On March 10, 2023, Disney+ released “Chang Can Dunk,” an American sports-drama film directed by Jingyi Shao.
When Disney+ first released the trailer, many people were skeptical about how the movie would turn out. They thought that the trailer basically foreshadowed the entire movie.
However, spoiler alert: it didn’t.
The trailer showed that the film is about an Asian-American teenager, Bernard Chang, trying to learn how to dunk in 11 weeks. Chang makes a bet with Matt, a basketball star at his high school, that he can learn how to dunk within this time. While Chang tries to achieve his goal, he notices that he has to sacrifice a lot of his relationships and friendships.
In the beginning, the movie did present itself with a cliche teenage drama storyline. Many people would think that “Chang Can Dunk” would be about a bullied teenager who has a dream to become the classic ‘cool’ kid. Sure, the movie has some aspects of this storyline, but it unveils much more than just a regular teenager trying to fit into a crowd.
The movie informs us about emotional situations which teenagers face on a daily basis.
Some of these include peer pressure, the need for independence, the struggle to find an identity, and other social or cultural pressures. As a result, plenty of teenagers struggle and often want to feel validated. Bernard Chang faces this issue throughout the movie as well.
Chang finds himself in multiple situations in which he is influenced by peer and societal pressures. He wanted to have a higher social standing and constantly found himself betting against the ‘jocks’ of the school.
Moreover, Chang’s need to fit in leads to a plot twist one-hour into the film. Chang’s decisions shows how people can change when they achieve a higher social standing. It proves how people are willing to engage in risky behavior to achieve what they want. Even though Chang felt happier that he was classified as a ‘cool kid,’ his friends noticed a change in his behavior.
They noticed that the more attention Chang got, the less he cared about his closest peers.
So for the rest of the film, Chang tries to reform the relationships with his mother and best friends. He also decides to pursue his hobbies based on what he’s most passionate about – basketball.
Overall, I found that the film was relatable to my teenage and young adult years. Personally, I’ve always felt a need to fit in with others, which is something the movie represents quite well. It also showed how teenagers are often peer-pressured into doing something they’re uncomfortable with just to be popular. Although I didn’t play basketball, my experiences of wanting to fit in and be accepted were similar to Chang’s.
What’s more, I felt that the most relatable part of the movie was the conversations Chang had with his mother. Their talks demonstrated the ‘tough love’ style of Asian American parenting. Just like Chang, I’ve always felt that my parents were controlling, although, in the end, all they wanted was the best for me. Plus, the scenes where Chang and his mother spoke in Mandarin hit me with a pang of nostalgia.
Even Jingyi Shao, the director, stated that his own teenage self would have benefitted from the film.
“My 16-year-old self could have really used this film. He really needed to watch this. At the time, he was struggling to believe in himself and struggling to believe in his dream.”
So, Chang’s story goes beyond one teenager’s experience. It sweeps into all of the issues which youth struggle with. We still feel the urge to fit in and conform while getting ahead. And we feel pressured by every decision and side we take – whether it’s between our parents or our friends.
Finally, through this movie, Shao also taught us to follow our heart, just like Chang did. By following our hearts, we find our own values, stick to our own beliefs, and find our own belonging – just like Bernard Chang did with basketball.
Featured image via Chang Can Dunk on Disney+