance of these sets is just so overwhelming for me.
Let’s take a closer look at 80101 Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner and learn a bit more about Chinese culture!
Name: Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner
Set Number: 80101
Price: AU$89.99 | US$NA | £NA
Exclusive to: China and Asia Pacific
Theme: Chinese New Year
Release Date: 1 January 2019
So, I understand that this won’t be a typical review as it won’t really help you decide on whether to buy this set or not, unless you want to pay an inflated price for it on the secondary market.
But given the elusiveness of this set, I thought it’d be a good idea to still walk you through this set in more detail, and share some photos and my thoughts on the actual build enough – for those of you in the United States or Europe that just aren’t fortunate enough to be able to easily purchase this set.
I rarely comment on box art, but I really love the little touches that the graphic designers placed on the packaging.
I love the vibrancy of all the red, which is a colour closely linked with prosperity. Little details such as fireworks, and traditional Chinese motifs like flowers, clouds and geometric patterns were a welcome familiar sight.
Here’s a look at the sticker sheet. While this set has quite a large number of printed elements, there’s seemingly no way to escape stickers these days unless you’re a 4+ or LEGO Ideas set.
That said, all the stickers are easy to apply as they’re mostly rectangle-shaped.
The set comes with an exceptional line-up of 6 minifigures, all dressed in their Chinese New Year best.
Chinese New Year revolves around family and filial piety, which are important tenets within Chinese culture, so we fittingly get three generations of minifigures in this set.
All 6 feature brand new torso prints, with various traditional Chinese outfits, and are just sublime. Let’s meet the family.
I’m going to assume that they are paternal grandparents as that side of the family usually receives priority when it comes to homes to visit during Chinese New Year.
The grandmother or matriarch of the family is outfitted in a bright red top, with button clasps, and flower motifs which look inspired by Plum Blossoms, the National Flower of China.
The grandfather has a wise old face and bushy white eyebrows, and is wearing a brown top, adorned with Shou, the symbol for longevity and good health, another common design motif.
Thy also both have back printing which you should really come to expect in 2019.
Going down a step in the family tree, we have a father and mother. The husband is attired in a blue samfoo, which is Cantonese for sam (shirt/top) + foo (pants), and he has hair swept to the side – a very common hairstyle for Chinese men. In fact, my hair is styled like that too.
The mother on the other hand is simply exquisite in her floral Cheongsam. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that this is quite possibly one of the best looking LEGO outfits that LEGO have ever created.
The Cheongsam makes brilliant use of the new curved slope dress piece and is simply outstanding. Here’s a look from behind, where you can also see the slight creases in the fabric – amazing attention to detail.
The only slight flaw is the sleeves of the cheongsam dress, which are usually short, or sleeveless. It’s quite an easy fix as I can always swap her arms out for either short sleeves, or just have them as bare yellow arms, which I think will look a little better.
The father has a hilarious alternate face, with the father breaking into a big smile – I love how expressive his eyes and eyebrows are. I know LEGO minifigures aren’t supposed to be of one race, but it does look very Asian in the way that our eyes tend to get when we laugh.
Lastly, we have the two kids who are also adorably dressed in a mini cheongsam-type top, and a very regal-looking vest for the boy.
I love the girl’s ponytails and the boy similarly has a very familiar “Asian bowl cut” hairstyle. If you grew up in an Asian family as a boy, you’d probably have had this haircut at least once in your life – it’s pretty much a rite of passage.
They each come with two red packets (hongbao), which are printed 1×2 tiles – a really great and fitting accessory.
During the Chinese New Year, unmarried individuals (mostly kids), get money in these red envelopes – something we absolutely EVERYONE looks forward to!
If you’re married, you’re expected to hand them out, so unfortunately, I don’t get as many red envelopes these days, except from mum and dad!
Here’s a look at their alternate faces and back printing. I love the girl’s overjoyed expression, it’s just so happy!
The minifigures in this set are absolutely next level – the quality of the prints and the sheer variety of all 6 unique outfits is simply mind-blowing.
