Film Review: THE FAREWELL (USA 2019) ***

The Farewell Poster
Trailer

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.

Director:

Lulu Wang

Writer:

Lulu Wang

Awkwafina (last seen in CRAZY RICH ASIANS) gets a starring role as Billi, a Chinese American who learns that her beloved grandmother aka Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) still living in China has three months to live after being diagnosed with cancer.  The family decide not to tell Nai Nai of her illness. Instead the family organize a wedding so that the entire family will travel back to China to spend time with her before she passes away.  Hence the film title THE FAREWELL. Billi was not invited to the wedding/farewell as the family fear that she cannot hide her feelings but she shows up in China unannounced from New York City.

The titles cleverly state at the start of the film; “Based on an actual lie.”  THE FAREWELL starts off a little humorously as director Wang introduces the somewhat dysfunctional family who aim to do good.  The idea is that the family takes on the emotional burden off the grandmother if she does not know.  Half way through the movie, it will hit (as it did me) whether what transpires is legal. i.e. will the doctors allow that illness be kept for the patient as requested by the family.  The answer is supplied right outwards – a good thing – in the middle of the movie.  It is not allowed in America but is allowed in China.

Director Wang is more serious that light in her treatment of the material.  Though there are always laughs on the horizon of every scene, the sombre mood is also pressing.  Despite the simple story which is suspense less, Wang keeps her film running at a good pace.  It is more the family interaction at play than the knowledge of whether Nai Nai will discover the truth at the end.  At the end of the matter, whether Nai Nai finds out or who tells her is immaterial to the plot.

Wang captures the behavioural  mores typical Chinese family.  Important are the big meals,  the obsessive ‘fussy’ care over the young and old, the need to keep a stiff upper lip among others.  Other issues the are also important include the relationship between mother and daughter-in-law.  Billi’s mother complains that Nai Nai was always boss in the home when she married her son, which implies the probable reason they left China for America.

The farewell is not the perfect drama as the film contains many glaring flaws including the tacked on happy ending.  Still THE FAREWELL is a sincere drama aided by a solid dramatic performance by Awkwafina who previously only has been seen in comedic roles.  The film is entertaining and sheds light on the difference of cultures, in a good way, and also of respect and the difficulty a family to get along. There is nothing forced in the film, and the story unfolds smoothly that should leave the audience not only satisfied but with a  warm fuzzy feeling.

Chinese American films have always done well and have been well made like this one (and with a strong feminine protagonist too), the recent Netflix original, ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE and of course, CRAZY RICH ASIANS.  There is a large target audience of North American Chinese and hopefully, there will be more films to cater towards this group.

Trailer:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RofpAjqwMa8

Film Review: THE FAREWELL (USA 2019) ***

The Farewell Poster
Trailer

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.

Director:

Lulu Wang

Writer:

Lulu Wang

Awkwafina (last seen in CRAZY RICH ASIANS) gets a starring role as Billi, a Chinese American who learns that her beloved grandmother aka Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) still living in China has three months to live after being diagnosed with cancer.  The family decide not to tell Nai Nai of her illness. Instead the family organize a wedding so that the entire family will travel back to China to spend time with her before she passes away.  Hence the film title THE FAREWELL. Billi was not invited to the wedding/farewell as the family fear that she cannot hide her feelings but she shows up in China unannounced from New York City.

The titles cleverly state at the start of the film; “Based on an actual lie.”  THE FAREWELL starts off a little humorously as director Wang introduces the somewhat dysfunctional family who aim to do good.  The idea is that the family takes on the emotional burden off the grandmother if she does not know.  Half way through the movie, it will hit (as it did me) whether what transpires is legal. i.e. will the doctors allow that illness be kept for the patient as requested by the family.  The answer is supplied right outwards – a good thing – in the middle of the movie.  It is not allowed in America but is allowed in China.

Director Wang is more serious that light in her treatment of the material.  Though there are always laughs on the horizon of every scene, the sombre mood is also pressing.  Despite the simple story which is suspense less, Wang keeps her film running at a good pace.  It is more the family interaction at play than the knowledge of whether Nai Nai will discover the truth at the end.  At the end of the matter, whether Nai Nai finds out or who tells her is immaterial to the plot.

