Yi Yi: The Best Film You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

During the opening wedding reception, the yawning father (NJ) takes his son (Yang-Yang) for food he wants to eat.

How often do two people who have been watching a film look upon each other breathless and transfixed at the end? I had seen Yi Yi, Edward Yang’s 1999 film, but as is often true with any pleasure, I had to share the experience with someone and so a week after seeing it I played the DVD for a friend. For a second time I was crushed, weeping at many of the same scenes, yet finding different shadings in the various plots and subplots. It’s the story of birth and death in an extended family, but it is much more.

The film is set in Taipei, and its opening piano music set over a wedding reception makes one think it may be a Taiwanese Terms of Endearment. To some extent this is true, but people coming into this film won’t be overwhelmed by the star power of the American film, though a few of Yi Yi’s actors are famous in the East. If all the players are strangers and to some extent the culture (the island of Taiwan has a checkered history, being thrown back and forth between Chinese and Japanese rule), audience identification can be purer. If given, trust won’t be tainted by the accuracy of marketing to the right demographic. So who is Yi Yi aimed at? Yang’s film is directed to the humanists and to the people who have loved life and hated it—people who have tried to do their best and ever endeavor to know themselves better.

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