Yi Yi (2000): One of the Decade's Best Films

yiyi yiyi

One of the Decade's Best Films

Taiwan
 
(A One and a Two)
 
The most accessible movie to date from the talented Taiwanese director Edward Yang, "Yi Yi" is a charming, heartfelt family chronicle told with fluency, precision and meticulous attention to detail. Unfortunately, "Yi Yi" turned out to be the last work by the gifted filmmaker, who died in L.A. at the age 57.
 
The film centers on the travels and travails of a middle-class family, NJ Jina, his wife Min-Min, and their children, Ting-Ting, their shy teenage daughter, and Yang-Yang, their precocious son.  A seemingly typical clan living a stable life, it soon finds out how unstable its existence really is. The loose but fluent narrative is held together by sudden reversals of fortune. Things begin to deteriorate in the opening scene, the wedding of Min-Min's brother A-Di, which is disrupted by the arrival of a jilted girlfriend. Min-Min's mother (Tang Ruyun) leaves the banquet hall, and suffers a stroke as soon as she gets home; Ting-Ting blames herself for that.
 
As grandmother lies in coma, the family begins to fall apart. The uncle (Chen Xisheng) has to deals with gambling debts and marriage to a pregnant wife (Xiao Shushen). The stressed-out mother Min-Min (Elaine Jin) leaves home for meditation in a secluded Buddhist monastery. The repressed father NJ (Wu Nienjen) suffers from the economic crisis and confusion, after reuniting with an old flame (Ke Suyun), whom he can't take out of his mind. After a pleasant conversation with Japanese businessman, he begins to doubt the "ethics" of his own company. 
 
At his uncle's wedding banquet, Ying-Ying gets a new toy camera, and he begins to record all the events around him.   Neglected by everyone, becomes increasingly obsessed with details. Wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt (a symbol of the growing impact of the West), the boy takes snap shots of "mosquitoes," which don't show up in the frame; his teacher praises him for making "avant-garde art." Wondering whether humans go through life knowing only half the truth, seeing what's in front, but never what's behind, Yang-Yang begins filming the backs of people's heads.
 
In many ways, "Yi Yi" is a summation work, displaying themes that Yang had explored in other films, such as "A Brighter Summer Day" (1991) and "A Confucian Confusion" (1994). (I first became exposed to the oeuvre of this great director at the Toronto Film Fest and am very grateful for that).   The precision of Yang's work may derive from his background and training in electrical engineering and computer design, while a student in the U.S. in the 1980s. 
 
An emotionally involving, effortlessly told, family drama, "Yi Yi," which runs three hours, deals with universal issues of the life cycle: birth, wedding, attempted suicide, murder, and funeral. Yang shows us what his characters (and we viewers) are unable to see for themselves, that despite links to each other, they are still isolated.