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Dara Zhao and Her Dangerous Animals

When watching the 2019 film Animals, it’s nearly impossible to not become overwhelmed by the emotional situation of the main characters. The life of a child soldier is painful enough but the situation which the young female protagonist finds herself in is excruciating. The presentation is exactly what the filmmakers intended, fueled prominently and manifested masterfully by the film’s production designer Dara Zhao. The PD confirms that when approached with the idea by Director/Writer/Producer Chen-wen Lo, she understood it to be a film she had to help create because of its importance. Artists in front of and behind the camera are a sensitive group who care deeply; those who are talented like Zhao can move the hearts and minds of the public with films like Animals.


An essential ingredient for great art is passion. While the passion of the actors on the screen is clearly evident, those like Zhao who contribute this ingredient behind the scenes is palpable throughout the entire production. Describing her state of mind when being approached by the director, Dara reveals, “From the first time Chen-wen and I spoke about this project, I was immediatley excited. I had read the memoirs of a boy soldier titled A Long Way Gone and was deeply touched by it. Children are special and important. Even though they need to be protected, adult society all too often shirks this responsibility. In war, children are exploited ruthlessly, sacrificing the childhood and happiness. When a child starts holding a gun for killing, they can embark on a path which produces the ugliness of human nature and may never be able to get their childhood back. With Animals, we wanted to develop a new perspective around this concept while still communicating the importance and awareness of it.”


The film follows thirteen-year-old Su Su Myat, a Burmese child soldier imprisoned for deserting her unit during a battle. Her captors and fellow militants propose the impossible decision for her to either kill her brother and fellow deserter [Tin Min] or be executed alongside him. Regardless of her choice, the Su Su Myat she has been up to this point in her life will die. While Su Su’s greatest challenge is to figure a way out, the overwhelming obstacle for Dara was how to turn a major metropolitan city into a Burmese village. Viewing audiences can attest to the authenticity of the settings seen in the film which Zhao established. Chen-wen Lo professes of Zhao’s vital impact on the film noting, “Her work has tremendously helped me realize my vision as the director as she always plays an active role in development and cares deeply about what’s best for the story. Dara’s vision and creativity make her both one of the greatest and most unique production designers in film today. Her skills and experience as a concept designer and illustrator have add immensely to her ability in seeing the large picture of different stories and situations. More than just an executer, she is a true creative force!”


While the general public will have to wait for the premier of Animals at one of the most significant film festivals in Asia, the upcoming Busan Film Festival, Dara Zhao’s contributions to the Feature Film live-action Walt Disney Production The Little Mermaid (starring Jacob Tremblay, Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy) prove that her skills are as appropriate for big budget productions as they are for the Indie scene. In Dara’s mind, it’s all storytelling. As long as the story is meaningful and exciting to her, she’s committed to realizing it on the screen for audiences everywhere.


Written by Patrick Wilson
Dara Zhao and Her Dangerous Animals Reviewed by JaamZIN on 6:53:00 AM Rating: 5
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