Interview: Writer/Director Lulu Wang – The Farewell


I hope people walk out of the movie knowing there are more important things than being right. We have to learn to disagree with each other in a loving and respectful way.

Writer and director Lulu Wang was in Seattle for the 45th Seattle International Film Festival. Lulu brought her new film, The Farewell. A funny and personal retelling of a family trip to China to visit their dying grandmother. The only catch, grandmother doesn’t know. Lulu sat down to talk about The Farewell, making a film so personal, and her favorite karaoke songs.

What’s the journey been like for you? You started as a young filmmaker and now you have a feature film that’s resonating with people.

Lulu Wang: In this experience, I’m both a filmmaker and a member of my family. A lot of what I feel isn’t just about my career, but in many ways how I’m presenting my family to the world. It’s a little unusual because I’m not just telling any story. It’s surreal and very emotional.

Were you hesitant about what to put in the story since it’s so personal?

LW: I wanted to be honest about people and how they deal with grief and sometimes it’s not pretty or flattering. I think [The Farewell} is truthful. There are things my family would’ve wanted me to put in the film. For example, my father is a diplomat and he speaks Russian, but there was no space for it. It was really tricky to exclude some of the greatest elements about them and boil it down to one week in China and how they’re behaving. Picking which elements of them to put in the film was difficult as well as being unsure if they would be offended.

There’s a splinter that happens when someone passes away and the family dynamic changes. How were you able to capture this on film?

LW: The film was all about these smaller moments. I looked at where each person was in their relationship to grandma and potentially losing her. The mom doesn’t have a good relationship with grandma. What’s happening to her is unspoken. It’s having to accept that they’ll never fix that relationship. I wanted to focus on their relationship to impending death, the lie, and also on seeing who they were in private versus what they tried to perform in front of family.

Was there a moment in this story that you loved shooting?

LW: We had a really hard time with the wedding scenes. We shot for four days in a wedding banquet hall with 150 extras. It was really challenging. I had a great time shooting it because we came up with this great method. We put tape out for each set up the night before. Everything was numbered and labeled. It was such a time saver. It really helped us manage the entire sequence. Some of my favorite scenes are in there. I love the karaoke scene with the bride and groom. I imagined it would be funny, but it came out even funnier. It was so funny, I didn’t yell cut [laughs]. A lot of their awkwardness is because I wouldn’t yell cut.  When they would finish singing, the whole crew was looking at me and I was dying laughing cause they kept going. We ended up using a majority of it.

Do you have a go-to karaoke song?

LW: I have a bunch….I love Karma Chameleon by Culture Club.

That’s a smart choice. I pick songs that are easy for crowds to sing-a-long.

LW: Once in a while, you want a good Adele song or something like that. I love a good ballad. You know what other song I love to do, Halo by Beyonce. That’s a really good karaoke song.

What are you hoping people take away from The Farewell?

LW: I’m hoping people call their mothers, fathers, or grandparents. Whoever they love that they may not be in touch with as much as they want to be. I want people to walk out of it not having answers, but knowing everyone comes from different perspectives that are influenced by their backgrounds and value systems. We live in a society that’s so polarized. We’re often torn apart by our disagreements with the people we love. I hope people walk out of the movie knowing there are more important things than being right. We have to learn to disagree with each other in a loving and respectful way.