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‘I just tell stories that make me feel more human’: Lulu **** on directing Nicole Kidman’s new TV series

When Kidman saw ****’s film The Farewell she knew she’d found the woman to direct her in Expats, a drama about life in 2014 Hong Kong. The Chinese-American film-maker talks about ditching a law scholarship – and being one half of a movie power couple

What does the word expat mean? Its traditional association is with wealthy outsiders lounging around pools in exotic locations, while being waited on hand and foot by the locals. But for Lulu ****, whose parents migrated to the US from China when she was six years old, it is more complicated. “When I go back to visit my family, I’m not Chinese any more. Not really. But I look Chinese. I’m also not fully an American, but I’m not an immigrant, right? They don’t even understand what that is. And so I’m like, ‘Wait up. Am I an expat here?’ You know, I studied abroad in college, and I went back, and people thought I was the tour guide, because all my friends were white.”

This was the sensibility that animated her name-making 2019 film, The Farewell, a radiant semi-autobiographical account of a granddaughter summoned back to China to await her grandmother’s death, which won a handful of awards and was nominated for many more, including a Golden Globe and a Bafta. The buzz around The Farewell, coupled with the sensibility it projected, made her an obvious choice when Nicole Kidman was casting around for someone to adapt and direct her in a Hong Kong-set novel she had optioned. Janice YK Lee’s The Expatriates did indeed feature wealthy outsiders being waited on hand and foot. But **** has updated it into something more widely nuanced, a six-part television series, Expats, that is at once glamorous, empathic and politically astute.

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