The Atlantic

Can a Film Be a Love Letter to a Country?

New movies from the writer-directors Lulu Wang and Diana Peralta explore complex questions about national belonging and communal responsibility.
Source: Courtesy of 'De Lo Mio'

For Lulu Wang, the Chinese American writer-director of the , returning to the country of her birth has often felt akin to time travel. “Whenever I would go back to Changchun in the past, I would be relegated to a child,” she in New York and Los Angeles. “You regress … This time, going back to shoot the movie, I went back as an adult.”tells the story of a young Chinese American woman named Billi (played with remarkable depth by Awkwafina). An avatar of Wang herself, Billi takes an impromptu trip to China after learning that her , or paternal grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao), had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer—and was filmed largely in Changchun, and Wang approaches the setting with a warm eye: The movie incorporates numerous panoramic shots of the city, the effect at once absorbing and disorienting. In its depiction of Billi’s attempts to reconnect with her family—chiefly Nai Nai—amid a slow-unfolding grief, raises complex questions about the elasticity of national belonging and the familial responsibilities that transcend distance. One heated dinner scene, for example, finds a relative accusing Billi’s dad (played by Tzi Ma) and her uncle (Jiang Yongbo) of neglecting their duties as sons while living in the United States and Japan, respectively: “Have you considered your mother growing old without her kids around?” she asks, the brothers’ guilt hanging in the air long afterward. weaves these small indictments throughout its run, at turns implicating Billi herself in the abandonment of her family back home.

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