China-born filmmakers strive for gold in 2019 Oscar race

2019-02-25 09:01:43Xinhua Editor : Jing Yuxin ECNS App Download

As the global film industry's highest accolade -- Hollywood's Academy Awards, or the Oscars -- will be handed out in Los Angeles on Sunday, China-born filmmakers are eyeing the prize with their nominated works.

Although three Chinese-language feature submissions -- "Hidden Man," "Operation Red Sea," and "The Great Buddha+" -- failed to win a coveted Best Foreign Language Film nomination slot, three other films with Chinese elements did get the nod and will go on to strive for a win at the 91st annual Academy Awards celebration.

China-born Canadian director, Domee Shi, now working at Pixar Animation Studios, was nominated for directing in the Best Animated Short Film category. Shi is the first female short film director and first Chinese writer and director of a Pixar short film in Pixar's history.

"Bao," released with Pixar's popular blockbuster animated feature, "Incredibles 2," explores the life of a Chinese female immigrant living in Toronto with her inattentive husband and struggling to cope with loneliness after her beloved son flies the nest. Remarkably, the mother's deep empty-nester angst turns to joy when a cute, leftover dumpling (a bao) comes alive in a true Pinocchio fashion.

"Traditionally, Chinese parents don't say 'I love you' to their kids. They say it with food or by fussing over them," Shi said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua after the release of "Bao," explaining why food became the focus of the animated film.

"I wanted to explore an overprotective parent learning to let go of her dumpling, since I was an overprotected dumpling myself," Shi revealed to Xinhua.

In an amusing aside on the ABC, Shi joked that she thinks her parents, far from being impressed by her Academy nomination, hope for "a grandchild more than an Oscar."

The second China-born Oscar nominee this year is 30-year-old Bing Liu, director of "Minding the Gap," one of five films nominated for the Best Documentary Feature. Liu shot his Oscar-nominated film in Rockford, Illinois, where he grew up.

Liu, who Chicago Tribune dubs "Chicagoan of the Year," is a mild-mannered camera assistant by day and an impressive documentarian director by night.

He had to constantly scramble to capture those elusive moments that, in the right hands, turn documentaries from vapid reality shows to inspiring vehicles of universal truths.

But despite the hardships, or perhaps because of them, "Minding the Gap" is unexpectedly deep.

What starts off as a fun film on the close-knit, teen male-dominated skateboard subculture soon veers into a more profound exploration of cross-generational domestic violence and masculine identity.

In his film, Liu examines many things: the fast and furious subculture of skateboarding where skinned shins and broken bones are par for the course; the quiet community of Rockford where he spent his childhood and is still connected to family and friends; the lives and tribulations of himself and his two closest comrades-in-arms, Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan, who all struggled to cope with an adolescence tainted by abuse.

U.S. media The Fader, which focuses on film, video and culture, describes the film as "a deep examination of masculinity, race, class, and the redemptive power of subcultures."

Though running behind the immensely popular "RBG" biographical documentary on female activist and outspoken U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the soft-spoken Chinese-American filmmaker could still skate home with an Oscar award.

The third China-born contender is former Disney animator Shaofu Zhang, the producer of Taiko Studios' "One Small Step," one of the five nominees in the category of Best Animated Short Film. Zhang founded the Taiko Studios in 2017, aiming to bridge eastern and western cultures to create memorable stories with universal appeal.

Born in Wuhan, Zhang grew up in the United States and won a Student Academy Award in 2011 for a film he co-directed. Zhang and two other Disney animators, Bobby Pontillas and Andrew Chesworth, created "One Small Step" about Luna, a young Chinese-American girl, who doggedly pursues her dream of becoming an astronaut with the support of her father.

The filmmaking team took inspiration from the dedicated Chinese female astronauts Liu Yang and Wang Yaping.

A true mixture of the East and the West in terms of culture and creative teams, Zhang told the press that it was important to reflect the Asian American experience in the film.

"At the core of the story, it is about the support of our families and our parents, especially our mothers. It was a love letter to them," said Zhang.

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