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Go See The Farewell If You, Or People You Care About, Are Huayi

Jan 20, 2020 | 17:01 Mon
It’s been rainy and cold. The Chinese New Year mass exodus has already begun. So what better way to spend January in Shanghai than to watch a movie. The Farewell is an indie comedy-drama film about a Chinese-American family returning to Changchun to visit their terminally ill matriarch for the last time. Known in China as 别告诉她 ("Don't Tell Her"), the movie opened in cinemas on January 10. It goes out of theaters this week. You should go see it!

Like its Asian-American predecessor, Crazy Rich Asians, the film didn’t resonate with the Chinese audience as well as it did in the nation of immigrants. It generated less in opening sales, but earned a higher rating on Douban. It also got a boost from lead actress Awkwafina’s Golden Globe win, the first Asian-American to net Best Actress.

The main character, Billi, is an amalgamation of different cultures, and cultural values, and struggles with the family’s decision to not tell her grandma about the terminal cancer diagnosis.

The Farewell is a present-day immigrant story. What happens after the move to a new country. What the next generation experiences. What happens to family ties in the former home country. It's also a universal tear-jerker about caring for a dying loved one. How to approach a terminal cancer diagnosis, and the final goodbyes.

Director Lulu Wang writes her own intimate family story, and by doing so creates space for the huayi experience in the collective cultural mind. Still seen as a novelty, the racially Chinese, "huayi" occupies a confusing space in this monoethnic country.

I was thoroughly satisfied. For those who might not connect as viscerally to the character’s experience, the movie is a peek into your huayi friend’s life. As a Chinese-American, I recommend other huayi see it as well. You will get the pleasure of empathizing with so many things. “People question me like that hotel manager does all the time!” “I’ve burnt paper money for my great grandparents to use too!” This must be what it feels like to be catered to by mass media. It’s nice.

Act fast and catch it at this theater in the Kerry Center, or this theater near Jiaotong University, before the film ends its run this week. Or buy it online to watch at home.


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