Confetti’s opening scene brilliantly sets a tone of frustration for the rest of the film.
A nicely dressed woman says, “Talk about perseverance” and angrily presses play on a voice recorder, on which we hear another female voice speaking in Mandarin. Visibly annoyed, the woman laughs: “Is all this in Chinese?”
Unknowingly, viewers have made judgments within seconds about the first woman who walks into the office, as well as the second woman speaking Mandarin on the recorder. We make these judgments based on little to no information about the two women other than a few sound bites, which Hu disputes as the film progresses. This all sets up the clearly presented themes that can be seen throughout the rest of the film: normal versus abnormal, individual versus group, judgments and persistence.
The Mandarin-speaking woman on the recording is Lan Chen (played by Zhu Zhu), a Chinese mother who desperately wants her daughter to have the opportunity for a better life through education. Zhu, recognizable as Cloud Atlas and Marco Polo, beautifully plays a sternly stoic woman who buried and swept away the hardships she had to suppress to survive. On the recording, we learn that Lan’s daughter, Mei Mei (played by a lovely Harmony He) has some type of disability and the woman listening to the recording is Dr. Wurmer (Helen Slater), the director of an American school that can possibly help him.
The following scenes go back in time and depict Lan’s life in China before coming to the United States to find a school for Mei Mei. Lan and her husband face a problem that is familiar to so many parents: finding a school where Mei Mei can thrive. It’s clear that Mei Mei is very bright, but Lan knows from her own experience that without a proper education, her academic and creative abilities will be stifled for the rest of her life. Lan gives up this future for her daughter and makes the difficult decision to leave China and her husband so that Mei Mei can study in America.
This individual versus group theme resurfaces when Lan is called into a meeting with a Chinese principal. He says that although Mei Mei is adorable, she is way behind in her studies compared to other students. Mei Mei is once again judged on the basis of her exceeding the group’s normal and acceptable standards. There is no tolerance for deviance outside of the majority, and therefore there is no place for Mei Mei in school. We find out the same thing happened with Lan at her school when she was younger through a flashback. In Lan and Mei Mei’s life, they were rejected and told to go somewhere else because they were different.
The rest of the film shows us the new life Lan and Mei Mei are making in America. They go to live with Helen, an elderly disabled woman who lives alone and uses a wheelchair. Amy Irving ably plays Helen, with a stiffness but a warmth that cuts across the screen very well. Despite Helen’s initial reluctance to welcome Lan and Mei Mei, she is won over by them. She is inspired by Mei Mei’s particular view of the world and her obvious dazzling charm.
Through Lan’s work experiences, viewers see a common struggle of immigrants in the United States. These scenes are all too familiar to many immigrant children who have seen their parents toil and work, often receiving payment under the table. The struggle of immigrants is beautifully portrayed here, nuanced but effective. As a mother and daughter of immigrants, I felt Lan’s tenderness.
This touching film shows a mother’s undying love for her child and the tenacity she has to give her daughter everything she did not have herself. Parents who have children with disabilities could also be encouraged and identify with the persistence of Lan’s advocacy to provide her child with the proper care and education in order to thrive.
We can also learn a valuable lesson from Mei Mei: sometimes parents or guardians try to fit them into a mold, but the path a child chooses on their own is the best. Although Lan wanted to spare her daughter the personal trauma of the rejection she suffered, she did not realize that Mei Mei was not affected in the same way as her. Perhaps the biggest lesson we could learn from Mei Mei in Confetti is that being rejected for falling outside of what’s considered normal isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Like Mei Mei, perhaps we should embrace and welcome difference and celebrate it. It could be the best thing to happen to you in a world that no longer takes the time to see the true beauty before us in simple, everyday things, like paper confetti dancing along the wind.
To see Confetti Now, groups can request to host a screening.
Lora Kwan is committed to walking with marginalized and vulnerable people towards wholeness. Through her pastoral counseling ministry, she is privileged to witness the restorative power of the Holy Spirit and the unfathomable love God has for His children. She seeks to incarnate Christ for everyone she meets and cares deeply for those affected by the great injustices present in this fallen world. She hopes to be a peacemaker and a bridge for racial reconciliation, as well as a champion of cultural connections. Lora is currently pursuing a master’s degree at the Wheaton Humanitarian Disaster Institute.