Don’t Say Zài Jià (Film Thoughts: The Farewell)

farewell1One of the things I love most about independent cinema is that it tells all these small interesting stories, and a lot of times it makes you think about what would you do if you were in the same situation. I am so Americanized now that the concept of what happens in Lulu Wang’ ‘The Farewell’ seems so foreign to me, but really, it shouldn’t. In the film, a young lady’s grandmother is diagnosed with cancer (Stage 4, lung) but her family has decided not to tell her about it. (I mean, can you imagine that happening int he United States, with our strange HIPAA laws?)  As a result, her family organizes a fake wedding, so they could all be together to say goodbye to her.

Awkwafina plays BIlli, the granddaughter, and for the most part, she essays the role. Billy is required to be both stoic and empathetic, as she cannot be transparent that her grandmother cam figure out the truth. Awkwafina is fine, but her plain face can sometimes come across as brittle, even petulant, which is the opposite of what she should be delivering. It doesn’t help that the part is underwritten, as we do not get proper context as to what these relationships mean to her life.

I loved the dinner scene where the family volleys ideas about how Chinese people are still Chinese even as they leave for other countries. I cannot help but identify with some of the points being thrown around.

In this summer of sequels and tepid blockbusters, ‘The Farewell’ i fantastic counter programming. It brings you to another world, presents other ideas that would challenge your own, and the characters are till human beings that one is able to connect with. Go see this.

 

Forbidden Love: Africa and Asia (Film Thoughts: Rafiki/Lan Yu)

rafiki-136713The love that dare not speak its name: this theme depicting homosexuality in movies used to be the norm, but in this day and age, is it still relevant? I thino f that even as I see two movies back to back exploring that very theme.

First is ‘Rafiki,’ directed by Wanuri Kahiu. This film was the first Kenyan film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and it comes with a bit of controversy, as it has previously been banned in its home country, and the battle even went up to their Supreme Court, with the court overthrowing the ban. (It finally was screened in theaters to sold out audiences)  The film presents a simple love story, as two daughters of competing politicians fall in love. The conflicts are layered – they battle homophobia and then the familial entanglements. It’s a bit too melodramatic at times, but the performances by Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva as the star-crossed lovers really elevate this. It captured my heart and melted it.

lanyuStanley Kwan’s ‘Lan Yu’ also did, though it is a less successful film.  From 2001, this film depicts a relationship between a successful businessman and a country boy. In its synopsis, the film boasts that it is a story from the 80s amidst the back drop of the rallies from Tiannamen Square. And though they vaguely reference it, we don’t really see it. Hu Jun plays an assumed corrupt businessman who pays for his involvements afterwards, and there’s enough conflict there, so the sad ending felt tacked on and unwarranted. Still, I cared about the characters enough to be touched by the film.

Cute Expectations (Movie Thoughts: This Is Not What I Expected)

90f23b0c51e4c9b448a6763b428d75a9Set in Shanghai, ‘This Is Not What I Expected’ tries to fill the rom-com dearth in my life. Unfortunately, though, it comes up short.

This Chinese movie, set in Shanghai, isn’t bad. It’s just a little bit too by-the-numbers. I always say that these kinds of movies are deep set on formula, but what will set them apart will be chemistry and charisma.

Takeshi Kaneshiro plays Lu Jin, your serious straight-laced businessman who keeps on encountering Gu Shengnan, played by Zhou Dongyu. They meet cute, sure, but they keep on meeting and Derek Hui just tries so hard to keep them cuter and cuter until you become so annoyed with them. And he makes Gu quirly with a capital Q, and it just seems so ‘manufactured’ to me that after a while I did not believe it anymore.

But the two actors do have chemistry, though. Even as they saddle through a cliched script, they almost pull it off by instilling a beating heart into the story. Plus, I have to admit it felt a little long to me – some situations could have benefited from a little editing. Still, the initial cuteness is appealing enough, like a Hello Kitty Doll that outstays its welcome.