Don’t Be Late for Incredibles 2
After 14 long, patient years, I finally watched Incredibles 2.
Equally as delightful as its predecessor, the sequel delivered two hours of action-packed humor and adventure with some of my all-time favorite characters. However, while my expectations were certainly met, I felt like Incredibles 2 gave me more nostalgic satisfaction than anything else.
In fact, the real gem turned out to be not the movie itself, but the short film that screened right before it — Bao.
Bao is Pixar’s latest short about a dumpling that comes to life. The little dumpling grows up and brings bundles of joy to a Chinese mother with empty-nest syndrome. I won’t spoil the storyline, but everything in this short seems to be an homage to my childhood and upbringing.
The celebration of food, from preparing, to cooking, to feeding. The Chinese TV show playing in the background during dinner. The music, the décor, the clothes, even the Tai Chi in the park.
But most of all, it was the delicate, complex relationship between parents and children. Although it’s not blatantly obvious the mother in Bao is an immigrant, her habits, routines, and gestures of love reminded me of my own mom, who moved to the US when she was 25.
Thanks to my mother, I can never eat cooked meals that aren’t piping hot. No matter what we had in the fridge, she could always conjure up elaborate feasts, preparing 3–4 dishes that came out steaming, bubbling, and ready to melt in my mouth.
Like clockwork, my parents used to yell, “Chi fan le!” or “Dinner is ready!” every night at 6pm. Sometimes these three syllables were yelled incessantly if I didn’t go downstairs right away. I couldn’t understand the urgency back then. Why did it matter what time I ate, as long as I did eventually?
But I have come to realize the thousands of meals I’ve had at home — the carefully kneaded dough, the meat marinated overnight in the fridge, the bright green veggies picked fresh from our garden — and every ingredient in between were packed with so much love and tenderness over the years.
I know my mom doesn’t enjoy cooking — in fact, she hates it — but she enjoys cooking for me. She loves seeing me eat ravenously and watching my eyes light up from my favorite dishes. A sure sign of my approval of her meals used to be if I got up for second and third helpings of rice. I no longer have that kind of stellar metabolism so I can’t stuff myself to the brim, but I do make sure to tell her all the time how much I crave her home-cooked meals.
While our family has never had trouble expressing affection to each other, most Asian parents are a little more reserved. I have seen with my own eyes the widening disconnect between immigrant parents and their children as the kids grow up and grow distant. It’s especially challenging due to all the cultural and generational differences, not to mention social pressures from the outside.
Because of shorts like Bao, I hope more Chinese-Americans and Asian-Americans embrace their heritage. I was fortunate enough to spend many summers in China and develop a deep respect for my culture with each visit. But even I still felt hints of embarrassment whenever I brought leftovers to school and had to explain the contents of my Tupperware.
Today, I post Instagram stories of my family’s handmade dumplings every time I visit home. Dumplings have become so popular in the US that it seems people are craving them everywhere — not only in food, but also in entertainment. At my job, I am working on a brand called DreamWorks KouKou, where all the characters are shaped like adorable dumplings. The “About” section on Facebook actually reads: “First ever interpretation of beloved DreamWorks characters in delightful dumpling form.”
As the only Asian-American on my team (and one of the very few in my department), I feel so proud to be able to express my knowledge of Chinese culture at work. I love being able to contribute to discussions about the Asian market — whether it is related to trends, tastes, technology, or in this case — my favorite food.
Bao is the first animated piece that has left me with a wide range of emotions. It’s gutsy, it’s heartwarming, it’s authentic, and yes, it’s a little weird — but most of all it’s different. Director Domee Shi has done an excellent job of taking a risk by bringing her personal story to life on the big screen. We need more story-tellers like her to introduce diverse and groundbreaking narratives to animation. I can’t wait to see what Shi and other envelope-pushers have in store for us. Until then, I will be pushing my own narrative forward.