Film synopsis (YouTube Movies): Billi’s family returns to China under the guise of a fake wedding to stealthily say goodbye to their beloved matriarch — the only person that doesn’t know she only has a few weeks to live.
Written and Directed by Lulu Wang.
Disclaimer: This reflection contains spoilers, though they aren’t significant. Read at your own discretion. (Or watch the movie first. It’s free on Amazon Prime Video.)
I’ll be honest–the first time I watched The Farewell, I fell asleep halfway through the movie. Perhaps I was unused to the slow pace of the plot, or perhaps I was just sleepy that day. Either way, I knew that I’d still watch the film again one day because I’d heard too many good things about it to never give it a rewatch. That day was today, and I loved it.
Through the first couple of scenes, I watched the movie passively, following the plot and finding the story interesting, though not remarkable. However, this perception changed due to one particular scene–the scene where Billi and her uncle walked through the night streets of China to her hotel, and her uncle drilled into her again and again the necessity of staying silent. I don’t know if it was the nostalgia of the illuminated neon signs or the exhausted, dutiful I knows that Billi constantly responded with, but I began to reflect a bit on my Korean-American identity. I remembered how foreign yet at home I felt when I visited Korea many years ago, and how indifferent I’d grown to the Korean aspect of my identity, especially recently. I realized that I’d become more distant from the unspoken cultural rules of Korea, instead much more familiar with those of America. I realized that I had begun to confuse “traditional” with “outdated.” Especially in the scene where Billi sobbed for all both she and her parents sacrificed in moving to the States, I realized that I should hold my memories and tie to my Korean heritage more sacredly and preciously, because though I may not have the advantage of proximity to constantly remind me of it, I’m grounded in Korean roots nonetheless.
Also, I don’t know a lot about filmmaking, but I thought the film was very artfully, beautifully made. Every detail, from the music to the seemingly insignificant scenes, all served as such integral details in carrying out the theme of family and collectivism. One scene I really admired was when, upon arriving home with her sister, Nai Nai had a brief coughing fit. Though this scene lasted under a minute, as Nai Nai shooed away her sister and demanded she not worry, I realized how subtly yet perfectly this scene captured the family dynamic. And later, the scene where Billi’s umbrella flipped inside out amidst the rain and the chaos was also just such a small yet necessary detail that made me appreciate the film all the more. Finally, the brief clip where the entire family (minus Nai Nai) stared straight into the camera and collectively walked down the street was so powerful. The symbolism, the pain, the adamance in their eyes–it was chilling. I feel like this sort of second-by-second control in which seemingly random scenes can be used to build up the atmosphere and tone of the story is a freedom granted largely to filmmaking, and this movie really made me see and appreciate the distinction between playwriting and writing screenplays a lot more.
Another thing I realized throughout the film was that the slow pace was definitely necessary. I feel like movies/books tend to be attractive for their drama, their rapidly moving plots, their action, but this film was attractive for just the opposite. Oftentimes, life is not and should not be lived too quickly, and instead, we need to contemplate, to drive, to reflect. Personally, the pauses between and within the scenes were what allowed me to reflect on my own Asian-American heritage, and I just really loved how the intention that went into every aspect of the film was so clear.
And finally, this film reminded me of the importance of the arts, of storytelling. I placed a lot of expectation on this film because I was so excited for the representation, and although I could relate to a lot of the scenes, I kept feeling like something was missing, like I’d never be able to fully appreciate the film because I simply just hadn’t undergone terribly similar experiences. However, this frustration made me realize that this is why storytelling exists, why more representation is always necessary. Everyone has their own story and no one will never ever be able to fully relate to others’, but it’s the bits and pieces (some chunks larger than others) that you gather from different stories that help someone to realize that they aren’t alone in their experiences.
This film was striking and inspiring in more ways than one. It was reflective yet loud, still yet chaotic, and all-in-all such a beautiful movie that I highly recommend. 🙂