How ‘Raya and the Final Dragon’ constructed a fantasy world in Southeast Asia
Just a few years in the past, Nguyen was employed to write down for Marvel Studios, which then led him to Disney and “Raya and the Final Dragon”. “My dream has all the time been to create superheroes, particularly superheroes for individuals who do not usually see themselves that approach,” Nguyen mentioned. “To have the ability to do that for Asian Individuals is admittedly, actually an enormous dream come true – a dream that I’ve all the time had, that I might by no means think about truly taking place. And I am unable to imagine it is taking place proper now.
“Raya” attracts visible inspiration from many nations, together with Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. The group additionally traveled to Southeast Asia for analysis. Nguyen’s co-writer was Adele Lim, who’s a Malaysian American and co-wrote the screenplay for “Loopy Wealthy Asians”. And Thai artist Fawn Veerasunthorn was on the head of the story.
Very like the Arthurian legend, “Sport of Thrones” and “Dungeons & Dragons” could be seen as a hodgepodge of Western historical past, “” Raya “makes use of Southeast Asian influences to inform a brand new story. sort of implausible story, says Nguyen.
“We are attempting to construct a fantastic legend. And it might have been very easy to make it some type of impartial fantasy land. It was actually nice to have the ability to have parts in there that I might level to, that represented the cultures that we grew up in.
“It was like a bunch of Easter eggs culturally for all of us to have the ability to say, ‘Hey, you discover your tradition on this film,'” screenwriter Qui Nguyen mentioned. “You possibly can create an epic story primarily based on Japanese cultures, not simply Western ones.”
For instance, within the film, Raya calls her father, voiced by Daniel Dae Kim, “Ba”, the Vietnamese phrase for father. When she makes an providing to Sisu the dragon, she presents bánh tét, a Vietnamese rice cake. There are additionally footage of durian and dragon fruit.
However it’s not only a visible illustration. Nguyen was one of many movie’s fight consultants and wished the battle scenes in “Raya” to replicate martial arts that originated in Southeast Asia. Raya carries a sword impressed by Indonesian kris. And every nation within the film has a unique preventing fashion, like Indonesian Pencak Silat, Muay Thai, and Vietnamese Võ thuật.
“It was like a bunch of Easter eggs culturally for all of us to have the ability to say, ‘Hey, you discover your tradition on this film,’” mentioned Nguyen. “You possibly can create an epic story primarily based on Japanese cultures, not simply Western ones.”
Nguyen additionally has a private reference to Raya. She is a heroine who has misplaced her family and friends, and is a refugee from her personal land. And as an alternative of giving up, she’s attempting to repair the world. For Nguyen, Raya’s journey echoes her personal dad and mom, refugees who’ve improved. Nguyen additionally dramatized their story with rave critiques in his play “Vietgone”.
“Everytime you see a narrative that has a Southeast Asian character, it is all the time about struggle, it is all the time about that exact struggle,” he mentioned, referring to the Vietnam Warfare, which affected not solely Vietnam, however many nations in Southeast Asia.
For Nguyen, Western narratives about this area are typically rooted in trauma and exoticism: “We are sometimes portrayed because the villain, sidekick or refugee in a adverse context.” In distinction, “Raya” is a narrative that “empowers and sends a fantastic constructive message to people who find themselves like us”.
And Nguyen mentioned he was conscious of the criticism surrounding the voice actors in “Raya” – though the South Asian-born actors voiced quite a lot of lead roles within the movie, the solid additionally comprises actors. East Asian Individuals similar to Sandra Oh and Awkwafina.
As a screenwriter, Nguyen was not in control of the casting, however he mentioned this: “For the actors who had been chosen, they’ve a deep and deep connection to this movie,” he mentioned. “I could not be extra thrilled that these A-Record expertise can characterize us on the market to the world, as a result of I feel it should assist get the eye that this film, story and message deserves.”
“Anytime you see a narrative that has a Southeast Asian character, it is all the time about struggle,” screenwriter Qui Nguyen mentioned. “In distinction, ‘Raya’ is a narrative that ’empowers and provides a fantastic constructive message to individuals who appear like us.
The primary message of the movie is to not discover a dragon or accumulate gems, though that’s a part of it. Raya tries to convey collectively totally different teams of individuals, who’ve each cause to really feel and mistrust one another, and encourage them to work collectively for the widespread good – and to battle in opposition to a scourge that threatens to destroy all of them.
The group that labored on “Raya” are conscious that all of it sounds acquainted and surprisingly prescient. And critics who noticed the movie famous its thematic relevance.
Nguyen believes “Raya” is a chance for households to have troublesome and sophisticated conversations collectively and reveals how in right now’s divided world, Raya could be the hero all of us want. As a result of his superpower is not his energy – it is his empathy, he says.
“Simply as ‘Zootopia’ allowed households to speak about bias, identical to ‘Huge Hero Six’ allowed us to speak about heartbreak, it offers us an opportunity to speak concerning the second in time we’re truly in,” he mentioned. Nguyen mentioned. “And have examples of a hero who takes a really brave step in attempting to make the world a greater place, constructing a bridge as an alternative of a wall.”
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