‘Turning Crimson’ Director Domee Shi Made An ‘Asian Tween Fever Dream’ About Puberty


Being a 13-year-old woman getting into puberty generally is a nightmare: What’s going on with my physique? Why do I really feel like I’m going to blow up? What are intervals? Wait, this occurs each month?!

Director Domee Shi’s “Turning Crimson,” premiering Friday on Disney+, doesn’t draw back from the ache, horror and confusion of adolescence — however delightfully embodies all of it in a fuzzy animated panda. The movie’s protagonist, Meilin Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), is a 13-year-old rising up in Toronto. One morning, she wakes up, seems to be within the mirror and discovers she has fliped right into a purple panda. Shocked and mortified, she stumbles round her room and simply desires to cover.

Meilin quickly learns that her transformation is taken into account a ceremony of passage for generations of girls in her household. Anytime she experiences sturdy feelings — together with many inopportune moments — she modifies right into a purple panda.

“It was simply one thing concerning the purple panda that was the right animal metaphor for puberty. I couldn’t consider some other animal that was naturally purple aside from the purple panda,” Shi informed HuffPost. “And it’s simply so cute.”

In 2019, the Chinese language Canadian director received the Oscar for Greatest Animated Brief Movie — changing into the primary lady of colour to take action — for her candy and touching Pixar quick, “Bao.” Now, Shi is making her function directorial debut with “Turning Crimson,” the animation studio’s first function by a solo lady director. All through the movie, Shi’s artistic imaginative and prescient actually shines by means of — from the animation methods, which mixed Pixar and Japanese anime, to the cultural and geographic particulars from her childhood.

Like her film’s protagonist, Shi grew up in Toronto within the early 2000s. The thought for “Turning Crimson” and the picture of the purple panda “got here from me desirous to make a film for that 13-year-old Domee who was struggling along with her physique and her feelings and combating along with her mother day-after-day and wanting to grasp what was happening at the moment, however in a enjoyable and distinctive and magical manner,” Shi mentioned.

Shi attends the film's London premiere in February.
Shi attends the movie’s London premiere in February.

David M. Benett by way of Getty Pictures

The director mentioned she integrated many on a regular basis components of her personal background into the film.

“Certainly one of my favourite scenes is close to the start of the film, the place Mei is simply making dumplings along with her mother, they usually’re watching Cantonese soaps on TV. And her dad’s simply stir-frying within the background,” Shi mentioned. “It’s a typical scene straight out of my very own childhood that I simply thought was so cool that we may deliver to life in a big-budget film, simply to have the ability to have a good time dumplings and Cantonese soaps and dads being badass cooks.”

A lot of the film is concerning the relationship between Mei and her mother, Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh). Like many children her age, Mei desires to have company and be unbiased. However in crafting the shut bond between mom and daughter, Shi mentioned she needed to keep away from a extra stereotypical story construction by which a rebellious child tries to interrupt free from an overbearing dad or mum.

“For this story, I needed to make it clear from the start: Mei really loves her household and actually enjoys spending time along with her mother,” Shi mentioned. “They’re tremendous, tremendous shut, and she or he doesn’t like that she’s shifting away from her dad and mom and that rising up in a Western society is pulling her away from her household at dwelling.”

“It’s extra of a nuanced battle for her,” she continued. “That particularly, I feel, is a battle that a variety of immigrant children, a variety of Asian children cope with, that I assumed was necessary to place into the film.”

Lee, the main character of
Lee, the primary character of “Turning Crimson,” and her mother, Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh).

One other function that offers “Turning Crimson” its specificity is the time interval. Set in 2002, the film comprises an abundance of references to the early 2000s: flip telephones, camcorders, Tamagotchis, the “Cha Cha Slide” tune and boy bands.

“It actually appears like we’re taking you again in time, again to the 2000s, into this Asian tween fever dream,” Shi mentioned.

In one of many film’s subplots, Mei and her greatest pals, Miriam, Abby and Priya (voiced by Ava Morse, Hyein Park and “By no means Have I Ever” star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, respectively), have to determine the best way to earn sufficient cash to see their favourite boy band, 4*City (which, as Mei’s mom factors out, inexplicably has 5 members). Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell wrote the fictional band’s unique songs, which actually do really feel like they’re straight out of a Backstreet Boys or ’N Sync album. The film additionally consists of a number of unbelievable needle drops of real-life songs, reminiscent of a scene that includes Future Youngster’s “Bootylicious,” which can in all probability transport any Nineties or early 2000s child again to that point.

“I simply love the entire music from the early 2000s, and it was so cool to have the ability to deliver that into the film,” Shi mentioned. “And that tune [“Bootylicious”], too, I feel, is ideal. When you take heed to the lyrics, it’s about embracing all of the jiggly, raunchy sides of your self. And Mei’s embracing that a part of herself within the second, too.”

In “Turning Crimson,” Meilin’s pals attempt to console her when she turns right into a purple panda.

After finding out animation in school, Shi landed an internship at Pixar in 2011 and has been there ever since. She labored her manner up as a narrative artist on movies reminiscent of “Inside Out,” “Toy Story 4” and “Incredibles 2.” Whereas engaged on “Inside Out,” she pitched an thought for a brief movie, which grew to become “Bao.” One of many greatest challenges of directing a function versus a brief, she mentioned, was “embracing how chaotic directing a function might be and the way, sooner or later, you’re engaged on each single stage of the film abruptly.”

“You’re approving photographs for animation, however on the identical time, you’re again within the script addressing notes that you just’ve gotten from execs. On the identical time, you’re lighting. And all of that’s taking place abruptly on any given day,” Shi mentioned. In distinction, the manufacturing course of for “Bao” largely happened so as. In order that was actually difficult for me mentally, leaping backwards and forwards in time and dealing on completely different components of the film because it all got here collectively.”

For Shi, one of many items of working in animation is having the ability to assume extra imaginatively about the best way to seize the messiness of life, together with issues like puberty and intervals.

“When it’s taking place to you on the time, it simply feels so nightmarish and awkward and embarrassing. However now that there’s a ways between me and 13-year-old me, I can look again and I can chuckle at it. I can analyze it from each angle,” Shi mentioned. “And that’s the great thing about animation, too. Animation enables you to discover advanced, deep or traumatic or cringey subjects, however in an accessible and visible and inventive manner.”

“Turning Crimson” premieres Friday on Disney+.

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