Why Chang Can Dunk’s Director Wanted To Make A Disney Movie About ‘The Potential For Failure’

Bloom Li in Chang Can Dunk
(Image credit: Disney+)

SPOILERS are ahead for Chang Can Dunk, now streaming with a Disney+ subscription. 

There’s something uniquely special about the movies we watch as kids. They are impressionable to us, and when we look back at them, there’s a nostalgic feeling about returning to their messages down the line. One of Disney+’s new releases, Chang Can Dunk, could become one of those movies years from now for current kids given how important its message is to writer/director Jingyi Shao. 

When the first-time filmmaker recently spoke with CinemaBlend about the themes of the latest great basketball movie, he shared how Chang Can Dunk's unexpected turn halfway through the movie helped him communicate a lesson he found important to communicate: learning to fail. In Shao’s words:

I wanted to make sure that this film had a powerful message for a younger audience, but in a way that would continue with them after the film was over… I wanted to create a situation where the audience would leave and realize and maybe think about like, what was true, what I was really getting at with this film, which is it really about the goal or is it about the journey? And I think that's why the film ends the way that it ends. And the main question in the film is never quite answered because that ultimately is the thing that we're really scared of when we start something new. Especially something that we're not sure that we can do or not, is the potential for failure. And how do you face that and how do you find peace in pursuing that?

Chang Can Dunk’s setup is pretty classic for coming-of-age sports movies. Our protagonist is hit with a challenge, a self-imposed one to dunk in front of the whole school for his classmates' respect, and after a lot of practice, he appears to reach his goal about halfway through the movie. However, as the movie progresses, it delves into the real repercussions of failure as Chang misses a second dunk opportunity on a morning talk show before its revealed that Chang cheated on the initial dunk. It all comes to a head during a scene in the snow where Chang stressfully tries to make the dunk for real over and over in the snow as his mother watches him in frustration. 

During our interview, Shao shared that the scene in the snow is the “most important” scene to him in the entire film, and it was the first one he came up with for Chang Can Dunk. He continued: 

I think it was my subconscious sort of expressing my own fears and doubts of like, could I be a filmmaker? Could I be a working filmmaker? Could I make a feature film? I think that scene represents the struggle of anyone who's trying to do something outside of the box that they weren't expected to do or that they don't know if they can do. And that's something that we have to face. We have to face the fact that you can try and try and try and then maybe still not succeed. And that's a really scary existential thought, especially for young people. But what ends up happening is we don't even try in the first place and I think that's a shame because I think a lot of people don't know how great or how amazing the things they could do could be because they don't even try in the first place. And, you know or trying to go through this whole journey and find that and face that. It just makes the ending of him continuing to try I think more powerful.

Shao finds himself in an industry where there’s not a lot of famous Asian filmmakers to look up to, just as Chang found himself as one of the only Asian high school students in his town and desperate to prove himself. As Shao shared, he had “fears” and “doubts” about making it in Hollywood, and he was able to express that within the dynamics of Chang Can Dunk’s storyline. 

Of course, it doesn’t matter where any of us come from because the fear of failure and not having the chance to pursue one’s dreams is a universal thing so many of us can relate to. Chang Can Dunk tells the story from the angle of a child of an Asian immigrant single mother taking after his own familial experiences for the plot. 

Now that Shao’s made his first leap with writing/directing a brand new Disney movie, we can’t wait to see what’s next for him. Check out what upcoming Disney movies are hitting theaters and streaming next here on CinemaBlend. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.