stars out of five
Emotionally rewarding, intelligent and affectionate drama from Taiwanese
director Edward Yang – unmissable and one of the best films of the year.
Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (the title is the Chinese word for ‘one’, counted twice
the way a music conductor would say it, hence the English translation of ‘A
One And A Two’) finally arrives here after attracting rave reviews Stateside
and picking up a number of international awards, among them the Best
Director prize at Cannes 2000.
On the surface, it’s an intricate family drama that bears a resemblance to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (in terms of length and of its focus on one particular family) and, like that film, appears to owe a great debt to the films of Robert Altman, though Yang more
than surpasses Altman in terms of the sheer warmth of his film and the
result is, quite simply, one of the best films of the year.
The plot centres on computer executive NJ (Wu Nianzhen), and his burgeoning
mid-life crisis triggered by problems at work and the reappearance of Sherry
(Ke Suyun), his high-school sweetheart. At the same time, his mother-in-law
has suffered a stroke and slipped into a coma, while his wife Min-Min
(Elaine Jin) deals with her depression by turning to a religious cult.
Meanwhile, his teenage daughter Ting-Ting experiences her first love affair
with ‘Fatty’ (Yupang Chang), the boyfriend of her best friend, and NJ’s
irascible young son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) finds his own ways of dealing
with both life in general and a group of bullying older girls in particular.
Although three hours may seem like an intimidating prospect, Yi Yi is that
rare example of a film you really don’t want to end. In fact, in one of the
film’s best scenes, one of the characters (Fatty) makes an impassioned case
for movies such as this, saying that because of the wealth of experience
that movies give us, they expand the world we live in and allow us to live
three times as much. After seeing Yi Yi, you’ll find it hard to disagree.
There are many similarly wonderful scenes in the film. Particularly
impressive is a scene in which NJ and Sherry wistfully recall the excitement
of holding hands on their first date, as the film cuts and we see Fatty and
Ting-Ting holding hands on their own first date, while the voice-over
There are also several laugh-out-loud moments, mostly involving
Yang-Yang, such as when NJ takes him to McDonalds during the opening wedding
sequence, or when he suddenly makes all the bullying girls cry by bursting
The acting is superb, throughout – Yang has assembled a terrific ensemble
cast and given each and every one of them a chance to shine in their roles.
However, the stand-out is unquestionably Jonathan Chang as Yang-Yang, an
immensely appealing child actor who manages to convey both child-like
innocence and a fierce intelligence – he is frequently seen experimenting
with funnels and tubes and so on, and his observations of those around him
eventually lead him to take photos of the backs of people’s heads with the
aim of showing them ‘what they can’t see’.
In addition to the acting, the film is beautifully photographed by Yang
Wei-han and Yang’s unobtrusive style allows the various stories to unfold at
their own pace. In fact, only one moment strikes an odd note – when a news
report cuts to a computer game reconstruction of a violent murder.
To sum up, then, this is quite simply unmissable and one of the best films
of the year. It has an extended run at the ICA cinema, after which it will
hopefully receive wider distribution. Don’t wait, though – see it now.
You’ll be glad you did. Highly recommended.