What Alice Wu Wants To Say In ‘The Half Of It’

When director Alice Wu’s Saving Face premiered in 2004, it stood out from the overwhelming majority of movies being produced on the time. The protagonist, a Chinese language American lady named Wilhemina Pang, falls in love with a lady, and has to determine the best way to come out to her disapproving mom. She additionally has to navigate the generally judging eyes of her prolonged Chinese language group in Queens—characters performed by an all-Asian, Mandarin-speaking solid. Tears are shed and indignant phrases shouted, however—spoiler alert—there is a pleased ending; the ladies find yourself collectively, and publicly declare their love.

Just a little over 15 years later, Alice Wu is again along with her second movie, The Half of It, launched Could 1 on Netflix. Like her first, the film includes a queer Chinese language American protagonist. This time, although, the character is a excessive schooler, Ellie Chu, who lives within the fictional, very white city of Squahamish along with her immigrant father. She’s in love with a lady named Aster Flores, however as a substitute of pursuing her personal emotions, opts to assist a boy woo Aster by way of love letters and textual content messages. Over the course of the film, Ellie and Paul turn into shut mates and teenage hearts get damaged—a traditional teenage rom-com, however with an LGBTQ twist.


Wu is making her comeback with triumph; on Wednesday, she took home the top award at the Tribeca Film Festival. It is a return that she did not anticipate—she had anticipated to depart the trade altogether, she says. Not lengthy after the discharge of Saving Face, she returned to the San Francisco Bay Space to handle her mom, and it wasn’t till a lot later that she started to write down the script that grew to become The Half of It.

Wu and I spoke about her new movie, the legacy of Saving Face and the methods wherein her personal life bleeds into her work. Some gentle spoilers observe, so tread fastidiously.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

In each Saving Face and The Half of It, the protagonists are very imperfect individuals. They harm the sentiments of the individuals they love; they do issues that they later remorse. And your characters and work usually have so many parts in it that seem autobiographical— there is a Chinese language American lesbian protagonist who speaks each Mandarin and English along with her family members. What’s it wish to share these elements of your life with the world? Have been you ever afraid to take action?

I am really stuffed with concern this very second because the movie is about to come back out.

I work out issues in my life by way of my fiction. Fiction permits me to form of disguise just a little bit behind my characters. It is not like my journal. It is extra like, OK, I am creating this character. I will preserve creating them till they really feel actual to me. I will ship them off into the world, to both do issues that I am too scared to do, or to have issues befall them that sound like my private nightmare after which see how they emerge.

Possibly there is a little bit of want success there, too. Here is these deeply flawed characters which have loads of the failings I do, however by some means they find yourself OK. By some means, they find yourself rising. Possibly that is just a little little bit of my want to have that in my life and to determine how to do this. I am writing from that place.

In your director’s be aware, you wrote that writing the The Half of It was a manner of working by way of heartbreak—not due to a romantic relationship, however due to the painful finish of a friendship in your early twenties. Are you able to inform me extra about that friendship and what it meant to you?

I had a very good buddy, who finally grew to become my finest buddy, who was a straight white man. He isn’t who I may need initially thought, “That is going to be the individual that I’ll turn into finest mates with.” However we by some means simply bought one another. He was so good at treating me no in another way when he discovered I used to be homosexual.

Finally, I needed to transfer for a job. As he progressed together with his life and he discovered any individual, there was a second that was just a little bit complicated for us. I really bear in mind this buddy saying to me that he wasn’t allowed to speak concerning the relationship with me, as a result of his girlfriend felt threatened by that. I bear in mind being like, If you cannot speak to your finest buddy about what’s occurring in your romantic relationship, what’s there to speak about? On the time I mentioned, “That is going to kill our friendship. And if something have been going to occur between us, would not it have already occurred?”

And he mentioned, “She’s not threatened that we will have intercourse or something. She’s threatened by our intimacy.”

Now that I am older, I perceive. I’ve additionally felt threatened by my associate’s intimacy with another person. We’re human. We will have emotions of possessiveness. And that is OK. What I really like about my characters, and about people usually, is that all of us have petty ideas. And I believe our flaws unite us.

I first heard about your work, and Saving Face, years in the past from my buddy, who’s Chinese language and was closeted to her mother and father till not too long ago. Saving Face actually mattered to her, and nonetheless does. I think about you hear these sorts of tales quite a bit—for instance, I’ve seen individuals in your Instagram feedback sharing their tales of how essential it was to see themselves be represented in movie. What has it been wish to obtain that sort of suggestions, and to be the receptor of those actually highly effective tales?