I’m really glad the graphic designers were able to go to town with the freedom to design these traditional Chinese outfits. They definitely did justice to traditional Chinese fashion, and outside of the lack of arm printing, these are simply sensational.
In 2019, my aim is to dabble in more video and be a lot more active on my Youtube channel – please subscribe if you’d like to see more video content!
In the meantime, please enjoy this quick speed build of the set!
The build itself was quite fun. There aren’t a lot of repetitive sections, and I enjoyed the variety from building the entrance pathway, walls, furniture in the home, right down to the finale where you assemble the dining table and fix up a sumptuous feast.
Here’s the completed build of the Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner set. It’s designed in the same vein as the Big Bang Theory set, which features a small cutout of a building revealing a well-furnished interior.
The set is nicely sized – not too small that it feels cramped, which makes it a pretty good looking display piece.
Here’s the entrance to the house, which has some traditional Chinese architectural traits such as the cobblestone pathway, black tiled roof, and also the lovely hanging lanterns which I love.
On the front door is a sticker with the Chinese character Fu on it, which loosely translates to good fortune.
The letter is upside down traditionally, as the word “upside-down” is also a homonym for “arrive”, so this bit of wordplay is meant to signify the arrival of good fortune, hence why its traditionally stuck to doors.
For a model primarily focused on its interiors, the facade of the house is also not too shabby. Again, I really love the round window design, followed by a pearl gold lattice on the inside, which just looks phenomenal.
I also love the mix of white walls and elements, which have a wooden look to them. Once again, the designers have done a fantastic job evoking the architecture o traditional Chinese (like in China) homes.
On the inside is a white bookcase which houses a bunch of colourful books, and some art with a pig on it. The Chinese believe in 12 Zodiac animals that go around in a cycle, and 2019 is the Year of the Pig!
I also really love the LEGO family portraits which I think is pretty universal across all cultures.
Next to the bookshelf are some simple curtains – I think this is one of the most underrated design flourishes in the whole house. Lots of red again, because its the colour of prosperity.
Next to the curtains is a cabinet with what I think is a TV on it. I’m actually not too sure what is supposed to be on the screen – maybe the opening screen of Chinese variety shows which are popular with the older generation?
In the far left side of the room is a brick-built lounge chair, next to a standing lamp.
Directly above the chair are some plaques with Chinese poetry on them. I don’t read Mandarin, so I got some help from friends (thanks Jaron!) who are fluent and this is what it loosely means:
Left: Wishing you all the best
Top: Good luck, smooth sailing
Right: Every year, good and smooth journey
The lounge chair / living area is a great place for the kids to receive hongbaos from their grandparents.
Typically, greetings such as “gong hei fatt choi” (Cantonese), or xin nian kuai le (Mandarin) are exchanged.
Last but certainly not least is the (literal) main course of the set, the dining table.
A massive feast is usually held on the Eve of Chinese New Year (hence the name of the set), where families congregate at the homes of parents/grandparents/great-grandparents to tuck into some food – which is also known as the reunion dinner.
Chinese people are pretty nomadic, and there is a massive diaspora of those of Chinese descent all across the world due to the willingness to leave ancestral homes or villages to seek greater opportunities and wealth – this is why there are Chinese communities all over the world!
Food and family are key pillars in Chinese culture, so it’s very fitting that the centerpiece of this set is a massive round dining table.
The table seats six, and also features a Lazy Susan in the middle, which is yet another familiar fixture in dining tables.
This is undeniable THE best part of the set – all the beautiful new printed elements introduced.
LEGO definitely nailed Chinese culture, choosing to invest in printed food elements as opposed to other parts as food pretty much reins supreme in all things.
We have everything, from (Top To Bottom, Left Row to Right): rice, Chinese New Year Cookies (?), black sesame dumplings, fried chicken, pot sticker dumplings, crab,
not sure what these are – sweet and sour pork? abalone/mushrooms, soup, fried fish, prawns, bok choy, spring rolls and lastly, a pair of chopsticks and soup spoon!
All these food elements are just gorgeous, and I’m still amazed that LEGO went all out on these printed tiles. There’s simply no better way to impress the Chinese market than this.
