Born in China (2016) Movie Script

NARRATOR: China is a land
of myth and mystery.
Almost inconceivably vast and diverse.
From the eastern coastal plain...
through mountain ranges and forests...
to the high plateau of Qinghai.
From this magnificent landscape
are born countless lives.
Each of them part
of a much larger story.
An all-encompassing circle of life...
that is fueled by the love...
the losses, and the hopes...
of many different creatures.
Our story takes place far
from the bustling cities...
we often think of as China.
It is a story of cranes...
and leopards.
All of whom call China their home.
Among all the creatures
in Chinese mythology...
the crane holds a very special place.
A symbol of longevity
and good fortune...
it is one of the oldest
and most prominent figures
in Chinese art...
dating back thousands of years.
It is said that
when a crane takes flight...
it carries along the spirit
of a departed creature...
from this world to the next.
The Qinghai Plateau in western China...
is the highest
mountain plateau on Earth.
And here, the elusive snow leopard...
rules the range.
This is Dawa.
And this incredible dreamscape
is her home.
At an altitude of
14,000 feet above sea level...
the climate here is
too cold for most mammals.
But Dawa thrives here.
Every part of her body
is designed for this unique terrain...
from her exceptionally long tail...
that helps her maintain balance...
to her gray-dappled fur
that provides the perfect camouflage...
in these rocky surroundings.
Dawa is at the top of her food chain...
and at the top of her game.
She knows every crag
and cranny of this mountain.
This is her turf.
But she's picked up a scent.
An unwelcome visitor.
The intruder knows
she's in Dawa's territory...
but challenges her, nonetheless.
They face off
in a chilling test of nerves.
Dawa must convey strength
or risk a full-on battle.
The intruder finally submits.
Dawa retains her supremacy.
For now.
Dawa is not a feline
to be messed with...
and right now nothing
could shake her resolve.
After all, it's not just
her hunting grounds...
she's protecting.
To her, these two little cubs...
are the most important things on Earth.
Providing for them
and keeping them safe...
is her life's mission.
Far to the east of Dawa...
in the Sichuan mountain
valleys of central China...
a mere 8,000 feet above sea level...
golden snub-nosed monkeys run wild.
Monkeys have long been
figures of rebellion and mischief...
in Chinese folk tales.
And one of the most
mischievous monkeys
on this mountain...
is Tao Tao.
He's the class clown of his troop...
and an aspiring kung fu master.
At two years old...
Tao Tao no longer needs
to be overseen by his parents.
But he still likes
to come home to his father's side...
after a long day of adventuring.
Tao Tao just loves his dad.
His dad, however,
isn't big on showing affection...
leaving TaoTao feeling
a little unappreciated.
Oh, well.
He can always count on his mother
to shower him with attention.
But the recent arrival
of a new baby sister in the family...
has spoiled some of
that maternal magic on the home front.
While monkey families
only have one father...
they each have several mothers,
who all help one another
care for their young.
Tao Tao misses the days
when he used to be
the center of attention...
despite the danger involved.
He's quickly coming to the realization
that he's no longer...
the darling of his family.
This new little bundle of joy
has taken his place.
It seems so unfair...
when all the comfort and acceptance
you've gotten used to...
is suddenly stolen from you.
"Fine, forget it, then!"
This is exactly the kind of thing
that makes a monkey turn to mischief.
Right next door to Tao Tao...
in a lush bamboo forest
on the other side of the mountain...
life is decidedly less stressful.
This is Ya Ya.
A giant panda.
Pandas are basically
the opposite of monkeys.
They're not interested
in stirring up trouble.
They just wanna be left alone to eat...
and relax...
and scratch...
various, different areas.
And once Ya Ya has completed
her morning chores...
she returns to her real focus in life...
her newborn daughter, MeiMei.
Outside of raising cubs...
adult female pandas
live almost completely solitary lives.
So, for Ya Ya...
this is the most
treasured time of her life.
These two will be spending
the next several months...
snuggled up here inside this den.
But then they'll step out
into the world...
and the real journey will begin.
Up in the higher elevations
of western China...
a very different kind
of family roams the plateau.
Chiru antelope are worshipped...
as sacred creatures in this region.
They are the living embodiment...
of nature's back-and-forth,
seasonal cycle.