On the one hand, it touches me a lot. I am so moved that that is what somebody takes from Saving Face, and that is after I really feel just like the movie’s larger than me. I really feel just a little overwhelmed generally, that folks suppose by some means I’ve managed to impact this variation.

I do know I made that movie very particularly due to one thing I used to be attempting to say to my mother. As soon as it went on the market and all these individuals felt one thing, I really feel just like the movie took by itself life. I like to suppose that I am part of that, however I believe I am one a part of that.

Largely, I am simply tremendous grateful that folks related with it, particularly for one thing I wrote that was so private for me. It simply makes me really feel much less alone. We are able to all generally really feel like we’re the one individual feeling that ache, and that everyone else has figured one thing out.

In every of your films, place has a very particular function. Saving Face passed off in Queens, the place the principle character is surrounded by different Chinese language of us. The Half of It takes place within the fictional Squahamish, Washington, the place Ellie Chu and her widowed father are surrounded by white individuals. I am curious why you determined to set The Half of It in a spot the place the principle character feels so culturally remoted, along with her being homosexual.

I set it in East Washington state as a result of I spent my twenties dwelling in Washington state. I did not need to make a movie the place the city felt menacing, like skinheads have been going to come back in and beat individuals up. However I wished it to be a city the place it is simply accepted that there are particular attitudes that folks have and nobody actually questions them. I used to be really hoping to lure individuals in who dwell in a city like that proper now, or grew up in a city like that. Hopefully, they fall in love with the characters, after which by the tip it’d make them suppose just a little bit extra about that one immigrant household on the town. As a result of for no matter motive, within the whitest cities within the nation, there’s at all times one POC household or one immigrant household.

Ellie and her dad dwell in an all white city, aside from Aster’s household, the Flores household. They’re the one different actual individuals of colour that we see within the movie. However one thing that I talked to Alexxis Lemire, who performs Aster, quite a bit about, is that this notion of passing. They’re individuals of colour, however they’re additionally very “respectable.” The daddy is a deacon within the church; they’re good-looking; Aster is relationship the large man on campus. You possibly can see the wrestle she goes by way of, the place she looks like she’s “passing,” and but she would not absolutely. It is a completely different sort of factor to take care of than Ellie does. Ellie is clearly an immigrant individual of colour and has a unique sort of expertise lobbied towards her. However I really feel like these two women can even perceive one another on this different stage of not being fully of the dominant tradition.

There is a second when the Flores household is sitting amongst outdated society Squahamish of us and her dad instantly turns to Aster and says in Spanish, sit up, sit like a woman. I felt like anyone who has ever grown up with one other language at residence will immediately perceive that; you gotta sustain appearances for the white individuals or for the dominant tradition, although Aster and her household have been born within the U.S.

One factor I as actually struck by on this film was that there is this undercurrent of faith and church, and the function that God does or would not play within the character’s lives. Among the most pivotal scenes occur on this city’s church, and Ellie is the one one who says that she would not imagine in God. I am so curious why you so intentionally wrote faith and spirituality into this film.

It is one thing I spend loads of time enthusiastic about. I did not develop up in any organized faith. For years, my mother’s well being wasn’t superb, so after I was a child, I used to be out and in of hospitals on a regular basis. Someplace alongside the road I picked up this behavior of praying. It is bizarre, as a result of it is not like I do know that I imagine in God. However perhaps I used to be simply hedging my bets, like, in case there’s one thing on the market I need you to know that these are the issues that I am nervous about proper now, and in the event you might help that’d be nice.

There’s simply part of me that actually thinks quite a bit about if there’s a bigger order to the universe. At a sure level, I simply determined to imagine, as a result of I simply desire the individual I’m after I do. And after I got here to that, I lastly began writing once more. And when the writing got here, I began writing the script for The Half of It.

In your films, household performs such an essential function in the principle characters’ lives. How a lot of your individual household life and recollections of rising up are mirrored in your films?

My dad and I are each so battle averse, so in The Half of It, there’s something so actual to me about Ellie and her father. It appears very clear to me that Ellie and her father love one another. However there’s additionally the specter of the mother having handed away, and clearly the mother was the one who pushed them out of their consolation zone. Now, these two are like peas in a pod, and it is heat however it’s virtually tragic. If Ellie makes no adjustments in her life, she’s going to be her dad, who has much more potential than is getting realized on this backwater city.

On the finish, when she’s leaving for faculty to begin her personal life, he would not inform her I really like you, it’s essential to do that. What he does is he makes her a ton of dumplings. That is precisely how my mother and father and I talk. I really feel a lot love in that scene, the place they don’t seem to be even in a position to have a look at one another, they’re each wanting ahead. But it surely’s so clear that he is saying, I’ll completely surrender my very own concern and terror, and I will be OK. Go off, dwell your life.

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