Tuesday, April 16, 2024

“Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó”: Interview of Sean Wang, His Grandmothers Yerin-Kim

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Where I’m From: Now and Gen features in-conversation pieces between generations — like a younger woman and her grandmother — discussing a topic like beauty rituals, finances, or marriage. We sat down with filmmaker Sean Wang and his grandmothers, Yi Yan Fuei and Chang Li Hua, the subjects of Wang’s Oscar-nominated documentary short, “Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó.” Read their heartwarming chat about friendship below.

In 2021, in the wake of increased anti-Asian violence and the ongoing pandemic, filmmaker Sean Wang moved back home to San Francisco. There, he started observing — then filming — Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó, his 94-year-old paternal grandmother and 83-year-old maternal grandmother, respectively, who happen to be inseparable friends and roommates. As he captured the mundane moments and joys of their daily lives, he created “Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó,” an Oscar-nominated documentary short that recently landed on Disney+.

“As much as this movie is about my grandmothers and my relationship with them, it is about friendship, sisterhood, and the bonds that you maintain and water in old age.”

The Taiwanese American director — whose debut feature film, “Dìdi,” recently premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival — essentially filmed a series of home videos, which he turned into a beautiful 17-minute “personal love letter” to his grandmothers. “As much as this movie is about my grandmothers and my relationship with them, it is about friendship, sisterhood, and the bonds that you maintain and water in old age,” he tells POPSUGAR. “I’m not 86, 96 years old. But I think [their friendship] is a good north star — hopefully, the friendships I have now that I feel are deeply special in my life, the ones that I know will last, that I hope could be Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó in our old age, are still as silly and vibrant and fun.”

Ahead of the 2024 Oscars, Wang and his grandmothers discuss their decades-long bond, the power of friendship, and the life lessons they’ve taught one another.

On Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó’s Unique Friendship

Chang Li Hua (Wài Pó): Us being able to spend our days together and live together is also a form of fate and good fortune. Nǎi Nai is older than me by 10 years, so I have always seen her like my own big sister. I am younger than her by 10 years, so anytime I am able to help her and take care of her, I will do my best to do so. We have almost all the same hobbies. Reading the newspaper, exercising in the backyard, going out for walks. Every day, we go to our orchard together to check and see which tree has grown fruits. Every day, we eat fruits together, and we take the peels of fruits and vegetables to the backyard and make fertilizer.

Yi Yan Fuei (Nǎi Nai): [Wài Pó and I] have the same attitude. We both love friends, we love to exercise, and we love to read the news, so we are able to be together harmoniously, just like sisters. Sean knows too. He became close with us, and I cherish the time we spent together every day.

Sean Wang: They’re my grandmothers. And as their sort of mischievous, young filmmaker grandson, I think our relationship is one of such joy, silliness, and this childlike, youthful energy. They mention it in the film that I bring it out of them, but they also bring it out of me. I think that results in some fun collaborations and these silly videos that we make. A lot of those were the seeds that became one half of “Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó.” The silliness, the chaotic joy, I like to call it, that balances out of with the more poignant, deeply human grounded pains of their lives.

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Disney+

On What They Learned About Each Other Throughout Filming

Sean Wang: I think I knew all the broad strokes of their lives, but getting to really talk to them about their childhoods and their lives before they were my grandmothers was really enlightening. But cutting to present day — and maybe I always knew this — I learned just how much of these creative spirits they are.

So much of this film was just a way to give them a platform that I think nobody had ever really considered them for. They dance, play, and allow their silliness to take center stage. And now that they’re going to the Oscars and being enveloped in this world that is full of spectacle and fancy dresses, they’re really loving it and getting to express a muscle that they so clearly have, that no one has ever allowed them to flex.

Yi Yan Fuei (Nǎi Nai): Sean was very approachable with us old people. He didn’t treat us as old people at all. He joked with us every day. He didn’t even act like we were dozens of years older than him. We were very happy having fun together.

Chang Li Hua (Wài Pó): I found that Sean was very talented — he has a great vision. Also, he was very patient with us when we were filming the movie. He would teach us how to pose. He’s a kid who loves to teach his friends. He’s able to hang out with old people, children, or friends of the same age. He’s a young man with a lively personality, but also works very hard.

On the Life Lessons They’ve Taught Each Other

“The days we spend feeling joy and the days we spend feeling pain are the same days spent, so I’m going to choose joy.”

Sean Wang: There’s a line in the movie that Nǎi Nai says that has really stuck with me. She says, “The days we spend feeling joy and the days we spend feeling pain are the same days spent, so I’m going to choose joy.” I think that very simple decision is a powerful one: choosing joy. Especially for someone like her who’s in the twilight years of her life, knowing that her days are more limited than mine. In our dumpster fire of a world at times, allowing yourself to choose joy and celebrate the people around you is a worthy decision.

Yi Yan Fuei (Nǎi Nai): This young kid can get along so well with others. He doesn’t treat us like old people; he still shouts like us young people in front of us every day. When he’s here, we have a very happy life. We should be like him, whether he’s young or old. He is our friend.

Chang Li Hua (Wài Pó): He helped us learn we’re not useless when we are old. We can still be useful people when we are old. We can still dance, make movies, and be actors. Old people should not underestimate themselves. The elderly are also capable of doing so many things.

This interview has been translated, edited, and condensed for clarity.

Yerin Kim is the features editor at POPSUGAR, where she helps shape the vision for special features and packages across the network. A graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, she has over five years of experience in the pop culture and women’s lifestyle spaces. She’s passionate about spreading cultural sensitivity through the lenses of lifestyle, entertainment, and style.


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