Wang captures the behavioural  mores typical Chinese family.  Important are the big meals,  the obsessive ‘fussy’ care over the young and old, the need to keep a stiff upper lip among others.  Other issues the are also important include the relationship between mother and daughter-in-law.  Billi’s mother complains that Nai Nai was always boss in the home when she married her son, which implies the probable reason they left China for America.

The farewell is not the perfect drama as the film contains many glaring flaws including the tacked on happy ending.  Still THE FAREWELL is a sincere drama aided by a solid dramatic performance by Awkwafina who previously only has been seen in comedic roles.  The film is entertaining and sheds light on the difference of cultures, in a good way, and also of respect and the difficulty a family to get along. There is nothing forced in the film, and the story unfolds smoothly that should leave the audience not only satisfied but with a  warm fuzzy feeling.

Chinese American films have always done well and have been well made like this one (and with a strong feminine protagonist too), the recent Netflix original, ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE and of course, CRAZY RICH ASIANS.  There is a large target audience of North American Chinese and hopefully, there will be more films to cater towards this group.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8iDwb12RdE

Film Review: MEDITATION PARK (Canada 2017)

Meditation Park Poster
An aging woman questions her life after suspecting her husband is having an affair.

Director:

Mina Shum

Writer:

Mina Shum

Before viewing MEDITATION PARK, one should be made aware of the legacy behind Hong Kong actress Cheng Pei Pei who executively produced and stars as the lead in the film.  Cheng Pei Pei was a star in her youth, who rose to fame from her first Shaw Brothers swords fighting action movie directed by King Hu, COME DRINK WITH ME.  She was rumoured to be the mistress of one of the Shaw moguls.  She continued her action roles in many other Shaw productions.  Her last well known role was Jade Fox in Ang Lee’s CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON.  She always sports the tomboyish short haircut, which she still does in MEDITATION PARK.  In MEDITATION PARK, Cheng Pei-Pei shines and shows star power as it is seldom seen.

Cheng stars as Maria, a devoted wife and mother who is forced to reassess her reverence for her husband after she finds another woman’s thong in his laundry.  She discovers that her supposedly devout husband, Bing (Tzi Ma) is not the perfect husband she thought him to be.  They are visited by their daughter (Sandra Oh) who wishes her mother attend the brother’s wedding.  The brother has been disowned by Bing.  Maria starts tailing her husband to find out more of his affair.  At the same time, Maria opens up her life and finds companionship through  her assortment of friends as well as through a neighbour (Don McKellar).   She finds that life has more to offer than just tending to her husband, and to one who has been unfaithful at that.

Shun’s (DOUBLE HAPPINESS) covers many issues the main one being, oddly enough, a senior’s coming-of-age.  Maria learns to stand for herself finally and do what is right.  Shun also brings in her Chinese culture in the Canadian setting.  Maria is shown as the typical Chinese elder, who stays home.  Maria speaks limited English and cannot drive.  When she tails her husband, she pays $240 in cab fare before learning how to ride a bicycle instead, a cheaper means of tailing her husband.

There are some magnificent performances on display here, Cheng Pei Pei’s being the most obvious.   Sandra Oh, who has been in Shun’s films in the past is always good and a pleasure to watch.  Her confrontation scene with her father, also brilliantly played by Tzi Ma is the film’s highlight.

Shun injects some sentimental moments through the character of a neighbour (McKellar) that Maria meets.  Kleenex should be handy for the segment where he announces the death of his sick wife.

Shun does not compromise her film for the typical Hollywood ending.  The father does not end up attending his son’s wedding as would be expected.  Maria and Bing do not reconcile in the usual way.  This is what stands out in Shun’s film, which is a big improvement over her past two efforts.  MEDITATION PARK should be seen for it being Shun’s best work and for Cheng Pei Pei’s controlled yet powerful performance.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMo7DdGdaq8

TIFF 2017 Movie Review: MEDITATION PARK (Canada 2017) ***1/2

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Meditation Park Poster

Director:

Mina Shum

Writer:

Mina Shum

Stars:

Sandra OhLiane BalabanTzi Ma

Mina Shum directs an all-star cast — including Cheng Pei Pei, Sandra Oh, Tzi Ma, and Don McKellar — in her latest feature, about a devoted wife and mother (Pei Pei) who is forced to reassess her reverence for her husband after she finds another woman’s thong in his laundry.

by Gilbert Seah

Hong Kong martial-arts superstar Cheng Pei Pei, now in her ageing years stars as Maria, a devoted wife and mother who is forced to reassess her reverence for her husband after she finds another woman’s thong in his laundry.

