Lulu Wang’s Golden Globe-nominated ‘The Farewell’ will ring many bells for those of us trapped between two cultures

Posted on January 4, 2020


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In Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet, a Caucasian/Chinese gay couple in Manhattan pretends to be straight for the benefit of the parents of the Chinese man, who are visiting. Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is a sort of spiritual successor, and it travels in the other direction of the globe. Here, it’s about a woman in China who’s got cancer, and she cannot be told she’s dying, so her family from all over gathers in her home for one last… see that title again! Like in Lee’s movie, everyone pretends, everyone plays a part. Lee’s movie was more about prejudices and assumptions, less about differences in cultures. The Farewell – Golden Globe-nominated for Best Actress – Musical or Comedy (Awkwafina, as the US-based Billi) and Best Foreign Language Film – is more about an American woman grappling with Chinese traditions.

There is, for instance, the reason no one wants to tell Mrs Zhao (Billi’s grandmother, who she calls Nai Nai) she is dying. At the hospital, Billi meets the doctor. He’s studied in the UK, so he speaks English. When he says the cancer is quite advanced, Billi asks if they should tell Nai-Nai. The doctor says, “In her situation, most families in China would choose not to tell her. When my grandmother had cancer, my family didn’t tell her.” Billi thinks that this is a lie, that this is wrong. The doctor, a man educated in the “West” but still rooted enough in the “East”, says: “I mean if it’s for good, it’s not really a lie. I mean, it’s still a lie. It’s a good lie.” (The film opens with the note: “Based on an actual lie.”)

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