TURNING RED*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
2002, Toronto – 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian Meilin “Mei” Lee (Rosalie Chang) narrates about how one must honor their parents because of what they do for their children, so she has felt that she has to do whatever they want. As a result, Mei is incredibly talented in her schoolwork, even if some of her peers think she is weird and annoying.
Mei hangs out with her best friends, laidback Miriam (Ava Morse), deadpan Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), and hyperactive Abby (Hyein Park). They stop at a convenience store where Miriam, Priya, and Abby fawn over the clerk, Devon (Addie Chandler), but Mei doesn’t see the big deal. She brings up 4*Town, the boy band they are obsessed with, which consists of Robaire (Jordan Fisher), Jesse (Finneas O’Connell), Tae Young (Grayson Villanueva), Aaron T (Josh Levi), and Aaron Z (Topher Ngo). When the girls want to hang out, Mei says she has to go home and help clean, and her friends point out that she spends too much time doing what her mom wants.
Mei lives with her parents, Ming (Sandra Oh) and Jin (Orion Lee), in a temple that honors the red panda and is a noted tourist attraction. The two take a moment to pray to their ancestor, Sun Yee. Mei does everything with Ming, as she desperately wants to maintain her approval, but Ming doesn’t care for Mei’s personal interests or her friends, seeing them as bad influences.
After watching a soap opera with her mom, Mei goes to her room and suddenly starts to fantasize about Devon, drawing pictures of him in her notebook. Ming comes to her room, but although Mei tries to hide the notebook, Ming picks it up and opens it, finding the pictures of Devon looking romantic with Mei. Fearing that an older boy is taking advantage of her daughter, Ming forces Mei to go with her to the convenience store where she shows Devon the drawings in front of the other customers, including Mei’s school nemesis Tyler (Tristan Allerick Chen), and accuses Devon of preying on her daughter. Mei is left utterly humiliated.
That night, Mei has a vivid nightmare. In the morning, she wakes up and has transformed into an enormous red panda. She freaks out and tries to hide herself, but when Ming overhears the commotion, she believes Mei is having her first period. Mei manages to stay hidden and ends up relaxing herself in order to turn back to her normal self.
Mei goes to school and tries to keep her cool, despite Tyler going around sharing her drawings of Devon all around the school. She also tries to maintain her attraction to an emo boy named Carter without becoming a panda again. During class, Miriam passes a note to Mei, informing her that Ming is outside the window. Mei watches as Ming fights with a security guard as she tries to get Mei’s attention. The whole class watches, and Ming then pulls out a box of pads for Mei, which embarrasses her even further and causes her to turn into a red panda again. She runs out of school and is noticed by some people, but she ends up managing to run home back to her room.
Ming and Jin find Mei as she is, and Jin is surprised that “this happened already”. When Mei asks what he means, Ming brings her into the temple to reveal the truth – Sun Yee had asked the spirits for help to protect her family when China was in a state of war, so she was gifted with the ability to turn into a red panda and become a great guardian for her family. Sun Yee passed the gift on down to her daughters, so every woman in Mei’s family has undergone the transformation. Ming explains that there is a ritual on the night of a Red Moon where they can remove the panda spirit from Mei’s body by sealing it in a charm. In order to keep her from causing more destruction, Ming and Jin take out Mei’s furniture and leave her only with a mattress.
The next day, Miriam, Priya, and Abby stop by Mei’s house where they find her in her red panda form. Although they aren’t bothered by it and even find her adorable, Mei cries because she feels like a freak who can’t control the transformation. The girls sing a 4*Town song to cheer Mei up, and once they are in a group hug, Mei becomes human again. She realizes that her friends are what keep her in control. Abby then points out that 4*Town will be coming to Toronto on May 18th, so the girls want to raise money to buy concert tickets.
