For the international Chinese students at UCSB, fisherman and restaurateur Tingsheng Wang’s Isla Vista eatery The Dumpling King gives a feeling of a home away from home.
When senior film and media studies major Zizheng “Boris” Liu met Mr. Wang two years ago, the film student from Beijing became fascinated by the restaurant owner’s persistence as he would catch fish in the waters off of Santa Barbara Harbor and cook his catch for the restaurant’s clientele.
Mr. Liu also recognized in Mr. Wang the feelings of loneliness that afflict him and many other international Chinese students as they try to find their way in their new home, a feeling that he tried to capture in “The Dumpling King,” a short documentary he made about Mr. Wang that will play at the Arlington Theatre as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Santa Barbara Documentary Short’s program.
In an interview with the News-Press, the student filmmaker cited two initial reasons for making a documentary about Mr. Wang and his work.
“Firstly, his dumplings are really good, and I think his life is really interesting because he is a fisherman in Santa Barbara,” he said.
Mr. Liu first met Mr. Wang shortly after The Dumpling King first opened. The restaurant became a go-to spot for him and UCSB’s other Chinese international students, who frequent the establishment as a place of comfort.
He said of The Dumpling King and its owner, “I think he is special because his dumpling restaurant is kind of a home-like place for me and the other international students.”
Mr. Wang makes his authentic Chinese dumplings with ingredients that he catches fresh in the waters of Santa Barbara Harbor in the early hours of the morning. Much of Mr. Liu’s seven-minute documentary consists of long takes showing the fisherman at work on his boat. Mr. Liu said being on the boat with Mr. Wang was the most interesting part of making the documentary, even though the vessel’s swaying caused him to feel dizzy after about twenty minutes. However it made him feel physically, watching Mr. Wang fish reinforced to Mr. Liu why he admires the restaurant owner so much, that he is “humble and persistent.”
Capturing Mr. Wang as he waits on the boat for his next catch through long takes was meant to give “The Dumpling King” a contemplative feel that reflects that persistence he shows while at work. In order to aesthetically convey the feelings of loneliness that Mr. Wang shares in common with him and many international Chinese students, Mr. Liu decided on a color palette of blue and gray to heighten the film’s introspective tone.
Furthermore, this contemplative feeling is made all the more apparent by the fact that Mr. Wang doesn’t speak until very late in the film. According to Mr. Liu, when he finally does speak it’s a line about the patience that he displays each time he goes out to sea to catch ingredients for his restaurant.
Translated from Chinese, Mr. Wang says, “If you wait there’s a chance. If you don’t wait, there’s no chance at all.”
To Mr. Liu this line encapsulates Mr. Wang as a person. A person who, in his opinion, is a model for everyone to follow.
“I think it sums up who he is and tells me what a person should do,” Mr. Liu said.
“The Dumpling King” will screen today at 5 p.m. at the Arlington Theatre, located at 1317 State St.