Every spring,
thousands of female chiru...
embark on an epic journey.
But it's a bittersweet occasion.
They must bid farewell to the males...
who will not see them again
for several months.
In the meantime...
these bucks will have to
make do on their own.
The migration of
these revered creatures...
washes across the mountain plains
of western China...
like an ocean tide.
Their destination?
The legendary Zhuonai Lake...
in the remote uplands
of the Qinghai Plateau.
Dawa's cubs are now old enough...
to venture outside their cave
into the sunshine.
To them, this vast mountain range...
is just one big rocky playground.
Like pandas,
adult snow leopards
live very solitary lives.
So with no one infringing
on her territory...
no competition
for Queen of the Mountain...
she can focus all her attention...
on her young.
Dawa could not be more content.
Nothing compares to being loved
by the ones you love most.
And while Dawa would
love nothing more...
than to just sit back
and watch them climb and play...
she has other responsibilities.
She needs to hunt.
These yaks offer a bounty of meat...
but are far too powerful and dangerous.
She considers this marmot.
No, she doesn't.
- But these glorious creatures?
This is what dinner looks like.
Bharal sheep are Dawa's main prey.
Her intimate knowledge
of her home terrain...
helps her locate her prey
and maneuver them...
into rocky narrows and steep slopes...
where they are
more vulnerable to attack.
Like Dawa, these sheep are
built to survive in these mountains.
Their blanched fur
is the ideal camouflage...
and their strong legs
make them remarkably fast and nimble.
But Dawa is smarter.
Her cubs will go to sleep
with full stomachs tonight.
This one meal
could tide them over for an entire week.
In Dawa's world,
you must take life to give life.
Tao Tao has become
increasingly dejected...
and has been spending a lot of time...
just trying to avoid his little sister,
and his family.
But today, he's come across
some interesting neighbors...
who could change all that.
These are the Lost Boys...
a gang of young male outcasts...
some of them as young as TaoTao.
These guys know all about rejection.
Being a Lost Boy is sort of
like running away to join the circus...
except with fewer rules.
These kids don't seem
to have a care in the world.
This is Rooster...
the leader of the Lost Boys.
He's been in a lot of battles.
You see that eye?
TaoTao's father had a hand in that.
He's certainly taken notice of Tao Tao.
Maybe Tao Tao reminds him
of himself at that age.
Or maybe he just stares at stuff a lot.
In any case, if Tao Tao
has been looking...
for a way to vent his frustrations...
he's come to the right place...
because on this sunny afternoon...
the Lost Boys have invited him...
to play an ancient
traditional monkey game...
called Let's Break Branches.
This is exactly
what TaoTao needs right now.
Some of their shenanigans, however,
go a little too far for Tao Tao.
Like stealing a baby...
for kicks?
But hey...
it's not like it's his sister.
Being mischievous troublemakers...
is exhausting work.
For TaoTao, though,
life with the Lost Boys seems...
pretty sweet.
Goshawks are virtually
the only natural predators
these monkeys have.
And they're always on the lookout
for abandoned babies.
In the blink of an eye,
Tao Tee's world is turned upside down.
That came out of nowhere.
Why wasn't anyone
keeping an eye out?
It's a harsh dose of reality for Tao Tao.
That easily could have
been his little sister.
The summer winds,
carrying the warm scent
of fresh pastures...
have led the chiru
to their sacred destination...
Zhuonai Lake.
And the real purpose
of their heroic journey...
now reveals itself.
The whole fantastic, continuous cycle...
that is chiru existence...
is built on
this first moment of bonding...
between a mother and her baby...
sharing each other's scent.
Miraculously, baby chiru
are able to walk...
within 30 minutes of being born.
It's that "standing still"
part that's so difficult.
Within a few days,
they can run like their mothers.
As mothers and their calves
learn to identify each other by smell...
they're forming the essential,
unbreakable connections...
that bind the herd together
and allow it to survive
its return migration.
Sometimes, it takes a while...
for calves to figure out
whose smell is whose...
and they are gently encouraged
to keep sniffing.
The chiru will stay here
until the calves are capable...
of making their long return journey.
Then their pendulum
will swing back toward home...
where they'll be reunited
with the males they left behind.
Up in the mountains of Sichuan...
the turn of seasons unfurls...
in a breathtaking kaleidoscope of color.
