Short films are part of the staple in Pixar movies.
When The Incredibles 2 finally came out in theaters, fans from all over the world filled up cinemas in an instant. Consequently, the short film preceding it got nearly the same amount of viewers as well. When Pixar released trailers and promotions for Bao, fans, especially those of Asian descent, immediately loved it.
Bao is a short film that depicts the perspective of an aging mother. She experiences empty nest syndrome, or the grief a parent feels when their child moves away for the first time. It also shows how the mother’s relationship with his son as he continues to grow.
Bao can mean two things depending on its pronunciation: “steamed bun” or “something precious.”
“In Chinese culture, food and family go hand in hand,” she said. “When you want to show you care about someone, or that you love someone, you don’t say, ‘I love you.’ You say, ‘Have you eaten yet?’,” Domee Shi, the director of Bao, had said in an interview.
It’s very apt that the film takes this theme because of its cultural specificity – asian culture. A mother shows her love by cooking food for her loved ones. Thus, that’s exactly what was presented in the movie. She also revealed that food is one of the main inspirations behind Bao.
The first half of the movie is situated inside the dream of the mother which explains the bao coming to life as her son. It’s a metaphor that represents her grievances and mourning for her son’s eloping with an American woman. What especially shocked and confused some of the audience is when the mother ate her metaphorical son. With the son gradually becoming rebellious and the mother growing more and more strict, it had led to this inevitability. However, with the mother trying to keep him in her life and swallowing him whole, she had lost her son.
The short movie, of course, ended on a good note that left the audience in tears.
The son had eventually gone back home with his American girlfriend. He checks up on his mother in her room. He didn’t receive immediate acknowledgement as she was upset with him. However, when he brought out the same food they had eaten when they were bonding in his childhood, they both ate it with huge tears rolling down their cheeks. The movie ends with them eating as a whole family, with the son and his girlfriend at the dining table with them. This goes to show that a clash of cultures — the family-oriented characteristic of Asians and the independency that’s highly regarded in Western culture — does not always have to be black and white.
“Separation isn’t rejection, and independence can still include family.” – Inkoo Kang/Slate.
Bao is not only a good representation of familial relationships in Chinese culture, but it also traverses interracial relationships and diversity.
However, this movie has confused some people despite its use of ‘in-your-face’ metaphors.
A possible reason behind this is that the media and its audience have been so saturated with a single culture which is that of the West. There is little to no exposure of others which contributed to this confusion. Some of Pixar’s audience haven’t been familiar or educated about the rest of the world. Western culture, most specifically those of white people, dominate majority of the film industry. It’s only until recently that movies are finally taking on a more diverse route.
Bao is one of the rising movies that represents Asian culture in a non-stereotypical way. Furthermore, Domee Shi is the first Chinese female director in seven years to have created a short. Despite the movie not having dialogues, everything, from the character to its cultural nuances, comes off as natural and forced.