Released in July, The Farewell centers on a family telling a big lie in order to keep an even bigger secret. Based on the real life experiences of director Lulu Wang and starring Awkwafina, the film follows a family trying to hide a cancer diagnosis from their elderly matriarch. To spare Nai Nai from the stress of knowing her condition, the family flies to China and stages an elaborate fake wedding in order to see her one last time. (There are mild spoilers ahead.)
But while Wang's family's story has been broadcast on This American Life and on theater screens nationwide, The Farewell still hasn't hit China, and per IndieWire, the real Nai Nai—who is still alive despite the three-month prognosis given to her in 2013—still hasn't seen it nor been told what exactly the movie is all about, though she does know it's "loosely based" on the family. "That’s a long thing that I am still dealing with, with my family, and whether or not we will keep the secret is up in the air, because we want to show her the movie," Wang recently told IndieWire.
As Shuzhen, who played Nai Nai in the film, also told IndieWire in a separate interview, the whole cast and crew had to take part in the family's lie, too. Once, when she met with Wang's real grandmother, they pretended that it was a personal visit, and although the real Nai Nai was told that Shuzhen would be playing her, she wasn't told that she'd be the main character. "While this process was unfolding, [Lulu Wang] was constantly reminding us, 'Don’t leak this,'" Shuzhen said. "I imagine once the movie comes out, she will have to find some kind of way to still put up this front."
The reasoning behind keeping a secret like this from the real Nai Nai is "to make sure the person still lives a happy and carefree life, and that their condition does not get worse," Shuzhen said, and from her experiences meeting with Nai Nai, that's been the case. "She gave me gifts and treated me like family and was so energetic and so full of life that you could not tell she has any kind of illness, period."
The Farewell's release in China was recently delayed, which Variety suggested could be due to the film's likelihood of winning upcoming major American movie awards and potentially boosting its potential success in China. But regardless of when it happens, The Farewell will eventually open in China, and the family might finally have to drop the ruse.