After sending her friends away, Mei’s parents do tests to see if she can keep her emotions under control, and she manages to do so. However, when Mei asks her parents if she can get a ticket to see 4*Town, Ming says no. After Mei goes to her room, the family gets a call from Ming’s mother, Wu (Wai Ching Ho). She has seen the news of Mei as a panda running around Toronto, and she is making plans to see her daughter and granddaughter, much to Ming’s horror.
At school, the girls make plans to try and see 4*Town without Ming knowing where Mei really is. Moments later, a girl named Stacy (Lily Sanfelippo), who had previously seen Mei as a panda, enters with her friends as Mei becomes a panda. Instead of being freaked out, the other girls find Mei to be cute and cuddly, and the four girls hatch an idea to profit off of Mei’s panda form for money to buy concert tickets. They hide this from Ming by pretending to be doing a mathletes program. Tyler later approaches Mei and tells her he wants her to bring her red panda self to his birthday party, or he will tell her mom what she has been doing. Mei agrees, but only if Tyler pays her the $200 they need to get a fourth ticket.
On the night of Tyler’s party, Mei attempts to go out and says she’s going to be with friends. Ming tries to go along, but Mei straight-up tells her she doesn’t want her to come. Before anything else happens, the Lees are visited by Ming’s cousins/Mei’s aunties – Chen (Lori Tan Chinn), Ping (Lillian Lim), Helen (Sherry Cola), and Lily (Mia Tagano) – along with Wu. They dote on Mei as they try to prepare her for the ritual, but Mei pretends to go to bed so she can sneak off to the party. Before she does so, Wu mentions finding red panda hair, but Mei lies about having been continuing to transform. After Wu leaves, Mei sneaks out.
Mei goes to the party with her cardboard costume from before she could transform, which leaves the other partygoers unamused. When her friends express sadness over not going to the concert together since they can’t all go, Mei changes her mind and goes into panda mode. She has a great time with her friends and classmates, but back home, Ming finds out Mei has snuck out and finds the invitation to Tyler’s party, as well as the merchandise she has been making off her panda self. Just as the girls are enjoying the evening, they overhear on the radio that 4*Town will actually be coming to Toronto on May 25th, which is the same night as the ritual. Abby realizes that she misread Toronto as Toledo, which is where they will be on the 18th. Mei becomes frustrated, just as Tyler calls out to her and demands that she give the other kids rides. When Mei refuses, Tyler insults her and her family. Mei attacks him furiously, but it leaves Tyler scared and crying, and the other kids back away in fear. Ming arrives just in time to witness this, and she gets chewed out by Tyler’s parents. Ming then blames Mei’s friends, believing they were the ones who encouraged her to continue transforming. Although Miriam tries to clarify things, Mei cannot bring herself to defend her friends for fear of what Ming will think. She leaves the girls disappointed.
It is the night of the ritual. Miriam, Priya, and Abby go to the concert by themselves. Mei is at home for the ritual with her family and their neighbor, Mr. Gao (James Hong). Jin finds a camcorder with a video of Mei as a panda being happy with her friends. He goes to her room and offers words of encouragement, noting that before Ming lost her panda spirit, she was actually quite big and scary. She had an argument with Wu over her relationship with Jin, which led to a ferocious argument that left Wu with a scar over her eye. Jin gives Mei advice on making her own choice.
The ritual commences, with Mei standing in a ring while the aunties sing and Mr. Gao attempts to seal the panda spirit into Mei’s own charm. She is taken into the astral realm, where a portal appears for Mei to pass through and separate herself from the panda spirit, but she has a change of heart and chooses to keep the panda. She starts to head out, but everyone tries to hold her back. Mei breaks free and knocks Ming down, causing her charm to crack. Ming becomes furious, and her charm completely breaks, setting her own panda spirit free.
