Director: Edward Yang
Writer: Edward Yang
Starring: Nien-Jen Wu, Elaine Jin, Kelly Lee, Jonathan Chang
Runtime: 173 minutes
Rating: 96% Fresh
Views: 1st Viewing
Edward Yang’s last and probably most widely-recognized film is one of great and subtle beauty. It’s a film that not everybody will love, but one that has to be experienced because of the sheer number of small, elegant, beautiful moments contained within. Yi Yi is about family and about everyday life. The story revolves around a very conventional Taipei family, namely a father NJ (Nien-Jen Wu) who is unhappy with his job, and seemingly his life, his young son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) who is having trouble at school and who is being picked on by both his teacher and the girls in his class, and his daughter Tiny-Ting (Kelly Lee) who becomes intertwined in a love triangle involving her best friend, and her friend’s boyfriend. After NJ’s mother-in-law goes into a coma following a stroke, his wife Min-Min leaves for a Buddhist retreat after experiencing a mid-life crisis, leaving NJ and his children to take care of their grandmother. An old flame of NJ’s, Sherry (Su-Yun Ko) returns to the city and tries to come into his life after thirty years apart, leaving NJ even more confused about where his life is going. The story also explores the life of NJ’s brother-in-law A-Di, who is married at the beginning of the film. Edward Yang’s sensitive and Ozu-esque direction makes what could be an impossibly confusing multi-character story very easy to follow, flowing almost perfectly at times.
Yi Yi won the Best Director award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, and for good reason. Edward Yang’s camera is mostly still throughout the film, but manages to capture so many amazingly small moments through the movie’s 3-hour runtime. The direction is very similar to that of Yasujiro Ozu‘s (a famous Japanese director whose career spanned nearly four decades between the 1930’s-1960’s) in that both filmmakers are able to capture the true beauty of day-to-day life. The film moves at its own pace, which may turn off viewers who aren’t quite used to this style of filmmaking. This is truly a film that you let play out in front of you, one that you must experience and take in very slowly. Yi Yi isn’t a film that you immediately adore, but rather one that you come to appreciate and love after wrestling with its themes and images and pacing. I will admit that I wasn’t immediately sold on the film after my initial viewing of it. It’s pacing and length definitely hurt the end product for me, as did the fact that this is a film where you must work for any sort of reward.
There are a lot of unanswered questions at the end of Yi Yi, especially concerning the characters of Yang-Yang, Ting-Ting, and A-Di. The film explores their day-to-day lives with such precision and detail, and then essentially drops them in the last 30 minutes of the movie. Yi Yi isn’t about giving the audience answers, or exploring what happens to these characters after the events take place, but rather about exploring the wins and losses that everybody experiences in their daily lives. The big and small moments that happen to us every single day of our lives is what Edward Yang is trying to cover with his film, and he is very successful in this exploration. Family dynamics, love, heartbreak, and death are all things that every human being has to go through at some point in their lives, and Yang makes every minute look beautiful and memorable. 8/10.