“Turning Red” delves into a multifaceted narrative that seamlessly interweaves ancient Chinese mythology with a contemporary coming-of-age tale, spotlighting deeper layers beyond its surface themes of family conflict and adolescent experiences.
Drawing from Chinese mythology, the film emphasizes the revered significance of red pandas as symbols of good fortune and prosperity in traditional beliefs. This notion mirrors the narrative within “Turning Red,” where the story of the family’s ancestors and the red panda’s blessing intertwines with Sun Yee’s journey, reflecting old beliefs of good fortune through the red panda’s association.
Director Domee Shi’s exploration of the red panda’s traits, observed during a visit to a red panda enclosure, echoes the dynamics between Lee and her mother, Ming. The association of the red panda’s traits with Lee’s Chinese-Canadian identity, symbolized by the red and white colors reflecting both her heritage and the Canadian flag, serves as a poignant narrative choice in exploring Lee’s teenage experiences.
The film skillfully navigates the pressures faced by second-generation migrants in Western countries, highlighting the familial expectations placed upon children to excel academically and meet certain societal standards. Lee’s internal conflict of conforming to the image of the ‘golden child’ is a relatable experience for many, resonating with the pressure to fulfill parental expectations while navigating personal desires and identity.
Repressed emotions and the need for a supportive environment are brought to the forefront through Lee’s transformation into a red panda, symbolizing the release of pent-up feelings that she cannot freely express in her human form. This visual metaphor accentuates the challenges of communication and emotional expression faced by adolescents amidst familial expectations.
The film underscores the importance of a supportive network and understanding within families. Lee’s father, Jin, serves as a source of empathy, offering support and acceptance of Lee’s emotional journey. His advice to acknowledge and live with emotions rather than push them away reinforces the message of embracing one’s authentic self.
“Turning Red” ultimately emerges as a poignant reflection on the experiences of second-generation immigrants and Asian children, addressing the struggle between familial expectations and personal growth. The film’s resolution, where Lee and her mother reach an understanding, emphasizes the significance of mutual support and acceptance within families during the transformative phase of adolescence. With a blend of traditional folklore and a contemporary narrative, the film delicately navigates the complex emotions and desire for familial support that many young individuals encounter as they navigate their journey toward adulthood.