From a New Scientist online review:
The prevailing narrative of “battling cancer” in Western society has its own issues, with its discourse of personal triumph that values individual responsibility and determination. But the alternative – to lie outright – might seem inconceivable, particularly to those accustomed to the norms of Western culture. It is, however, a common practice in China, rooted in the belief that telling a person about their diagnosis can make their condition deteriorate quicker.
The plot line of The Farewell is familiar to me. Like Billi’s Nai Nai, my aunt was diagnosed with metatastic lung cancer. Nobody in the family told her – nor did the doctors when she later underwent surgery to remove a tumour. The last time I saw her was in north-eastern China a few years ago. Her once-plump figure had shrunk to a wiry frame. She was in her early 70s, in good spirits, but a far cry from the feisty matriarch who used to dominate conversations.
The Farewell is a heartfelt film, punctuated by moments of unexpected – and unexpectedly uplifting – humour. In a darkly comical scene in a printing shop, Nai Nai’s younger sister demands that the results of a medical report be doctored to edit out references to cancerous nodules and replaced with the nebulous term “benign shadows”.