Before I begin this review, please take note that I am writing from a half Asian, half NZ background – a bias which is close to my heart. While scoping out my fellow critics when waiting for the critics screening to start, I failed to see another Asian, so perhaps this review will slightly differ in views.
Filial Peity; n.
In Confucian, Chinese Buddhist and Taoist ethics, filial piety is a virtue of respect for one’s parents, elders, and ancestors.
The Farewell, is easily this decade’s version of Wayne Wang’s The Joy Luck Club and Wolfgang Becker’s Goodbye, Lenin! The push and tug of East and West, old and new, and young and old is a classic story which is revamped with relatable values of the millennial generation. The premise of the movie sounds like a comedy of errors – the Matriarchal Grandmother is diagnosed with cancer, only she has no idea she is on death’s doorstep. The family, fearing it may be the last time they will see her plan an outrageous family gathering to get all relatives from around the world to come home to mainland China – a wedding between her grandson and a sweet, bewildered young woman who not only doesn’t speak any mandarin, but also only been seeing the bridegroom for 3 months. It sounds like something only Monty Python can concoct.
Cue the heroine Billi (Awkwafina) to anchor us back down to earth – though loved by her family, is an unemployed, single, 20-something and you can see the disappointment in her parent’s eyes. She immigrated to New York as a child and struggles to hold her tongue with this whole debacle.
While I thought I was sitting down for a bilingual comedy, Ms Wang cleverly uses still location shots to build a comparison and draw similarities of downtown New York and the bleakness of densely populated China. Slowly, and with use of the strategic lack of music and intense Panavision lenses we are invited to feel the struggle alongside Billi to learn that being Chinese is more than just living in China or being born to Chinese parents, and that Filial Piety is strong and all encompassing. “It is our duty as family to carry the burden of dying for her”. Deep.
The film does manage to throw some laughs in for good measure. A common practise in Asian cultures is to burn fake money at the gravesite of loved ones in the belief that it passes through and the departed will have money to spend on whatever they need. In the Farewell, we briefly see the family burning cardboard iPads and iPhones for their departed grandfather. We also see the family engage is some rather rambunctious drinking games on the wedding night.
The Farewell is catapulting off the success of Crazy Rich Asians to cement itself within the Asian-American Indie Film scene. Awkwafina’s debut lead role was emotional and staunch, and was bolstered by Tzi Ma and Diana Lim, both actors of moderate success. The story was told with such intricacy, tension and heart wrenching reality that this film will stand the test of time.