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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

May 6, 2021



‘THE FAREWELL’ is an English-Chinese film written and directed by another Asian female, Lulu Wang, sister of Malou (joke! Sorry, can’t resist po.)

It was shot in New York City and Changchun, China and stars Chinese-American actress-rapper Awkwafina, who appeared in Hollywood hits like “Ocean’s 8”, “Jumanji: Next Level” and “Crazy Rich Asians”. 

She won the Golden Globe best actress in comedy award for her performance in “The Farewell” last year, but the Oscars ignored her and also the film itself that was nominated in other award-giving bodies. Awkwafina plays Billi Wang, an aspiring writer in New York City. 

Her parents left China and moved to America when she was 5 years old, but she remains very close to her grandma in China, who she calls Nai Nai (Zhao Shu-zhen). The film starts with her talking on the cellphone to her Nai Nai who’s then having a medical checkup in the hospital. 

She later learns from her parents that her Nai Nai has stage 4 lung cancer and is given only three months to live. 

But the doctor's diagnosis is not revealed to her as it’s a belief in China that it’s best for family members not to reveal the truth to a relative that he or she is dying to spare her from the agony. Billi cannot understand this as she’d rather tell the truth to her grandma right away.

Billi learns that her parents are going home to China, ostensibly to attend the wedding of Hao Hao, Billi’s cousin who lives in Japan and has a Japanese bride. 

It’s a great excuse for a family reunion so they can have a great time with Nai Nai before she departs. Billi wants to come but she’s told to just stay in New York as she might slip and just tell the truth to her Nai Nai.

But Billi defies her parents and follows them to China. Her Nai Nai is so happy to see her and Billi feels more guilty lying to her about the real condition of her health. 

Her uncle, brother of her dad, tells her that, with not telling the truth, it’s the family who carries the burden of the illness rather than the patient herself. Billi is reared in Western culture and cannot understand this. 

She’s told that Nai Nai herself did this when her own husband was stricken with a terminal illness and didn’t tell the truth to Billi’s grandpa. The movie’s climax is the wedding banquet where all the family members and their guests are assembled. 

Tears are shed, the groom gets drunk, speeches are delivered and everything goes well, with Nai Nai not getting suspicious at all.

The film is a well acted comedy-drama that shows the universality of themes revolving around the family, no matter what your nationality or culture maybe. 

Filipinos can easily relate with the family members of Nai Nai who choose to leave for abroad to seek greener pastures and just visit her in China every now and then. 

Our own siblings now live in the U.S. and Australia and we can totally connect with the situations they are into.

Nai Nai maybe meddlesome and makulit, but she’s so lovable. She’s so concerned with Billi because she’s already 30 years old and doesn’t even have a boyfriend yet. 

Before she leaves back for New York, Billy gets a red envelope from Nai Nai. She tells her grandma not to give her money but she’s told to just spend it whatever way she wants to. 

She says she wants to stay in China but Nai Nai tells her to return to America and live her own life. She shares with Billi some valuable nuggets of wisdom she can take home with her to America. 

No, the ending is not a tearjerker. This is a feel good movie. As a matter of fact, it amazingly ends on a light and happy note. 

Awkwafina as a Chinese-American conflicted between the push and pull of her origins and acquired culture, and Zhao Shu-zhen as her traditional and very caring grandma are both impressive in their respective roles.

Awkwafina is known for her comic brashness but here, she shows a different side and balances the yin and yang of her two identities expertly.

She switches from her Asian to American personas so effortlessly and this is evident in the opening scene where she is shown talking respectfully in Chinese on the phone to her Nai Nai then switches to American-accented English and even cracks a joke when a black girl on the street talks to her. 

Zhao here as the dominant matriarch Nai Nai actually gives an even more effective and endearing performance than the Korean actress who won the Oscar for “Minari”. 

Also giving great support is Diana Lin as Billi’s mother who admits that she doesn’t get along well with her mother in law as Nai Nai can be very controlling. 

We specially like that scene where Billi argues that Nai Nai only deserves to be told the truth about her fate and her mom replies: “Chinese people have a saying: when people get cancer, they die. But it’s not the cancer that kills them, it’s the fear.” 

Lulu Wang is one of today’s insightful female Asian writer-directors working in Hollywood. The other one is Alice Wu who also did superior work in “The Half of It”, which is about a Chinese girl in rural America that we will review next. 

Chloe Zhao is so lucky the Oscars lionized her “Nomadland”, but we honestly find “The Farewell” an even more charming and entertaining film than that Oscar winner. 

“The Farewell” manages to tackle not only the cultural differences experienced by Asians who migrate and grow up in America then revisit their homeland, but also about the intricacies and vagaries of familial love and why blood is really thicker than water. 

It is sentimental, bittersweet and definitely more heartwarming.