Ya Ya and her baby have finally
emerged from their den of solitude.
It's time for MeiMei to meet the world.
"Well, the baby's been fed...
"and cuddled...
"and put to bed."
"Time for lunch."
Pandas in the wild
eat almost nothing but bamboo.
Up to 40 pounds per day.
of bamboo...
per day.
MeiMei, however,
has a belly full of mother's milk...
and is fully rested.
And there's a whole
new world to explore.
She can't really go anywhere.
At this age, panda cubs
have barely learned to crawl.
But that doesn't diminish
her fascination...
with all these new sights and sounds.
Like this guy.
A red panda.
He's not really a panda at all.
He's actually closer to a raccoon.
MeiMei doesn't care what he is.
She just wants to
climb up there and say hello.
Red pandas spend
almost all their time up in trees...
which makes him
a perfect role model for MeiMei.
Because climbing trees...
is all baby pandas dream about.
There's so much beauty.
It's entrancing.
But behind the beauty...
lurks danger.
"And here we go again."
"Oh, my gosh.
"That was so embarrassing."
Moms are always there
to pick you up when you fall down.
And to drag you around
by the neck afterward.
If she could...
Ya Ya would stay
in this moment forever.
All she wants to do
is hold onto her baby...
and smother her with love.
But MeiMei has had a taste of freedom.
And she likes it.
Pine nuts are only
available in the fall...
and today Rooster and the Lost Boys...
have found a nice patch
all to themselves.
And Tao Tao is making sure
he gets his fair share.
He's been spending almost
all his time with the Lost Boys...
ever since his cute little baby sister
swallowed up his family.
But when TaoTao's father shows up...
with the whole family in tow...
the festive mood changes...
to less festive.
Rooster probably still has
a chip on his shoulder...
about that whole eye thing.
Looks like it's time
for some long-awaited payback.
Tao Tao can't believe this.
Why is Rooster
picking a fight with his father?
The females in Tao Tao's family
rally around their man.
Rooster, however, is on his own.
The Lost Boys only
look out for themselves.
With nobody to back him up...
Rooster beats a hasty retreat.
Tao Tao is torn.
These new pals of his are turning out
to be a bunch of self-centered brats.
Is there anybody in this crazy world
you can actually depend on?
Up on the high plains...
the chiru have embarked
on their journey back home
to rejoin the males.
But the smell of young calves
has attracted followers.
This wolf tests the herd...
trying to separate the little ones.
By now, luckily, those baby legs...
are strong and fast,
just like their mothers'.
The chiru are united.
The bonds between moms
and babies hold strong.
Each calf glued to its mother's scent.
The herd is many...
but the herd is one.
The sheer beauty of China...
manifests itself
in so many different ways...
in so many remote corners.
It sometimes feels like another world.
Under Dawa's nurturing...
her cubs are growing into
two impressive young cats.
And she's just had a successful hunt...
which comes none too soon.
Her cubs are now fully weaned
and hungry for some fresh meat.
They've been watching and learning
the ways of the great hunter...
their morn.
- But suddenly...
across the valley,
the intruder has returned.
This time, with her three grown sons.
Scarcity of prey has brought them
into Dawa's territory...
and they are more than prepared
to take all that is hers.
Dawa's old rival is
much more emboldened...
now that she has reinforcements.
She and Dawa both know...
Dawa would never survive a fight
against all four leopards.
Dawa can't bring herself
to abandon this precious food, though.
Her cubs must eat,
and when it comes to their survival...
Dawa would fight almost any foe.
The trade-off between life and death...
is sometimes a very difficult calculation.
But then the sons move in.
Outnumbered and out-fanged...
Dawa must retreat to guard her cubs.
Not satisfied with merely
stealing Dawa's kill...
the interlopers
now pursue her to let her know...
they're here to stay.
To save her young...
Dawa must take them
and leave the area.
Expelled from their own home.
When your baby
is the cutest, fuzziest creature...
this side of the Yangtze River...
it's not easy to just leave it alone.
At six months old, MeiMei is thinking...
she's ready to move about on her own.
Her mother is thinking...
"Yeah, not so much."
That's a tall tree.
And MeiMei is no expert climber.
"Come on! Mom! I just wanna... Argh!"
