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Synopsis: Lunchbox is a dramatic, three-part, coming-of-age short about regret, healing, and honoring the people we love. Using her deceased immigrant mother’s recipe book, Taiwanese American Shirley makes zongzi, turnip cake, and hand-cut noodles. As she cooks, each dish evokes a childhood memory in which she grows progressively older and more distant from her Taiwanese culture and mother. When Shirley’s assimilation efforts culminate in her election to the Homecoming Court, a mistake by Shirley’s mother humiliates her, eliciting cruel words Shirley can never take back. Based on a true story, this retelling examines the personal cost of fitting in as well as the recovery from cultural and familial loss.
Dawn Ying Yuen (Chinluan Diana Huang)
Audrey Liao (Little Shirley)
Elizabeth Gao (Preteen Shirley)
I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when suddenly a video called The Lunchbox Moment popped up on my screen. Curious, I clicked, and what quickly ensued was my deluge of tears. Stories of Asian Americans who were bullied for their homemade lunches sent me down memory lane, recalling my own painful memories of being teased for bringing my favorite home-cooked meal, zongzi, to school. As I watched the Asian Americans in the video express their love and gratitude for their parents, I desperately wished I could tell my mother how much I love her and how thankful I am for her. But I’ll never be able to do that. My mother passed away when I was 20. Overwhelmed with emotion, all I could do was sit down and write “Lunchbox.”
At 20, I never had the chance to express to my mom how I feel today, because I didn’t feel that way back then. For all my life up until my 20’s, I hated being Taiwanese American. I hated being teased at school for bringing stinky lunches, and I hated spending Saturday mornings in Chinese school. I hated being different. I wanted to be “normal.” I wished I had blonde hair and blue eyes like the popular girls so that boys would like me. All I wanted was to fit in, but no matter how much I tried, my eyes, skin, and weird ways set me apart from everyone else.
So I rejected that part of myself. I couldn’t see what was good about being Asian. And because the most Asian part of my life was my mother, I pushed her away. I took her for granted.
She wasn’t the “American” outwardly loving mom on the Disney shows. Her ways were foreign. Coming from a poor upbringing in Taiwan, she didn’t understand the importance of “being there for your child.” To her, having a roof over your head and meals to eat were all you needed, and a greater expression of love than any American expression of love. She was physically and emotionally absent, and she could barely speak English. She didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand her, culturally and sometimes literally.
At the time, I could only see my mother’s shortcomings. Now I see she loved me the best she could given where she came from and what she went through in her own life. She passed on her love to me in different ways, non-“American” ways…her ways. And one of those ways was through the lunches she cooked for me.
Lunchbox is a love letter to my mother, and a catharsis for anyone who has experienced loss, regret, and being the “other.”
Mom, for all your strengths and imperfections, I love you. Thank you.
Anne Hu is a Taiwanese American, award-winning director, writer, editor, and actress. Her directing focus is in narrative film and tv. She creates provocative, dark comedies and heartfelt, poetic dramas.
Hu was featured in The Hollywood Reporter for making the 2020 Alice List for Emerging Female Filmmakers who Have Not Yet Directed a Feature. She participated in Netflix’s first-ever Original Series Directors Development Program from 2020 to 2022. She shadowed director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) on Netflix’s drama series, The Society. Hu is also a fellow of the 2019 Space on Ryder Farm Film Lab.
She has directed and written award-winning short films. Her upcoming short Lunchbox has earned numerous awards and grants including 2022 NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music, & Theater, the Winter 2021 Future of Film is Female Grant Winner, and Top 10 Finalist 2019 ScreenCraft Short Screenplay Competition. Her previous short Cake was accepted into 38 festivals, earned 9 awards, and was featured in The Washington Post.
Hu has also worked as a Senior Editor for the last 10 years cutting trailers for Game of Thrones, Big Little Lies, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and more.
As an actor, she has trained at T. Schreiber Studio, The Barrow Group, and The Freeman Studio.
Her upcoming work includes Lunchbox (a dramatic short) and Joy Spa (a dramedy feature).
Hu hopes by creating personal and honest stories that reflect her struggles and intersectional identities, she can provide catharsis for audiences as well as inspire them to regard marginalized voices with their whole humanity.