Is Chang Can Dunk a true story? The real-life inspirations behind the film

By okaybliss — ON Mar 16, 2023
Chang Can Dunk

Chang Can Dunk, the sports drama film on Disney+, is the coming-of-age story of a 16-year-old Asian American high school student in the throes of proving his worth. Underdog Xiao Ming “Bernard” Chang (played by Bloom Li) aspires to dunk a basketball by Homecoming to not only win the bet against his rival Matt but also to impress his crush, Kristy.

But as is tradition with coming-of-age tales, Chang has to overcome his inner conflict and evaluate his relationships with loved ones to attest to his growth truly. The question that remains is whether the film’s realistic portrayal of the life of an immigrant teen is accidental or based on true events.

Chang Can Dunk is not based on a true story but it is drawn from the personal experiences of writer/director Jingyi Shao

Chang Can Dunk may not be based on a true story but the inspiration for the film came from the actual life events of the filmmaker. Written and directed by Jingyi Shao in his feature film debut, the film draws from his teenage experience as a child of an immigrant and represents the dynamics of an Asian American family.

Shao, who plays basketball as a hobby himself, recounted that when he was younger, he too went through similar trials and tribulations as Chang did to shoot baskets. He had the image of a child trying to dunk in the snow in his head for a long time and was driven to turn that concept into a story.

“I’ve been the kid on the court when it’s raining and still trying to get shots up. I just kept asking myself, ‘Why does this kid want to dunk so bad? Why is this so important to him?’ And then from there, I was like, ‘Can I make an audience care about something that’s so simple, and maybe not even consequential?’” he explained.

The image is recreated in the film with Chang practicing his dunks while it snows around him. The dunk, which is a metaphor for one’s dreams, ties to the fundamental self-worth of a person.

Furthermore, Chang’s relationship with his mother Chen (played by Mardy Ma) is drawn from Shao’s personal experience with his own mother. The scene where Chang realizes that his mother had been supporting and loving him in her way is based on Shao’s realization of the same thing as he grew up.

“I was honest with myself, of my high school experiences, the thing that cut deepest was that no matter how I felt ostracized or didn’t fit in in school, what really hurt was coming home and having my mom not really understand what I was going through either,” said Shao.

At its core, the film is about the bond between a mother and a son. It highlights the ‘evolution of a relationship’ between immigrant children and their parents and how they perceive each other through different lenses.