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A Film Review

Directed by Domee Shi, Pixar
US, 2018
Animated short film 7 minutes in duration

The film is available on iTunes and Google Play.
The trailer is available on YouTube.

Two reviews in a row featuring short films! Don’t worry, we’ll be getting back to full-length features and documentaries soon. But I simply could not pass on the opportunity to review a recent Oscar-winning film.

Bao was first released as a short film that was tacked on the front of the animated film Incredibles 2 in cinemas. Being only seven minutes long didn’t stop it from making a name for itself as it was awarded an Oscar for Short Film (Animated) at the Academy Awards ceremony in February.

The story is about a mother who is struggling with the realities of an empty nest now that her son is grown. The director, Domee Shi, intended for the story to be a tribute to her Asian heritage and to share about the dynamics of an immigrant family in North America.

The heart of the film is found in the nuanced expression of parental love within the Chinese culture, and all the pieces work together beautifully to communicate that love—all without a word spoken.

The concept of filial piety is foundational to Chinese tradition and culture. It is an enormous part of the “Chinese soul” that I mentioned in my last review. In Bao, the film gives us a look at filial piety from the perspective of the mother. Though filial piety refers to the actions of children towards their parents, there is also a longing and expectation on the part of the parents that their children would be there and care for them even after they have grown up.

I believe this film comes at an interesting time. The expressions of traditional Chinese culture are becoming ever more diverse. The reality of Chinese people migrating around the world is not new—I myself am the product of immigrant parents—but it is a known fact that due to education, business, tourism, and a host of other reasons, more Chinese, especially mainland Chinese people are globalizing.

At the same time, within China itself, the younger generation in contemporary Chinese society has grown up with a different set of values, many abandoning the idea of filial piety altogether. Such that, at one point, the Chinese government was concerned enough to try and implement a law to mandate grown children to take care of their parents.

But at the end of the day, some things don’t change. Regardless of where you are from, regardless of your stance on filial piety, if you are ethnically Chinese, this film will likely speak to you. Perhaps it will remind you how similar your own family is to the family in the story. Maybe you’ll even say, “Oh! My mom’s like that too!” This film brings us back to one of the basics of Chinese culture.

Viewers from different backgrounds, not just Chinese or even Asian, have expressed how this movie has touched them. But specifically for the cultural Chinese, this heartfelt piece of artistry speaks louder than words.

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Hannah Lau

Hannah Lau

Hannah Lau was born and raised in Canada. Growing up with immigrant parents from Hong Kong gave her a rich perspective on both Eastern and Western cultures. She has spent her adult life in Asia, beginning in China serving through work in the marketplace. With a colorful and hard-earned career in …View Full Bio

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