Success in the New York Times Annual Student Review Contest

20 Feb 2023

Congratulations to Tiffany Chan 12K6 who was named as one of the Runners Up in the New York Times Eighth Annual Student Review Contest. An outstanding achievement!

The contest invites teenagers to play critic and submit original reviews about any kind of creative expression covered in The New York Times. They received nearly 4,000 submissions from teenagers around the world, and have crowned dozens of finalists. Read Tiffanys submission below, a review on ‘The Farewell’.

The Farewell: To Tell Or Not To Tell

As any Chinese second-generation immigrant living in a Western country knows, cultural identity involves a relentless pursuit of the perfect blend between where you live and where you come from. Lulu Wang’s The Farewell captures this identity crisis and makes it ubiquitously accessible, accompanied by strong tones of family, humour, and grief. 

The film focuses on Billi Wang (Awkwafina) and her family as they travel back to China from the U.S. to see their dying grandmother (known as Nai Nai) who is unaware of her deteriorating health. They visit her under the guise of a family wedding, determined to protect their beloved matriarch’s final days from fear and dread. Billi is presented as the embodiment of the clashing ideals between the Eastern and Western cultures, as she struggles to come to terms with the ethical dilemma of hiding Nai Nai’s illness from her. The polarity between collectivistic and individualistic beliefs distinctly emerges between Billi’s father, Haiyan (Tzi Ma), who immigrated to the U.S., and Billi’s uncle, Haibin (Yongbo Jiang), who remained in China. Wang beautifully juxtaposes the two cultures whilst never portraying either as right or wrong. Despite the fact that a large portion of the film is in Mandarin, Wang’s profound story is uniquely American, as she coalesces the differences between the East and West whilst maintaining her roots. 

Awkwafina’s poignant performance as Billi is a step away from her usual overtly comedic roles, showcasing her versatile abilities, earning her her first Golden Globe, and making her the first Asian American to do so. Billi acts as a gateway for all audiences to be introduced to Chinese culture without the distorted stereotypes and cliches, but it is undoubtedly Nai Nai, played by the formidable Zhao Shu-Zhen, who seals the deal. Her witty charm welcomes the viewer into the family, and her outspoken advice to Billi brought tears to my eyes, as I was reminded of my own grandmother and our heart-to-hearts thousands of miles apart over the phone. 

While the themes of cultural authenticity and communal heartache are beautifully emphasised by the acting, Wang also highlights the importance of unity through cinematographic choices. With the guidance of the film’s cinematographer, Anna Franquesa Solano, Wang employs wide and cinematic frames, embodying the importance of family in the East and compelling you to mourn as a member of the family. 

Whether or not you endorse the family’s decision to keep Nai Nai in the dark, The Farewell will leave you feeling bittersweet and reaching for the phone, as Wang skillfully portrays the family’s unity under the “good lie” as a sacrifice family makes for family.


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