If you hear the label “children’s movie” you likely have a preconceived idea of what the story, dialogue, and intended viewer will be. However, you haven’t encountered a film like Gum Gum before. Director Yuan Yue and producer Ping Zhou were intent on making a film starring children and about children but dealing with themes that are not the status quo for a youth story. Death, struggling with Autism, the consideration of suicide, and selflessness are not what one might expect but are delivered with such heart and intelligence that the pain of their sincerity seems completely appropriate. Critics agree with the exceptional filmmaking of this production as confirmed by its nomination from the New York City Independent Film Festival and a win for Best Short Film at the NYC Indie Film Awards.
Mars is a five-year-old boy whose mother was killed in a tragic accident. As a result of this trauma, he has developed a type of Autism. He disconnects from nearly everything and everyone which greatly concerns his grandmother. As his guardian, she encourages him to seek connection with others in hopes of distracting him from this sadness. While playing with two neighborhood children, he overhears one boy say that if you swallow gum you will stop breathing and die. Even at this young age, Mars perceives this as a way to reunite with his mother, perhaps finding happiness in the afterlife. As he contemplates this action, he becomes aware of his grandmother and what this second tragic blow may do to her. His empathy for his grandmother is what eventually pulls him out of his own despair.
Yuan Yue and Ping Zhou have worked together on a number of productions and a style of storytelling has surfaced as a result. Full of heart, sweet, and yet also not unaware of the oft times oppressive occurrences in life; their films offer hope in what possesses the potential for enduring despair. Yue refers to the intuitive nature of Ping noting, “She is somehow able to anticipate every need while solving every momentary challenge that surfaces. For a director to have a producer like her as a partner is what liberates you to focus on expression. Of course, Ping has tremendous input into the characters and the entire process. Her insight is remarkable.” The producer characterizes Yue as “living in the heart of Li An and Wes Anderson with Quentin Tarantino occasionally knocking on the door.” Zhou emphasizes that it’s the universal aspect of their films which is inherent to the stories and their reception by varying audiences. She concedes, “It’s sometimes easier to play to a specific audience who is prepared to be receptive to a ‘type’ of story but what I love about making films is creating something that everyone can relate to. I don't think there is any geographical restriction on this story. It could happen anywhere because the film expresses the child's thoughts to his mother. This emotion moves me and I think many others as well. This is the most common relationship in the world, the one between mother and child. There’s no race or geographical restrictions. This is a film that can resonate without the need for a language. There’s great power in that type of storytelling.”