Yang, Edward: Distinguished Taiwanese Director (Yi Yi) Dies at 60

Edward Yang was born in Shanghai in 1947, but grew up in Taipei, Taiwan.

After studying Electrical Engineering in Taiwan, he enrolled at the University of Florida, where he received his Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering & Computer Science in 1974. During this time, Yang worked at the Center for Informatics Research.

Yang had a great interest in film ever since he was a child, but put away his aspirations in order to pursue a career in the high-tech industry. A brief stay at USC Film School convinced him that the world of film was not for him; he found USC too commercial-oriented.

Yang then applied and was accepted into Harvard’s architecture school, the Harvard Graduate School of Design, but decided not to attend. Thereafter, he went to Seattle to work in microcomputers and defense software.

While in in Seattle, Yang saw Werner Herzog’s “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” a film that rekindled Yang’s passion for cinema, motivating him to explore world and European cinema. Yang was inspired by the Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni.

He married Taiwanese pop-singer and music legend Tsai Chin in May 1985. They divorced in August 1995, and he subsequently married concert pianist Kai-Li Peng.

Yang returned to Taiwan to write the script for and serve as a production aide on a Hong Kong TV Movie, The Winter of 1905 (1981). After directing a series of TV shows, Yang directed and wrote a short, “Desires” (aka “Expectation”) in the Taiwanese New Wave collection “In Our Time” (1982). The short is a poignant portrayal of a young girl’s experiences through puberty.

While his contemporary Hou Hsiao-Hsien focused on the countryside, Yang explored the city, analyzing the environment and relationships of urban Taiwan in all his films. His first piece, “That Day on the Beach” (1983), was a modernist narrative reflecting on couples and families that spliced time-lines.

He followed with “Taipei Story” (1984), where he cast fellow auteur Hou Hsiao-Hsien as the lead, a former Little-League baseball star trying to find his way in Taipei. “The Terrorizers” (1986), a complex multi-narrrative urban thriller that depicted city life and contained crime and alientation, won a Silver Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival.

Yang followed with “A Brighter Summer Day” (1991), a sprawling examination of youth-teen gangs, 1949 Taiwanese societal developments, and American pop-culture. The film, hailed by some critics as a masterpiece, won the FIPRESCI Prize at The Tokyo International Film Festival, and a Golden Horse award for Best Film.

Yang’s satire “A Confucian Confusion” (1994) (a multi-character comedy set in urban Taiwan), garnered a Golden Horse Award for Best Original Screenplay. “Mahjong” (1996), an incisive reflection of modern urban-Taiwan seen through foreign eyes, won the Alfred Bauer Award at The Berlin Film Festival and garnered Yang a “Best Director” Award at The Singapore International Film Festival.

Yang is most likely known for his film, “Yi Yi,” for which received the Best Director at Cannes in 2000, among other awards. “Yi Yi” is an epic story about the Jian family seen through three different perspectives: the father NJ (Nien-Jen Wu), the son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang), and the daughter, Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee). The three-hour saga begins with a wedding, concludes with a funeral, and contains all areas of human life in-between with humour and poignancy

In his work, Yang examined the struggle between the modern and the traditional, as well as the relationship between business and art, and how greed may corrupt or affect art. Yang set his works in the cities of Taiwan: “Confucion Confusion,” “Taipei Story,” “Mahjong,” and The Terrorizers” are insightful commentaries on Taiwanese urban life.

He has collaborated with his fellow Taiwanese filmmakers. In “Yi Yi,” he cast as the novelist, and screenwriter Nien-Jen Wu, who directed “Duo Song,” or “A Borrowed Life.” He also cast filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien as the lead in his 1984 film, “Taipei Story.”

Yang was to make an animated feature, “The Wind,” with Jackie Chan, when he fell ill with cancer. He died on June 29, 2007, at his home in Beverly Hills, as a result of complications from a seven year struggle with colon cancer. He is survived by his wife, concert pianist Kaili Peng, and son Sean.

Filmography

In Our Time (1982) short in “Desires”
The Day on the Beach (1983)
Taipei Story (1985)
The Terrorizers (1986)
A Brighter Summer Day (1991)
A Confucian Confusion (1994)
Mahjong (1996)
Yi Yi (2000)