When Domee Shi pitched her idea for a new short film to Pixar producers, she had no way of knowing how profound her offering would end up being to people across cultures. The film, titled “Bao,” was inspired by Shi’s life as a Chinese-Canadian immigrant and by her relationship with her mother.
Her film is being shown prior to the premier of “The Incredibles 2” and has opened a dialogue for many in the Asian community who see so much of themselves in the characters. “Bao” follows an aging Chinese-Canadian mother who’s experiencing empty nest syndrome as her son has grown and moved out on his own. During the height of her sadness, one of her dumplings comes to life—resembling the young child that she’s longing for.
At first, their relationship mimics that of a small child and the need for its mother. She pays loving attention to the tiny dumpling, offering it treats and seeing to its every need. As the dumpling grows, it begins to exhibit traits of a teenager struggling to establish their independence. The dumpling begins to turn away the treats and to resent the attention. Soon, it begins staying out all night and rebelling.
As the dumpling continues to grow, the tension between it and its mother continues. Eventually, this spurns an argument that ends with the mother grabbing the dumpling and eating it in an attempt to stop it from leaving her.
This painted an incredibly emotional picture for many, and some patrons describes being brought to tears by the end of the Pixar short. Then, there were others who didn’t quite “get” the film, and who felt that the ending didn’t exactly fit the theme.
Shi pulled from ideas that were central to the Chinese and Asian culture, and for those who aren’t familiar with these—the film could’ve seemed depressing or slightly off-base. Her attention to detail in both the way that the dumplings were folded and in the cultural views of the family are both valid and important.
The film depicts a very accurate dynamic in the Chinese culture that often sees children remaining with their parents far into their adulthoods. When families immigrate to Canada or other Western nations, many of these families find that their children seek independence earlier and earlier.
“Bao” gave viewers a very personal look into the life of a Chinese-Canadian mother who has to face the cultural changes and the impact that they’ve had on her family. By the end of the film, her son makes an appearance and brings the theme home for many. This was a touching example of life across cultures, and one that nearly every mother can relate to on some level.
Shi’s film showed a great deal of maturity and insight into a topic that can be difficult for younger generations to explore and will remain relevant for Asian families making the journey westward for generations to come.