Turning Red introduces authentic Asian culture to the world

Turning Red, one of the newest Pixar movies, centers around the lives of Asian immigrants in Canada. With its depiction of the Canadian Chinatown, the attraction to k-pop boy bands, and the traditional family values, Asians and Asian Americans will find the movie Turning Red very relatable. For people of different cultural backgrounds, this movie can be a great way to learn more about Asian culture. 

The main character, Mei Lee, is a 13-year-old Canadian-born Chinese girl who lives in Toronto’s Chinatown with her traditional Chinese family, which emphasizes filial piety and often cleans the ancestral hall. 

The theme of this movie is tightly intertwined with Asian culture: Mei Lee’s family believes in red pandas as their patron saints, and the women in the family transform into red pandas when they reach their adolescence. However, because the power of red pandas is difficult to control, they have to be sealed with ancient rituals. Throughout the film, the red panda exists not just as an ancient belief of Mei Lee’s Asian family, but also as a symbol of Mei Lee’s growth and changes. 

The red panda first appears after Mei Lee’s strange dream of the red ancestral hall, red fish, and the red flower petals. After she wakes up, she finds herself in the shape of a giant red panda. After she panics, Mei Lee’s mother immediately shows her sympathy and tries to calm her down, telling her that it is an inevitable part of her life and helping her accept her new self. In this scene, the red panda could be a metaphor of young Mei Lee’s first period, since her mother asks whether she has finally “blossomed,” and brings her boxes of pads, ibuprofen and vitamin B. In the end of the movie, Mei Lee has to choose between embracing herself and her heritage or suppressing it, like many have done in her family. The struggle as she finds herself through these new changes is fascinating. 

The cast of the movie includes many famous Asian American actors and stars. Mei Lee is voiced by Rosalie Chiang, who depicts the complex emotions of a teenager, bringing audiences into the feeling of excitement, anger, happiness, and nervousness throughout the duration of the movie. The mother, Ming, is voiced by Sandra Oh.

Turning Red also includes great music. The fictional boy band “4*Town” that the protagonist is attracted to is actually a reference to the famous k-pop band BTS, and three of the songs by “4*Town” are written by Billie Eilish and Finneas. What made the music even more fascinating was when the producers incorporated a Cantonese chant used as part of the ritual to contain the red panda spirit into the song “Nobody Like U” as part of the film’s climax. The integration of pop music and traditional Chinese culture is definitely something new.  

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