At 5 p.m. on Jan. 19, The Arlington Theatre played a series of short documentaries as a part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Most of these short films were created by Santa Barbara locals as a way to spread awareness about local issues or put a spotlight on other Santa Barbara residents. One of the films that were featured was written, directed, produced, and edited by fourth-year U.C. Santa Barbara student Zizheng (Boris) Liu.
“The Dumpling King” centers around Wang, the owner of the Chinese restaurant Dumpling King in Isla Vista. In an introduction to his film, Zizheng (Boris) explained to his audience the significance of dumplings in Chinese culture. According to him, dumplings represent the reunion between family and loved ones, something he hopes the audience will cherish in their daily lives.
In an interview with The Bottom Line, Liu explains that he wanted to capture the displacement he has experienced as an international student from China. “Being an international student from Beijing China, being far away from home, loneliness is a frequent visitor and I related to Wang. In my opinion, this loneliness is also closely tied to one’s culture or identity and that may stimulate one’s urge to join or create a home-like place.”
The film smoothly transitions between shots of Wang fishing alone at the Santa Barbara Harbor and him making dumplings back at his restaurant. The gloomy background containing vast waters against the silhouette of Wang’s figure on a boat highlights the feeling of loneliness that Liu aims to convey. In the scenes that take place in the restaurant, Wang carefully wraps each dumpling, making sure each one is filled and properly folded. Again, he is alone in the scene and the only thing shown to the audience are his two hands making the dumplings.
In these earlier scenes, the film is predominantly silent, with no dialogue but only the sounds of waves crashing against Wang’s boat. Liu tells The Bottom Line that this decision was made because “the audience will engage themselves in the images and the feelings I am trying to deliver which is this feeling of loneliness, waiting, and Wang’s perseverance.”
As the documentary progresses, customers begin to fill the Dumpling King restaurant, with groups of friends and family happily conversing and bonding over plates of dumplings. Wang is friendly and makes sure to check in and chat with his customers. The increase in pace and volume demonstrate to the audience the welcoming atmosphere that the restaurant has for its patrons.
To close off the film, Wang shares some advice with his audience. He reinforces the importance of perseverance and advises them that “the things that your family gives you are limited, but the things that you earn for yourself are never going to run out.” These words were spoken in Mandarin Chinese, Wang’s native language, and reinforced Wang’s role in the lives of Chinese students in Isla Vista as both a friend and a mentor.
Filmmaker Zizheng (Boris), his friends, and the main subject Wang all attended the event. After the screening, the large group walked out of the theater together. The college students all expressed excitement for the reopening of Dumpling King after a short break and anticipation for the meals Wang will cook up for Chinese New Year. As everyone exited the theater, the group’s cheerful chatter and laughter perfectly echoed the sentiment of family and reunion that Liu captured in his film, emphasizing the heartwarming message behind it.