Lulu Wang's 'The Farewell' Is Based On An Actual Lie
Speaker 1: 00:00 The farewell was a hit at the Sundance film festival earlier this year. It's director Lulu Wong stopped by the KPBS studios to speak with arts reporter Beth Armando about making a film inspired by her own life. Speaker 2: 00:13 Lulu, your film is advertised on. The poster is based on a lie, so explain what that means. It was my way, I guess to say this is based on a true story, but even the true story itself is about a lie that was told to my actual grandmother and what was that lie? The lie was that we were all coming home to China for the wedding of my cousin, but in fact the wedding was staged by my family as an excuse to see my grandmother and say goodbye to her because she had cancer and the doctor told her she had three months to live, but they decided not to tell her that she was ill. So that's why the wedding was necessary. So she wouldn't be suspicious when everybody suddenly rushed home to see her. And I understand the roots for this film came from a, this American life episode. Speaker 2: 01:05 How did that come about? As a filmmaker, I initially wanted to make this as a film, always have wanted to make it as a film, but found it really difficult to find the right partners who would support the vision of the film that I had. And there was a lot of um, producers who liked the concept initially, but want it to make it a much broader film and it's not the film that I wanted to make. So I set it aside because I thought if I can't tell the story the way I want to tell it, then I'd rather not do it at all. But I had the urge to tell the story. So I wrote it down as a short story and I met a producer from this American life and pitched him that story and it got picked up and you know, we, between writing it and recording it, it took about two months. Speaker 2: 01:51 And as soon as it aired, within 48 hours, producers were calling me to make it into a film. And what that did was it gave me the ability to pick the producer who would ultimately fight for my vision. And my version of the story. And what was it about the story that was most important to you in terms of what you wanted to convey? I wanted to convey that it's not a story where there's a right or wrong, it's not a story about plot, it's a story about what it feels like as a family when you were separated by an ocean and you start to change based on the country where you move to, you start to have different value systems and then what it means when you go back to your home country and you see the differences between you and that family that you left and you still love them, but you see the world in very different ways. Speaker 2: 02:48 And so I didn't want to tell a story where it was all about the wedding and the banquet and uh, the broad comedy of that or even, you know, it's a very high story and a lot of hilarity ensues. But it was very important to me to portray a specific type of humor and not a kind of humor where you're making fun of people or laughing at the family, but were you really are sympathetic to what they're going through. The character that Aquafina plays is kind of an alter ego for you, I suppose you could say that. Yeah. And so were you born in China and then grew up mostly in the United States? I was, yeah. And one of the scenes that I thought was really effective was when Aquafina's character confronts her uncle, I believe about keeping the secret. And he points out kind of the cultural differences. Speaker 2: 03:40 And can you talk a little bit about those kinds of cultural differences that you wanted to highlight? Yeah, I think there's a fundamental difference between eastern and Western culture. I think that in America we, we very much value the individual freedom truth, which all surround the values of foreign individual. But in China, I won't speak for everybody else, but in China it's very much about the collective. It's about family, it's about society. And there's this notion of the things that we do to carry someone's burden for them, that it isn't up to them to decide how do I deal with this? And I must know so I can choose how to do it, but there's just a collective vision and that's what's so beautiful, but it also comes with its own challenges and pressures. The farewell opens Friday and Select San Diego theaters. Listen to the full interview on Beth's Cinema Junkie podcast. Speaker 3: 04:36 [inaudible].