Being a helicopter mom
can suffocate a cub's curiosity, though.
For young pandas,
tree climbing is a rite of passage.
When a cub is able to
successfully climb a tree...
it means it can be safe from predators.
A cub that can climb a tree...
is a cub that no longer needs its mother.
"Mom, relax. I got this."
On the plains of Qinghai...
the male chiru stand guard
on the home front...
awaiting the return
of their far-roving females.
The females have
traveled long and far...
to be reunited with their partners.
after being away
from each other for so long...
neither the males nor the females...
have the slightest idea
who their partners are.
But not to worry...
the males are more than happy
to impress new females...
and start new families.
They've spent the entire spring
and summer bulking up...
and vying with each other
for supremacy.
And they're raring
to show off their masculinity.
"Problems with wolves, ladies?"
"Fear not. I'll deal with this scoundrel."
One glance at that
imposing male physique...
and this scrappy little predator
is soon sent on his way.
"It's all good."
"The ice causes a bit of a... whoa!"
Regardless of how they accomplish it...
the herd always comes together again
as one great big family.
And the never-ending tide
of chiru life flows on.
As the temperatures begin to plummet...
the once mighty
Queen of the Mountain...
hasn't made a kill in over a week.
Now, she's forced to share
her unfamiliar new territory...
with more successful rivals.
She must survey the area constantly...
to get the lay of the land
and reestablish her dominion...
with scent markings.
But she's been spotted
by this area's male.
She defends her ground bravely...
but is forced to retreat back to her cubs.
Those playful days of summer...
seem very far away to Dawa right now.
If only a family's love
could determine its fate.
YaYa's instinct is to keep her cub safe.
But she can't protect MeiMei forever.
At some point...
she's going to have to let go.
Just... maybe not today.
Winter turns the dense forest...
into a majestic crystal fantasy land.
This is the first snowfall
Tao Tao's sister has ever seen.
Her pure amazement
is a welcome distraction...
from the hardships of winter.
"What is this stuff?"
"Whatever it is, it's cold."
"Must get to higher ground!"
Yes, snow is a bummer...
and it's really cold on your hands.
The one upside is...
it's a perfect excuse to walk like this.
The cold and scarcity of winter...
has brought the various groups
within the troop together again.
They're so hungry...
they'll eat anything.
Rooster certainly
isn't giving Tao Tao any handouts.
Or warmth.
Or support.
This is what you get...
when you're hooked up
with the Lost Boys.
Rooster is scrapping over food again.
And the hostility is spreading.
Before you know it,
Tao Tao gets drawn into the fray.
Even his little sister
gets caught up in it.
She tries to help her brother
and stop them from fighting...
but there's just
no reasoning with these animals.
TaoTao's father
wants nothing to do with it.
There's barely any food here
to fight over anyway.
He packs up his family and heads off...
to lower, warmer territory.
With the cold biting at his bones...
Tao Tao is longing for some comfort.
For someone, anyone,
to just keep him warm.
He misses his family.
Up until now,
he's resisted going back to them.
Maybe he's still bitter about his sister.
Maybe he's trying to
prove something to his father.
Who knows?
Right now, he needs warmth.
He abandons the Lost Boys...
and follows his family.
His sister welcomes him back.
But life isn't always that simple.
His father won't let him in.
TaoTao has no one to turn to.
He's run out of options.
Between winter's wrath...
and plain old bad luck...
Dawa's hunting successes
have been few and far between.
But these sheep,
seeking shelter from the weather...
have just moved within range.
Something terrible happens, though.
The snow has concealed jagged rocks,
and Dawa has injured her paw.
Dawa knows
if she and her cubs are to survive...
she must be
in top physical condition to hunt.
It looks like Tao Tao has finally...
been allowed to rejoin the family furball.
Or more like cling onto the outside of it.
As long as he's willing to help
protect the family against the cold...
his father will let him stay.
It's better than freezing all alone.
At least his little sister
looks happy to see him.
Maybe Tao Tao is finally learning
the true value of family.
Or maybe he's just really cold.
In China...
some believe the panda to be
the living embodiment...
of the yin and yang concept...
the curved black-and-white
patterns of its fur...
mimicking the symbol itself.
This duality of opposing forces
exists everywhere in nature.
But perhaps nowhere more so...
than in the mounting relationship
between Ya Ya and MeiMei.
