Why ‘The Farewell’ Did Better Than ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

The Farewell (source: Sundance Film Festival)

Billi’s grandmother was diagnosed with a stage 4 cancer. The family decided to lie to the grandmother and came to China for a family reunion under the guise of a wedding celebration. This is the story from the movie ‘The Farewell’ and where the conflicts and differences began.

Similar to the popular all-Asian cast ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, ‘The Farewell’ also has Asian actors playing most roles in the movie. In addition, the movie places huge emphasis on China, as the majority of the scenes are filmed in Changchun, China, and most of the conservations being spoken in Mandarin Chinese.

‘The Farewell’ received positive feedback in the North American market, and received even more recognition in the Chinese market than ‘Crazy Rich Asians’. On China’s Douban, ‘The Farewell’ has a rating of 8 out of 10, significantly higher than the 6.1 for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’.

The Lulu Wang movie portrays the typical struggles that Chinese immigrant families face not only in North America, but also in other countries such as Japan. The movie features two sons, one who immigrates to the US and the other to Japan. Leaving their place of origin, they regret having less time to spend with their mother, and the story reveals the struggles that they face in their new countries. The brothers hope to give their families a better life, yet their children are struggling with finding their own identities while growing up on foreign soil.

The story is driven by various conflicts, from the decision of lying to the grandmother about cancer to the arguments that family members have during dinner regarding immigration. Those who stayed in China say that the country is a land of opportunity and riches, while the family who immigrated to the US countered by showing the positive sides of the United States and mocking the Chinese way of using children as a future investment, rather than securing their future by honing their own skills and talents.

These conflicts later explain the struggles that immigrant families often face. While the movie called it a difference between the East and the West, it is truly a conflict between two different ideologies on personal life choices and freedom. Billi’s parents were hesitant about lying to the grandmother about her illness, but Billi finds it even harder to accept. Towards the end of the movie, the three family members were so exhausted that they all fell asleep on the taxi to the airport. This implies how uncomfortable they were about lying, and how hard it is to keep this a secret.

In addition, ‘The Farewell’ paid attention to many of the details that demonstrate the life of Chinese families and their social norms. While visiting their grandfather in the cemetery, the family burnt a fake iPhone and money in honor of the grandfather who passed away several years earlier. They even hired professionals to cry in front of the grave to show their love to the passing family member.

As ridiculous as it may seem, these detailed facts reveal the differences of how Chinese families think, and how the family ended up lying. Instead of respecting the individuals’ right to know about their own health conditions, they decided to do what they believe is the ‘best for you’: A concept that could be difficult to understand for those without such cultural backgrounds.

The ‘best for you’ mentality has been an on-going theme in many of the Asian heritage movies and clips. In ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, ‘Bao’, and ‘The Farewell’, we all witness Asian parent’s ‘best for you’ style of thinking. Be it the mother who is not happy about Rachel Chu’s family background, or the ‘control freak’ mother who ended up ‘eating’ her own son, or the Wang family that lied to their terminally ill grandmother, they all decided to make decisions for others instead of respecting the individual’s rights to make their own decisions.

Billi and her grandma (source: Sundance Film Festival)

These are the ongoing struggles that Chinese families face, not only immigrant families in North America, but also in modern day Chinese families with more liberal views on social issues. More and more young Chinese realize the toxicity of the ‘best for you’ mentality, and are stepping up to address these issues.

Compared to ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, ‘The Farewell’ can better relate to the Chinese audience. While many in China would not be as rich as the characters in the ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, almost every family will experience stories like those in ‘The Farewell’. Many families have the experience of lying to the dying grandparents hoping to make it easier on them. The movie, made from an American immigrant family’s perspective, talks about issues to which audiences can relate. Rather than solely celebrating the movie as another step towards more Asian representation in Hollywood, ‘The Farewell’ is imploring more viewers to reflect on the social norms in China.

As the main character, Awkwafina demonstrates strong acting skills, depicting an American girl who speaks some broken Chinese. While some critics are not happy with the acting in the movie, it is nevertheless an accurate depiction of the struggle that Asian immigrant families face when encountering their country of origin. Immigrating to other countries, culture shocks, and reverse culture shock are topics that need to be discussed more frequently. ‘The Farewell’ does just that.