Yi Yi

11 Mar

Despite losing out to Lars Von Trier’s polarising musical Dancer in the Dark for the Palme d’Or at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (A One and A Two), which managed to pick up Best Director, is almost unarguably the better film. An intimate, epic portrait of the middle-class Jian family, Yi Yi focuses on individuals from three different generations – the middle-aged NJ (Wu Nien-Jen), the teenaged Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee) and the young Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) in order to provide a commentary on life itself. At the centre of the story is NJ’s comatose mother-in-law (Tang Ru-Yun) whom the family have to care for and converse to.

As the world-weary businessman NJ, Yang cast the famed actor/director/screenwriter Wu Nien-Jen who gives an impressive performance with subtle but powerful emotion. In contrast to his wife Min-Min (Elaine Jin) who undergoes an explosive emotional breakdown, NJ’s mid-life crisis is inward and reserved. It is a malaise that’s sparked when he encounters his former love, Sherry (Ko Su-Yun), who attempts to get back into his life. The attraction between them is undiminished but NJ cannot decide whether or not to let her back into his life – hindered by what kept them apart 30 years ago as well as his current martial vows. On top of this, he cannot seem to reconcile his honest nature with his naturally dishonest occupation.

Concurrently, his daughter Ting-Ting has entered a relationship with Fatty (Pang Chang Tu) whose stark realism contrasts with her optimistic view on life. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Yang dazzlingly contrasts, parallels and intertwines their first date with what is taking place in Japan between NJ and Sherry through the use of one of his trademark techniques – poetic overlapping. Like the doubt that NJ carries over entering a relationship with Sherry, Fatty still hasn’t fully recovered from his relationship with Ting-Ting’s friend Li-Li (Adrian Lin).

Ting-Ting carries a burden of guilt over her Grandmother’s coma as she collapsed while taking out the trash which is normally Ting-Ting’s job. During a particularly affecting scene, Ting-Ting opens up to her comatose Grandmother – deploring the unfair nature of life and begging her to wake up.

However, nearly every character in some way, shape or form is responsible for the Grandmother’s accident. Through his masterful direction, Yang implements chaos theory into this microcosm of everyday human life – demonstrating how even the slightest action can have consequences.

Perhaps the only truly innocent character in this yarn is the young Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) who has an almost uncanny ability to see life as it is. The musings of his childish mind are unwittingly deeply philosophical meanderings that reverberate at the core of the film. Yang-Yang’s epistemological questionings address the film’s themes of perspective and truth. He asks his father “Can we only know half the truth?” and later we discover he has a collection of photographs of the back of people’s heads – something that we can never usually see. His childish actions make sure that the film never gives him omniscience but rather shows that the mind of a child can view life without the trappings of egocentricity.

Sadly, Yi Yi was to be Edward Yang’s last film. He died in 2007 from colon cancer, at the age of 59. However, Yi Yi is perhaps the perfect last hurrah that shows a master still at the height of his powers. His stylistic techniques (such as his unparalleled use of reflections) imbue the cinematography of the film with a lyrical beauty that is reflected in the epic saga he depicts. Bookended by a wedding and a funeral, Yi Yi is a work of intense humanism – a eulogy to life itself, no matter how ordinary.

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