How boy band mania inspired the animated comedy Turning Red

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SINGAPORE — In the Pixar animated comedy Turning Red, director and co-writer Domee Shi mercilessly pokes fun at her teenage years.

Turning Red’s main character, Mei, suffers a series of humiliating setbacks. Some of them are caused by his own pride, but his zealous and protective mother is also at fault.

Two decades later, the memories still carry a sting, Shi says.

“I asked myself, ‘Why did I decide to tell this story?’ These are memories I wanted to forget,” the Chinese-Canadian filmmaker told the Straits Times in an online interview.

Those moments of searing humiliation turned out to be storytelling gold.

“Yes, there are a lot of cringe-worthy moments. But that’s what makes them entertaining and fun,” says Shi, 34.

“They feel so visceral, and everyone remembers being super embarrassed by their parents.”

Turning Red premieres on Disney+ on March 11.

Set in early 2000s Toronto, the loosely autobiographical film tells the story of 13-year-old Mei Lee (voiced by newcomer Rosalie Chiang). The only child of Chinese immigrant parents is a straight college student with a secret: she’s obsessed with boy band 4*Town, pronounced Four Town.

She and her friends yearn to see them perform in her town, but her mother Ming (Korean-Canadian actress Sandra Oh) is appalled by the group’s sexy image.

In an incident that happened to Shi, Mei’s mother sneaks into the school, trying to find out which of Mei’s friends is misleading her.

And just as shown in the film, after the mischievous mother is spotted, her child becomes the laughingstock of the school.

“My friend tapped me on the shoulder and asked, ‘Who is that strange lady hiding behind the tree?’ I look up, and it’s my mom. She thought if she put on sunglasses, I wouldn’t recognize her, like she was Clark Kent,” Shi said.

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