She discovers that her supposedly devout husband, Bing (Tzi Ma) is not the perfect husband she thought him to be. They are visited by their daughter (Sandra Oh) who wishes her mother attend the brother’s wedding.

The brother has been disowned by Bing. Maria starts tailing her husband to find out more of his affair. At the same time, Maria opens up her life and finds companionship through her assortment of friends as well as though a neighbour (Don McKellar).

She finds that life has more to offer than just tending to her husband, and to one who has been unfaithful at that. There are some magnificent performances on display here, Cheng Pei Pei’s being the most obvious.

Sandra Oh, who has been in Shun’s films in the past is always good and a pleasure to watch. Shun does not compromise her film for the typical Hollywood ending.

EDITATION PARK should be seen for it being Shun’s best work and for Cheng Pei Pei’s controlled yet powerful performance.

Trailer: https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=tMo7DdGdaq8

MEDITATION PARK 1

 

Film Review: BABY STEPS (USA 2015) ***

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival: http://www.wildsound.ca

baby stepsDanny, a Taiwanese-American man, and his partner Tate long to have a baby, but the complex world of international surrogacy is further complicated by Danny’s well-meaning but extremely meddlesome Ma who wants to control every aspect of the process all the way from Taipei…

Director: Barney Cheng
Writers: Barney Cheng (screenplay), Barney Cheng
Stars: Tzi Ma, Michael Adam Hamilton, Jason Stuart

 Review by Gilbert Seah

When gay films first started appearing on the screen, they dished out fresh topics like coming out, cross cultural gay relationships, partying, drug use, gay biographies, cruising, sex change, gay marriage and rent boys. New ideas for a gay film are running out. BABY STEPS deals with an Asian mother meddling into her son’s gay relationship in her never ending quest for a perfect grandchild.

The film is written, directed by and co-stars Barney Cheng as the Taiwanese American, Danny in an Asian-Caucasian gay couple relationship. The mother is played by Grace Guei, who starred in Ang Lee’s famous THE WEDDING BANQUET. BABY STEPS adds the modern spin on surrogacy. Mother and son travel the world including Taipei, Bangkok, Mumbai and Los Angeles to search for a surrogate mother. It is a gay story told for the first time, from a gay mother’s point of view.

Cheng knows the poignant moments in the life of a typical gay couple and milks them shamelessly. Scenes like the reunion after a trail separation and showering together are examples which he puts on screen to strengthen the audience’s conception of the strength of the relationship.

Cheng’s humour is mildly funny with hardly any laugh out loud moments.

Actress Grace Guei, reported in the press notes to be the Taiwanese version of Meryl Streep (not going to argue this), though not bad in her role is not given much to do much except to sulk and look sympathetic for all the meddling she has done. Cheng’s character uses the word ‘okay’ mixed with his mandarin dialogue, once too many times. Cheng might be remembered or his role in Woody Allen’s HOLLYWOOD ENDING. Michael Adam Hamilton passes as his pretty boy boyfriend, always all smiles and catering too much to the Asian needs.

The film could have concentrated more on the coming-of-age of the couple’s relationship, instead of always assuming that everything will be ok. The film at least considers other substantial issues like the emotions and fears of the surrogate mother. Danny’s mother, typical of gay mothers is still ashamed to come out to her friends other gay son – another important issue dealt here. In BABY STEPS, these topics offer a fresh look on cross-cultural gay relationships.

Though BABY STEPS makes no great strides in the progress of gay films, it does leave a mark. The film suffers from an over-sentimental melodramatic ending.
Small films like BABY STEPS with a smaller target gay audience usually complete a successful LGBT festival run before going to the various VOD platforms. If the films are really lucky, they might earn a limited theatrical release. For BABY STEPS, it opened in Taiwan on Mother’s Day 2015, and was part of a national discussion on LGBT rights that helped propel Taiwan to legalize same-sex marriage in May 2017. Of worldwide significance, the U.S. State Department has hosted U.S. embassy screenings of BABY STEPS throughout Asia, including China, Mongolia, and Myanmar – to share the American value of LGBT equality around the globe. BABY STEPS will release digitally in the U.S. and Canada on August 15th via Gravitas Ventures.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rhESwlKQgE

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