Nai Nai and Wài Pó (2023) Short Film Review

Nai Nai & Wài Pó (2023)
Director: Sean Wang
Starring: Yi Yan Fuei, Zhang Li Hua

Nai Nai and Wài Pó are 86 and 96 respectively. They are immigrants to the United States from Taiwan. They share a home, a bed, and a grandson. Sean Wang is that grandson, and he is the director of this documentary. Nai Nai & Wài Pó is this Oscars season’s most endearing short film.

Across just 17 minutes, the titular Nai Nai and Wài Pó become some of the most wholesome and lovable characters in all of 2023 cinema, the pair of elderly women buzzing with an energy and character that illuminates a film equally as characterful and hearty. They explain what they do with their days, how they eat, and even how Wài Pó farts in bed. They’re elderly and restricted, but spirited.

Shot in a boxed 4:3 format, and elegantly colour graded to ensure natural light makes the every day cinematic, Nai Nai & Wài Pó is a supreme aesthetic creation. Close-ups that cross each subject’s path of vision when talking with each other are matched with distant shots of their every day activities, such as taking peels into the garden or ensuring all of their shoes are neatly placed on their front step. This is the shortest of all 96th Academy Awards nominees in the Documentary Short Subject category, but it makes the most of every frame. Nai Nai & Wài Pó is an inherently cinematic slice of life, and this only helps to cement these two women as unmissable documentary subjects.

There isn’t a topic this film wishes to delve into, or a theory the filmmaker wishes to present. This is a documentary that is simply made out of love and admiration for two women who’ve given the filmmaker enough love and energy to inspire him. There are no bold ideas of what life is or means, and when the subjects do begin reminiscing or discussing their futures, they shy away from detailing too many of their anxieties or regrets just as many a grandparent would do in the presence of their grandchild, thus reinforcing the deeply personal nature of this quite remarkable film.

There are direct conversations present in Nai Nai & Wài Pó, but this isn’t a talking heads documentary. Sean Wang is present, but he isn’t on screen, and he isn’t prompting his grandparents to answer any previously conceived questions. They’re leading him through what they do and telling him how they’re hardly as energetic when he’s not there. They are active participants in the filmmaking too, waving at the camera as they wake up early in the opening scene, then dressing up and acting out music video montages when Wang’s own filmmaking quirks come to the fore. They’re willing to be silly, to arm wrestle and play dress up, and Wang is equally as willing to ask them to read a comedic line or pose for the camera.

This is funny, quirky, charismatic filmmaking about equally as funny, quirky and charismatic people. It raises a smile and makes your heart glow. It’s the kind of cinema so personal you feel a part of it. Yi Yan Fuei and Zhang Li Hua may be their government names, but these two old ladies will forever be Nai Nai and Wài Pó to anyone willing to spend just 17 minutes with them.

The Documentary Short Subject category shines a spotlight on important stories each and every year, but a more lovely and warm story you’ll struggle to find. Nai Nai & Wài Pó is soft and easy cinema glowing with all the good stuff that makes up that very particular feeling that maybe everything is going to be all right.

Score: 21/24

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nai Nai & Wài Pó is available on Disney Plus.

Leave a Comment