The push and pull between
freedom and protection...
is coming to a head.
Ya Ya wants so badly...
to hold on to her precious daughter
and keep her safe.
But MeiMei has an uncontrollable...
evolutionary urge to just climb.
And yeah, sure,
the kid has some issues with gravity.
But so what? Life is risky.
She's going to fall down.
And then, she'll get back up.
But at some point,
she has to do it on her own.
And today is that day.
As deep as YaYa's love
for her daughter is...
there is a force that is stronger.
A force of nature.
And it's pulling them apart.
She's going for it.
The day you climb a tree on your own...
without falling out of it...
is a big day.
Ya Ya may be
a slightly overprotective mother...
but she's raised
one extraordinary little panda.
She also knows...
it will soon be time to say goodbye.
The joy a mother receives...
from raising a cub from birth, however...
is worth a thousand farewells.
Springtime means more food.
More fleas.
And more babies.
Which, in turn, means...
more baby fever.
Though Tao Tao is getting along better
with his family lately...
he's understandably been spending
less time around his father.
And a lot more time by himself.
Tao Tao's sister is growing up, too.
She's starting to
show off her own personality.
She's at an age now
where her mother can leave her alone...
to go forage for food.
Or for someone else's baby.
But wherever there are little babies...
goshawks are not far away.
Tao Tao spots the predator
and sounds the alarm.
The troop scrambles for cover.
All little ones are accounted for.
Except for one. Tao Tao's sister.
But Tao Tao has been
keeping an eye on her...
and leaps into action.
He reaches her just in time.
Tao Tao has never felt so valued.
He acted on pure instinct
to protect his sister.
And that brave act
has made him realize...
that he's grown up.
A lot.
His dad is definitely happy
to have him back in the fold.
The young outcast
without a care in the world...
has grown up into the family hero.
He's certainly a hero
in his sister's eyes.
Back up on the high plateau...
the winter snow
lingers well into spring...
and Dawa is still fighting
to provide for her cubs.
The injury to her foot
has greatly hampered
her hunting ability...
and she no longer has the speed
to chase down prey...
as fast as these wild sheep.
But an opportunity arises.
In springtime,
domesticated yaks are released...
to graze in the higher elevations.
These beasts are
10 times as heavy as Dawa...
and one blow from
those powerful horns could be fatal.
Going up against
a whole herd is like attacking an army.
But her cubs are relying on her.
It's now or never.
The calf's mother
rallies to save her baby.
Dawa refuses to let go.
She knows this is her last chance.
But a yak mother's will
to protect her young...
is just as strong as Dawa's.
The yak strikes Dawa
hard with her horns.
Dawa is injured badly.
One mother's brave rescue
of her baby...
is another's tragic failure to feed hers.
In Chinese mythology,
when a life ends...
a crane carries that soul...
to rejoin the cycle of birth and rebirth.
From the end to the beginning.
Time pushes this cycle ever forward.
The young become adults.
The adults grow old.
And the old are reborn.
Death is not the end.
It is merely a waypoint
in a circle that continues endlessly.
Every creature plays its part...
in this great cyclical symphony.
Each life lived...
is just one beat
in the larger beautiful rhythm.
This vast land breeds
both love and hardship.
But in the hardship...
there is hope.
This is where they live.
This is where they die.
This is where they grow.
This is where they are born.
In China.
We tried to take
some time-lapses of the landscape.
As you might see right now...
the light is not very interesting.
But the good thing is...
the weather is changing
every half an hour.
So, if you don't like
the weather or the light...
you just have to wait a little bit
and everything changes again.
Got a snow leopard
sneaking up on blue sheep.
It doesn't get any better than this!
CREW MEMBER: Now it's hailing.
Perhaps in half an hour,
it will be beautiful sunshine.
So, it's just a waiting game.
CREW MEMBER 1: I'm done With it.
Go ahead.
He's looking at the monitor.
(CHUCKLES) Oh! The camera moves.
- Okay, it's, again,
half an hour later.
- And now it's snowing.
We have rolling mist
and a proper thunderstorm.
But I'm still convinced that
if we wait another half an hour...
we will have
best conditions for my time-lapse.
It's really wonderful
getting so intimate...
with the early family life
of such a rare and beautiful bird.