Not forgetting these new bowls, which have gold trim on them – the rice tiles fit perfectly in them.
The table is a little cluttered and messy as there’s a lot going on, and if you follow the instructions, the food elements don’t all fit in perfectly with one another, but you can always shift things around.
The family are seated on chairs that can swivel, which while quite unconventional, does work so that they can face the table at different angles.
What I liked:
- It’s a thoughtful celebration of Chinese culture
- Minifigure designs and outfits
- All the new printed elements!
- Great design of the house, blending traditional and modern Chinese architecture
- Combines great displayability and also playability
What I didn’t like:
- The set’s limited distribution
- Even in a country that ranged it, it was damn near impossible to get
Final thoughts: Building and marvelling at 80101 Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner was quite an interesting experience.
As someone who’s ethnically Chinese, I can’t fully explain how happy I am that LEGO, one of my favourite brands in the world, decided to commemorate something so close to my culture in such a profound and thoughtful manner.
I think I finally get the joy that the Black/African community felt with Black Panther – the feeling of having your cultural self acknowledged in the most respectful way.
This set is absolutely brilliant. Even if you remove the cultural element (which is impossible), this set has all the important elements of a great LEGO set – amazing minifigures, a fun build, interesting new printed elements and most importantly, a cohesive and well considered design.
The minifigures and food tiles are the real stars of the set – it is such a nice gesture by LEGO, investing in not one, not two, but six unique minifigures, outfitted in beautiful Chinese traditional clothes, and the plethora of printed food tiles. This alone, shows that LEGO went above and beyond the call of duty.
The set itself makes a great display piece – the cutout design is extremely effective, allowing you to display it from all different angles, and the detailed interiors allow for many different scenarios that you can create.
The only downside is the exclusive, limited edition nature of the set. I’m in two minds here, and I’ll be sharing my fleshed out thoughts on this in another blog post, but it really feels like LEGO really squandered an opportunity to truly celebrate Chinese culture and the Lunar New Year in a big way.
It adds insult to injury, knowing that LEGO put out a set which has so many amazing qualities to it, but only limiting it to certain countries in the world.
It’s a huge, wasted opportunity as there are massive Chinese communities in countries like the US, Canada, the UK and Europe who would be delighted to be able to usher in the Lunar New Year with this outstanding set.
Chinese people are quite proud of our culture, and one thing that LEGO missed is the esteemed opportunity to shed more light on Chinese New Year to a wider, global audience.
The amount of love and care that has gone into nailing all sorts of Chinese traditions and customs would’ve represented an incredible opportunity to help the Western world learn and develop a sense of appreciation for Chinese culture – which is what’s so sad about the way LEGO handled this.
Yes, I get appealing to the Chinese market by releasing sets exclusively for the market, but I think mass-producing a set as great as this and distributing globally would’ve honoured the Chinese even more.
That said, this set is almost perfect, from a design standpoint, but also from a cultural appreciation standpoint. This little LEGO take on the most important season in Chinese culture is poignant and so well thought out, but the reality that most of you reading might not be able to own the set makes it necessary to dock off a point from the score.
80101 Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner is beautiful and thoughtful, with an amazing family of minifigures, all contained in a fun little build with tons of cultural significance.
If you’re Chinese, or have/want to develop an appreciation for Asian culture, this set is a must-have. Shame that it’ll probably cost you quite a bit if you’re unlucky enough to live anywhere else but China and Asia Pacific.
Thank you so much for reading! I’ve tried my best to bring this set to life and help those of you that aren’t lucky enough to own the set to truly appreciate all it has to offer.
I hope I taught you a thing or two about Chinese New Year!
Were you lucky enough to own and build the set? I’d love to know what you thought of the set in the comments, as well as what you think about LEGO’s strategy of only launching (severely limited numbers) in select countries.
Don’t forget, you can find many more reviews in the Jay’s Brick Blog Review Hub. To stay up to date on the latest posts, you can follow the Jay’s Brick Blog Facebook page or subscribe to receive email alerts for new posts!
I also post behind the scenes content, and teasers on my Instagram page @jayong28, so give me a follow if you’d like to see more!