Mei uses her powers to make it to the SkyDome where the concert is being held. She finds her friends and tries to apologize to them, but Miriam notes that she threw them under the bus. Priya and Abby then point out that Miriam has been taking care of Mei’s Tamagotchi that she dropped at Tyler’s house, meaning Miriam couldn’t stay completely mad at Mei. The girls reconcile, and they see Tyler is at the concert, as he is secretly a 4*Town fan (or “Townie”) and he loves Aaron Z. The girls are excited and watch the show with him. Unfortunately, the concert is disrupted by Panda-Ming, who is as big as a skyscraper. Ming calls out to Mei, causing everyone in attendance (and 4*Town) to panic and flee. The rest of the family arrives in an attempt to remove the panda from Ming, while Mei fights her own mom as a panda, telling her that profiting off her panda form was her own idea and not her friends. Jin creates a ring big enough to fit Ming, but after Ming is knocked unconscious, Wu and the aunties break their charms to unleash their panda spirits and help Mei pull Ming into the ring. They try to sing as the Red Moon begins to fade, but it is not strong enough until Mei’s friends start to sing, and they even bring 4*Town to sing and help deliver enough energy to send all the women into the astral realm.
Mei finds teenage Ming crying after the incident where she gave her mother a scar. Ming had gone through the same conflicts of having to please her mother while dealing with her own personal life and growth. Mei guides her mom to the portal, where the women pass through to remove their panda spirits again, and Ming and Wu’s relationship is finally fixed. However, Ming comes to accept that Mei wants to keep the panda spirit. Sun Yee appears to Mei and hugs her as her own red panda form.
Later on, Mei and her family use the profits from the temple to pay to rebuild the SkyDome, which is helped by Mei’s transformation being a bigger attraction. Tyler is now part of the girls’ friend group. Mei goes off to hang out with them, and she shares a look with Ming, who is now more comfortable with Mei being herself. The film closes on a photo that the girls took with 4*Town, and Mei’s last narration notes that everyone has a wild and weird side, and she is glad she let hers out.
After the credits, Mei is looking for her 4*Town CD, which Jin has in the basement and is jamming out to.
13-year-old Chinese-Canadian prodigy Mei Lee is an ace at school, but has always felt pressure to be perfect for her mother Ming. After an embarrassing incident where Ming humiliates Mei in front of a guy she has a crush on, Mei wakes up transformed as a giant red panda as a result of strong emotions. Ming tells Mei that this is a result of their ancestor Sun Yee asking the spirits to give her the gift to become a red panda to protect her family, which she passed down to the other women in Mei's family throughout the generations. Although it freaks her out at first, Mei realizes she can keep her emotions under control thanks to her best friends, Miriam, Priya, and Abby.
The girls use Mei's panda form to earn money to get concert tickets for their favorite boy band, 4*Town. They need the last bit of money by going to the birthday party of Tyler, a snotty kid who picks on Mei, but after Mei finds out that 4*Town will be in Toronto the same night as the ritual where she will have the panda spirit removed, she becomes upset and later attacks Tyler after he insults her and her family, causing the other kids to be scared of her. Ming blames Mei's friends for everything, and Mei cannot bring herself to defend them to maintain Ming's approval.
On the night of the ritual and concert, Mei's dad Jin offers encouragement and support for her to make her own choice about keeping the panda spirit. Mei ultimately chooses to keep it, which angers Ming and causes her own red panda spirit to break out, making her colossal compared to Mei. Ming terrorizes the concert as she finds Mei there, and Mei has to fight her mom in red panda form. Mei's grandmother and aunties join as red pandas and get help from Mei's friends and even 4*Town to send the women into the astral realm. Mei finds her mother as a teenager and realizes she went through the same struggle of trying to appease her mother, which led to their fractured relationship. After Ming and her mom reconcile, the women remove their panda spirits, but Ming shows acceptance in letting Mei keep hers.
Mei reconciles with her friends, and Tyler becomes part of their group, while Mei and Ming's relationship is better than before, and Mei uses the red panda form to bring in customers to the family's temple.