“Nǎi Nai & Wai Pó”: Interview with Sean Wang, his grandmother

Yi Yan Fuei, Sean Wang and Zhang Li Hua attend Disney+'s Lunar New Year Celebration and Nai Nai and Wai Po Premiere

Image source: Getty / Alberto E. Rodriguez

Where I Come From: Now and Gen features intergenerational conversations — like a young 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 short documentary, “Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó.” Read their touching conversation about friendship below.

In 2021, in the face of rising anti-Asian violence and the ongoing pandemic, filmmaker Sean Wang moved back to his hometown of San Francisco. There, he began observing – then filming – Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó, his 94-year-old grandmother and 83-year-old grandmother, who happened to become inseparable friends and roommates. Capturing the mundane moments and joys of their daily lives, he created “Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó,” an Oscar-nominated short documentary recently available on Disney+.

“This movie is a lot about my grandmothers and my relationship with them, it’s about friendship, sisterhood and the relationships you maintain and nurture as you get older.”

The Taiwanese-American director — whose debut feature film “Dìdi,” recently premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival — essentially shot a series of home videos, which he turned into a beautiful 17-minute “personal love letter” to his grandmother. “This movie is a lot about my grandmothers and my relationship with them, but it’s also about friendship, sisterhood and the relationships you maintain and nurture as you get older,” he told POPSUGAR. “I’m not 86 or 96 years old. But I thinhk [their friendship] is a good north star — hopefully, the friendships I have now that I feel are so special in my life, the friendships that I know will last, that I hope can be Nai and Wai Po in their old age, are still so silly and vibrant and cheerful.”

Ahead of the 2024 Oscars, Wang and his grandmother discuss their decades-long relationship, the power of friendship, and the life lessons they’ve taught each other.

The unique friendship of Say Nai and Wai Po

Chang Li Hua (Wai Po): We get to spend our days together, living together is also a form of fate and luck. Nien Nai is 10 years older than me, so I always see her as my older sister. I’m 10 years younger than her so whenever I can help and take care of her, I try my best to do it. We have most of the same interests. Read the newspaper, exercise in the backyard, go outside for a walk. Every day we go to the garden together to check which trees have produced fruit. Every day we eat fruit together, peel fruits and vegetables together and put them in the backyard as fertilizer.

Yi Yan Fuei (Nǎi Nai): [Wài Pó and I] have the same attitude. We both love friends, like to exercise, and like to read the news, so we can be together in harmony like sisters. Sean also knows. He became close to us and I cherished the time we spent together every day.

Son Vuong: They are my grandmothers. And as their young, mischievous filmmaker nephew, I think our relationship is one of joy and silliness and this youthful, childlike energy. They mention in the movie that I take it out of them, but they also take it out of me. I think that will lead to some fun collaborations and silly videos we make. Many of them were seeds that became half of “Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó.” I like to call it silliness, chaotic joy, balanced with people’s deeper, deeper pains in their lives.

Nai Nai Wai Po StillImage source: Disney+

About what they learned about each other during filming

Son Vuong: I thought I knew every aspect of their lives, but getting to actually talk to them about their childhoods and lives before they became grandmothers was truly enlightening. But it wasn’t until today – and maybe I’ve always known this – that I realized how deep their creative spirit was.

A lot of what this movie is about is just a way to give them a platform that I don’t think anyone has really considered. They dance, play and let their silliness take center stage. And now they’re about to go to the Oscars and be enveloped in this world of spectacle and fancy dresses, and they’re really loving it and getting to show off the muscles they clearly have to a level they’ve never seen before. Who ever allowed them to bend.

Yi Yan Fuei (Nǎi Nai): Sean is very approachable to us old people. He didn’t treat us like old people at all. He jokes with us every day. He didn’t even act like we were decades older than him. We are happy to have fun together.

Chang Li Hua (Wai Po): I find Sean very talented – he has great vision. Also, he was very patient with us while we were filming. He will teach us how to pose. He is a child who likes to teach his friends. He can hang out with the elderly, children or friends of the same age. He is a young man with a vibrant personality but also works very hard.

About the life lessons they taught each other

“The days we spend feeling joy and the days we feel pain are all days spent, so I will choose joy.”

Son Vuong: There is a line in the movie that Nǎi Nai said that really impressed me. She said, “The days we feel joy and the days we feel pain are all days of experience, so I will choose joy.” I think that very simple decision is a powerful one: choosing joy. Especially for someone like her, who is in the twilight of her life, knowing that her days are even shorter than mine. Sometimes, in our burning world, allowing yourself to choose joy and honor those around you is a worthy decision.

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

Chang Li Hua (Wai Po): He helped us learn that we are not useless when we get 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. Old people are also capable of doing many such things.

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

Yerin Kim is a 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 more than five years of experience in the field of popular culture and women’s living spaces. She is passionate about spreading cultural sensitivity through the lens of lifestyle, entertainment and style.


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