UC San Diego’s University Centers hosted a special early screening of Lulu Wang’s drama The Farewell at Price Center Theater on May 23. The film follows Chinese American woman Billi and her homecoming after her grandmother is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The family reunites under the guise of an elaborate wedding, concocted as a means to bid Nainai, unaware of her numbered days, a final farewell. The film event saw an excellent turnout, exceeding the maximum capacity of the theater.
Wang’s second feature-film is a semi-autobiographical exploration of the Asian American experience. A common theme in this film is the contrasting and oftentimes conflicting Western and Eastern philosophies regarding morality, individuality, and responsibility. The film portrays Chinese culture as a foil to the West.
In one notable scene, Billi’s uncle Haibin tells her that the fundamental difference between the two regions is that in the East, a person’s life is defined by their role in the larger whole. By telling her grandmother of her condition, Billi is acting selfishly by relieving herself of the guilt and burden of carrying her grandmother’s diagnosis, rather than bearing it for her and maintaining a filial duty. This line presented a completely new perspective that left me as a Chinese American contemplating my own beliefs of what is morally right.
Although the relevance with which Wang portrays the first-generation Chinese American experience will differ among individuals, it is undeniable that the film leaves you emotionally impacted to some extent. The Farewell is well-crafted, subtly touching in its depiction of everyday family life, and heartfelt with its authenticity. Often oscillating between comedy and drama, the film offers scenes that make you laugh out loud, balanced by those that make you sniffle along with the rest of the audience.
Prior to the screening of the film, Wang voiced her intention to make the movie as personal and as much in her own voice as possible, not limited by genre or by Hollywood’s ideas of what is considered marketable. In this respect, she succeeds immensely, by transforming a tale of personal woes into a film that resonates with audiences everywhere.
The Farewell will be released on July 12, 2019 by A24. Watch the official trailer here.
Ashley Hirao is a Staff Writer for The Triton.