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Short Film Bao

This blog entry discusses the animated short film Bao and gives suggestions on how it can be used in the classroom.

The animated film Bao can be exploited at different levels in the EFL classroom.

 

Plot Summary:

 

The film opens with a scene that shows a Chinese-Canadian woman who makes dumplings for herself and her husband. During the meal, one of the dumplings turns into a child-like creature. The woman raises it as if it were her child. When the dumpling reaches adult age, it strives for more independence challenging its mother and her overprotective parenting style. Eventually it announces to her that it intends to live together with its girlfriend and, in an act of despair, the woman gulps it down. The next scene shows that this act must be considered symbolic because the woman and her real son share a dumpling. In the last scene, the mother, her son, and his fiancée make dumplings together. In Chinese, bao means ‘dumpling’ but also can mean ‘treasure’ when pronounced differently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domee Shee (right) receiving an Oscar for Bao

 

 

Screenwriter and director

 

Domee Shi is a Canadian who was raised by Chinese parents in Toronto. She wanted to tell a story that depicted the experience of being Asian in a country with a lack of representation of Asian-Americans in the media. Domee Shi was also inspired by fairy tales such as the gingerbread man and Asian fables. According to Wikipedia, “Bao is a story about food and family and how the two come together to form a ‘potent emotional resonance.’” An interesting detail is that Shi’s mother was involved as an adviser regarding some cultural aspects; for instance, she showed the film crew how to make dumplings, and such a scene was incorporated into the opening scene of the movie.

 

Domee Shi tells the story from her mother’s point of view, empathising with her. In the film, she wanted to explore the feelings of grief and loneliness a mother experiences when her adult child moves out of the family home - and to explore what it must be like for a parent to go through this.

 

 

 

Film aesthetics

 

“The animators were given cartoon-like Japanese animations as reference. The bun son is made out of dough, so the animation was made to highlight the squishy and organic qualities of the material. (…) We wanted there to be this perfect imperfection in the world to feel more handmade and personal and warm.” (Wikipedia)

 

Many typical details are shown of the Chinese household to depict it as authentically as possible:

 

Like the tinfoil covering the burners on the stove, that was a fun detail we added. And the toilet paper roll on the coffee table. (…) Also the little tchotchkes [a trinket that is decorative rather than functional] on the TV, or the rice cooker in the background. The little details like the soy sauce bottles and the hot sauce jars and stuff on the table.

 

(https://yp.scmp.com/entertainment/movies/article/109669/how-pixars-%E2%80%98bao%E2%80%99-director-domee-shi-ensured-accurate)

 

 

 

Reception

 

The film received mostly positive reviews. Viewers praised the attention to detail in the animated scenes and the portrayal of Chinese culture centering around family tradition:

 

There’s an expectation in many Asian communities for children to stay with their families until marriage, a lifestyle choice that is often sharply juxtaposed with the Westernized notion of children leaving the house at 18 and not coming back. It’s a struggle of two cultural norms that children of immigrants from all backgrounds often have to face, and seeing it on screen was an emotional experience for many. (https://www.polygon.com)

 

Other reviewers, however, thought that the theme of the film was universal and not limited to Chinese culture. Some viewers with a non-Asian background found its ending confusing.

 

 

 

Useful resources:

 

How Pixar's ‘Bao’ director Domee Shi ensured accurate representation of Chinese culture in her short film, showing before 'Incredibles 2'

 

https://yp.scmp.com/entertainment/movies/article/109669/how-pixars-%E2%80%98bao%E2%80%99-director-domee-shi-ensured-accurate

 

 

 

The polarized reactions to Pixar’s ‘Bao’ are rooted in culture. https://www.polygon.com/2018/6/26/17505726/pixar-bao-dumpling-short-reactions

 

 

 

Domee Shi talks 'Bao' Incredibles 2 Disney/Pixar Short

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzYkFsphElc

 

Video - 5.06 min

 

 

 

Explaining Pixar's Bao Short for Everyone (An Asian American's Thoughts)

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nV8aJgPqeWo

 

Video - 4.3 min (Some use of colloquial language and slang)

 

 

 

 

Using the film as a resource for intercultural teaching in the classroom

 

The film has no dialogues and can therefore already be used from an A2 level. However, at this level, students need some scaffolding (previous input from the teacher), for example when describing how to prepare a dish or how the ending of the movie makes them feel.

 

 

 

Pre-viewing activity

 

 

This activity is particularly rewarding in a multicultural group.

 

Ask students:

 

 

What food and dishes remind you of your childhood?

 

When and where did you usually eat it?

 

What are its ingredients?

 

Describe how the dish is made.

 

 

 

Alternative:

 

Watch the trailer and ask students what they think the film is about.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Bao-Domee-Shi/dp/B07L6Q6MX5

 

 

 

While-viewing activity

 

Ask students:

 

 

Who are the characters in the film?

 

What is their relationship?

 

 

 

Post-viewing activity

 

 

Students express their opinion on the film in pairs or small groups regarding the following questions:

 

 

 

What is the film about?

 

What do you think of the ending of the film?

 

What do you like or not like about the film?

 

 

 

If students have a lower intermediate level of English, they may take some notes before they exchange their views. After that, students are invited to give feedback on their impressions and the teacher can provide information on the background of the film. Then you can focus on the topic of family and family values and discuss the following aspects:

 

 

 

The Chinese culture centers around family tradition while many Western cultures value individual independence and everybody’s right to make their own choice. Young people in Western cultures therefore tend to decide for themselves what to study in college, what career to pursue, and where to live once they have graduated.

 

Do you think the situation of the mother shown in the film mainly applies to certain cultures, for example the Chinese culture, or is it a universal issue mothers and families are faced with in other cultures, as well?

 

 

 

 

Film Data

 

 

Title

Bao

Release date

June 15, 2018 with Incredibles 2

Genre

 

Computer-animated short film

Screenwriter and director

Domee Shi

Synopsis

A mother who feels lonely after her adult son has left the house raises a dumpling and cannot accept its desire for independence when it is an adult.

 

Culture portrayed

Chinese

 

Cultural aspects

Values: family

Sociocultural aspects: food

Language

No spoken dialogues

 

Production company

Walt Disney Pictures

Pixar Animation Studios

Country of production

Canada and United States

Length

About 7 minutes

 

Available

on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming services

 

3-minute versions of the film can be watched on video sites such as YouTube.

Audience Suitability

From 6 years

 

 

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