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A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Billi struggles with her family's decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.
The joke about the cat dying and "mom is on the roof" told around the dinner table is the same joke told by astronaut Peter Willis to himself as he is climbing up a desert cliff in the 1977 movie Capricorn One (1977). Seconds later, he is ambushed and killed by government helicopters. See more »
I walked the path of life and I have to say, you will face with difficulties. But you have to have an open mind. Don't be like a bull hitting his horns all over the walls of the room. Life isn't just about what you do, it's more about how you do it.
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Billi (Awkwafina) is a young Chinese New Yorker struggling to make her way in the world. She has a place of her own to distance herself from her parents - Haiyan ("Arrival"'s Tzi Ma) and Lu Jian (Diana Lin) - but is struggling to fund it. But despite a typically spiky teenage relationship with her parents, family is important to her.
There's a big shock then when her beloved "Nai Nai" (Shuzhen Zhao) is diagnosed back in China with terminal cancer. The slight complication is that no-one has told her. Her younger sister (Hong Lu) has taken the decision to keep the news from her. This is in line with the Chinese saying "When people get Cancer they die". (Based on the rationale that it is not necessarily the disease that kills you, but the fear that destroys your useful life).
The whole extended family sign up - reluctantly - to the decision. They stage a final get together back in China around the pretence of a trumped-up wedding. This is between the comically reluctant grandson Hao Hao (Han Chen) and his new Japanese girlfriend Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara).
Faced with seeing Nai Nai face-to-face, and being forced to "celebrate" together, can the family - and the emotionally attached Billi in particular - hold it together and keep the secret?
You might naturally assume that given the subject matter that this was going to be SERIOUSLY heavy going. And in many ways you would be right. Most of us over 50 will have lost an elderly relative. And, unless it was a sudden event, you have probably been through the mental pain of having to drive away from a nursing home certain that that will be the final time you will see your loved one alive. If you are therefore not affected by this film, you are not human.
However, the film is so beautifully put together, and the comedy - albeit some of it very dark - so brilliantly inserted that the film is an UTTER DELIGHT from start to end. There are truly insightful scenes that get under the skin of the well-developed social approach in China to family. (Like my wife they love big family dinners around a round-table!) Although there is always the teen - Bau (Jinhang Liu) in this case - with his face permanently in his phone!
There are also scenes familiar to anyone who's visited China. The gaggle of "helpful" taxi drivers outside the airport made me laugh out loud.
Also (unintentionally) funny are the multiple company logos at the start of the film. (This is reminiscent of a classic "Family Guy" scene).
For such a 'small' film, the scale is sometimes truly cinematic. Director and writer, Lulu Wang, achieves some gloriously memorable movie moments. A stony-faced, determined march of the key players towards the camera - which could be subtitled "The Magnificent Eight" - is slo-mo'd for about 30 seconds and is utterly mesmeric. And a scene at a cemetery is a comic masterpiece of Chinese tradition. Bau of course still has his face in his phone throughout!
This is only Lulu Wang's second feature, but it makes me now want to check out her first film ("Posthumous").
What I found particularly interesting is that the film is truly multi-cultural. It's not an American film with some local content crudely inserted to cater for the Far East markets. The film is an almost equal blend of American language and Mandarin language with subtitles.
Lulu Wang is also not afraid to upset officials in either country. Which is better: US or China? The question keeps getting posed to Billi and discussed among the family. And - as you might expect - there are positives and negatives on each side. The film doesn't really take sides. It's a really balanced position to take.
The music is by Alex Weston, and its one of the stars of the film. It's truly quirky with everything as diverse as a vocalised version of Beethoven's Sonata No. 8 "Pathetique"; a karaoke version of "Killing Me Softly"; and a hugely entertaining Chinese version of Niilson's "Without You" over the end titles.
It's a brilliant ensemble cast (SAG awards, are you listening?), and everyone pulls their weight. Even the minor members of the cast are superb: Aoi Mizuhara in particular displays acute awkwardness brilliantly!
But leading the charge is Awkwafina. She was in the disappointing "Ocean's 8" but much more memorable in "Crazy Rich Asians" as Rachel's wacky Singapore friend. Here it's a bravado performance that is genuinely moving. She IS the slightly sulky but emotionally crushed teen.
"Sub-titles? I don't do sub-titles" - Get a grip! Yes, this is a film that has sub-titles. But it uses them when required (unless you happen to be fluent in Mandarin that is!). There is also a large percentage of the film that is in English. It's all eminently watchable, even for "sub-title-phobes".
This is a feelgood film about a tough subject. The ending of the film pulls off the trick of being both devastating and uplifting at the same time.
So get yourself to the cinema and see this film! Without question, it gets my "highly recommended" tag. It's also firmly placed itself very high up in my "Films of the Year" list.
And it's all "based on a true lie"!
(For the full graphical review, please go to One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).
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