Asian Aussies, please take note that the Australian release date of Lulu Wang’s Sundance London Award winning film “THE FAREWELL” is September 5, but for those who have won the jackpot and got to check out the film at the closing of the Melbourne International Film Festival (just this past Friday), then you were definitely in for a treat. Without providing any “major” spoilers, I can say that “THE FAREWELL” is one of the best movies I have seen all year. Not only because it is an “Asian” and/or “Chinese” story, but more so because it is a film which can connect with everyone at different levels. It is told with both an original and authentic voice and it really delves into the depths of the unknown in family relationships and really asks the question of whether “honesty” benefits or disadvantages family relationships and dynamics.
As a Chinese Australian (born and raised in Australia), I grew up feeling conflicted about whether I was more “Australian” or more “Chinese” – whatever that means. I really felt like I didn’t fit into any one identity mold and that made me self doubt which caused extreme self hate about who I was. And I think this is something I and many others who have seen the film took away – that idea of feeling distant from the “motherland” and trying to reconcile these feelings with extended family abroad in Asia. But the film was more than this, it really looked into the ins and outs of family dynamics, the battle of living in the West as opposed to living in the East and accepting different cultural norms no matter how immoral and wrong they appear to be. This cuts to the core of many Chinese and I would say most Asian diaspora families and this is why “THE FAREWELL” stands out as significant.
In saying all this, I had the opportunity to interview Asian/Chinese Australian actress DIANA LIN, who plays “JIAN”, the mother of “BILLI” (played by AWKWAFINA) and wife of “HAIYAN” ( played by TZI MA). Her character is essentially the “glue” which keeps the family together in trying to be the force which brings her “American” daughter to understand what being “Chinese” really means. But before I get into the interview, here is a quick synopsis of what the film is about (via IMDB):
“A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.”
A simple plot line, but one which bought out so many themes, conundrums, and family dynamics relate-able to anyone who comes from an Asian/Chinese background. As I mentioned above, “JIAN” played by LIN is one of the most significant characters as she is the embodiment of most if not all our Chinese/Asian first generation migrant mothers. She works hard and does it all for the family dedicating her life to this work to ensure the family unit runs smoothly. She is resilient and straddles between being Chinese and being first generation Chinese American. I asked Lin about her character and touched on the cultural norm of “saving face” (mian zi/ 面子).
DIANA LIN: It is interesting you ask this question. Personally “JIAN” is nothing like my own mum. My mum is amazingly open minded despite the fact that she lives in China. But I think that is the difference, my mum lives in China, whereas “JIAN” represents the traits of most mothers living outside of China and Asia – predominantly in the West. I think espcially when the children like “BILLI” grow up in the USA or other Western countries, mothers like “JIAN” must try harder to bridge the cultural gap, but also to ensure the children and family can enjoy life and prepare for the family’s future and success.
Before acting in this role, I got the opportunity to meet LULU WANG’S mum and spend time with her and learn what her personality is like so that I could act well and in character. I think when you mention “saving face” (mian zi/ 面子) , it is not something you can act out, but it comes through in the actions of “JIAN” in how she works hard and works only for the sake of the family.
One thing which I thought was so cool ( and yes it made me jealous) was how LIN got to play the role of mother to AWKWAFINA’S character “BILLI”. Just the thought of working so closely and intimately with AWKWAFINA blows my mind, so I had to ask LIN how that was and how that all felt:
DIANA LIN: Yes it definitely was great. To be honest, I first didn’t really know her well until we arrived in China. When I first met AWKWAFINA I immediately noticed how unique she is and when we started working together we had natural chemistry. AWKWAFINA told me that I reminded her of her own grandmother ( who is Chinese) and I got the opportunity to Facetime with her grandmother. We spoke a lot and I got to learn so much about AWKWAFINA and her family history, and it was a great way for me to really get to know who she is and what she is about so I could sync my character well with hers in the movie.
And what about the relationship between “JIAN” and “NAI NAI” (played by SHUZHEN ZHAO). Considering the film was focused around all the different family relationships and dynamics, I found this particular one interesting in that the film left clues that “JIAN” has still yet to impress “NAI NAI” as a daughter in law, despite the fact “JIAN” has been the daughter in law for decades.
DIANA LIN: I think this type of relationship between mother in law and daughter in law is common for many Chinese and possibly Asian families. Chinese families, especially those in China always feel the daughter in laws are never good enough, particularly when the mother in law becomes the matriarch in the family. For LULU, her grandmother was the family boss and the matriarch of the family. LULU’S mother herself is very strong and independent so you can imagine the dynamics between two strong Chinese women. This is the same thing with both “JIAN” and “NAI NAI”, and their relationship. That doesn’t mean LULU’S grandmother or “NAI NAI” in the film don’t love their daughters in laws, it is more that they may be perceived as not “good enough” and that in some ways is a push for them to strive to be the best mothers and daughter in laws.
Finally, I asked LIN on her thoughts about how “THE FAREWELL” would be received in Australia when it is widely released (on September 5). I know for me it triggered so much familiarity and resonated greatly with my own upbringing, and considering its success in the USA on opening weekend and its award at Sundance, I can only predict that this success will be duplicated in Australia:
DIANA LIN: I think because it is story based on truth and authenticity it is easy for anyone watching it to relate to. In our day to day lives where we are busy it is easy to forget about the importance of family and I feel “THE FAREWELL” is a great reminder for this. LULU is very talented and I feel so honored to be part of bringing her own life story to fruition. The pace of the film was great and its success is and will come for (in Australia) because it is an original story and one which comes from the heart.
What an awesome interview and please Asian Aussies go check out “THE FAREWELL” when it is released on September 5, and take all your family and friends to watch it too. When we talk about representation in the Western mainstream film and other media we always forget that it is even more important to show representation in authentic and original storytelling like “THE FAREWELL”. If we want to continue to see more stories like this come to life on the big screen, then we must continue to support it by getting out there on opening weekend and checking it out.
REMEMBER IT WILL BE RELEASED ON SEPTEMBER 5 ( I know I have reminded you a few times already in this piece)…
Images via YouTube, Central Maine and Variety