Lulu Wang’s surprising Chinese-American hit interweaves compassion and disconnect

In order to make the most of a loved one’s last days, is it a good idea to hide from her that she’s dying? One’s perspective on this question, suggests director Lulu Wang in The Farewell, depends on one’s culture.

Adapted from an episode Wang wrote for NPR’s podcast series This American Life, the story is based on Wang’s experience with her own terminally ill grandmother. Wang’s family drama opened in US theaters in July amid rising interest in Asian American media, exemplified by last summer’s Crazy Rich Asians and this May’s Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe.

But unlike these more derivative works—a modern Cinderella story and a When Harry Met Sally remake, respectively—Wang’s second feature film is shot almost 75 percent in Mandarin, with a central premise that may be puzzling or alienating to American theatergoers. And still, it managed to shatter the year’s per-theater box office record set by Avengers: Endgame on its opening weekend.

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The Farewell is a story from our issue, “The Good Life.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


Donna Karimi is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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