As the first Pixar animated feature film in which the protagonists are Chinese immigrants, Turning Red has gained generally positive comments. The story is about how a 13-year-old Chinese- Canadian girl Meilin Lee, aka Mei, transforms to a giant red panda whenever she gets a strong emotion, because of her heritage curse that every woman in this family will have the same transformation when their first menstruation comes.
Meilin Li, the 13-year-old Canadian Chinese girl (Picture from: PIXAR)
The film is like an extended version of the director Domee Shi’s short film Bao which won Oscar in 2018, which is about a mom who had a second chance of motherhood when one of her steamed buns comes to life, but she ate it at the end due to her controlling personality.
This time Miss Shi has added more issues and problems an East-Asian teenage girl normally would face during teeangehood in Turning Red, such as relationships with family and friends, puberty and first crush.
The gist of this film is about “accepting yourself whoever you are and living with your inner monster” at the end, not like other stories where the protagonists have double identities, Mei chooses to keep the red panda and exposure to the world rather than keep it as a secret.
However, it seems that the movie only solved problems on the surface that Mei accepted the idea that her mom just wants the best thing for her, the core conflict that existed in many typical East-Asian families was not deeply discussed.
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Meilin with her mother Ming (Picture from: PIXAR)
Mei’s mom Ming was always protecting Mei and asked Mei to do everything she thought was right, where she adopted this controlling and pushy way of education from her mother, Wu.
Ming is afraid with Wu just as same as Mei is afraid of her, the way that the grandma doesn’t believe Ming can hold the ritual to seal the spirit of panda as they did, just like Ming doesn’t believe Mei can deal with her first maturation and even spy on Mei when she was in school.
You can see from the movie that Ming wants to get approval from her mother so much that she even use Mei as a tool to show off in front her siblings and her mother. She said Mei did the best job of keeping the panda inside compared to the rest of the family, and brag that the reason Mei can calm down is because of her love.
Ming duplicated her unhappy childhood to Mei, with an excuse that most of the East-Asian parents would say, “I dedicate myself for your goodness”.
Professor Chizuko Ueno, a “best-known” Japanese feminist wrote in her book that once women become mothers, they starts to put pressure to their children. They are both oppressors and victims.
She mentioned that her mom may hold the grudge towards her because she thought that her lifestyle was denied by her own daughter.
Chizuko Ueno is giving a speech at the University of Toyko
It is just as the film’s highlight pictured, when Mei refused to seal her panda during the ritual, Ming went crazy and became furious, shouting: “How can she do this to her own mother !”
The whole film has pictured that Ming could not accept any single mistake of Mei because Mei was her whole world and her only little prize that she can be proud of in front of her own mother. Ming passed all the mistakes that Mei have done, to other people even Mei’s close friends. She extremely protected Mei’s perfection, but what she did only made Mei become a “mommy’s girl”.
Then where is the father of the family? Like many families in the world, the father always disappears when there is a conflict between mother and children.
In Professor Ueno’s book, another feminist Eiko Tabusa described that her father would turn into a “stone” when she had a big fight with her mother, and he would only stop it when there is a potential accident.
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Similarly, Mei’s dad Jin just the same, he never showed his opinion of how to raise Mei, he only had a small conversation with Mei before the ritual where he only told Mei to accept the different perspectives inside herself, but still did not get involved in the actual mother-daughter conflict.
Meilin with her dad, Jin Lee (Picture from: PIXAR)
Although Ming has realised her problems at the end, her mom Wu still carries her overbearing way to educate her daughters — constantly criticises throughout the whole movie. It is a pity that the movie did not dissect this typical conflict between Asian families furthermore, but used the westernised idea that “Love” can solve all the problems.
Ironically, the movie is kind of realistic. As time goes by, most of us compromise with the conflicts, the fights with our parents, leave these problems behind and never talk about it again.