YI YI (Edward Yang, 2000)

A far less interesting or compelling work than his earlier, also long A Brighter Summer Day (1991), Shanghai-born Edward Yang’s A One and a Two . . . , from Taiwan, has tried this viewer’s patience—but for the third time. I keep returning to this contemporary family drama set in Taipei because Yang won the directorial prize at Cannes for it, and the French critics, the National Society of Film Critics, the New York and Los Angeles critics all gave it best picture prizes.
     The film begins with a wedding. Grandma has been hospitalized after falling onto pavement and into a coma. Her son-in-law, N.J. (Wu Nien-Jen, who wrote Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Dust in the Wind, 1986, A City of Sadness, 1989, The Puppetmaster, 1993), accidentally runs into an old sweetheart who is now married to an American who does business in China. This woman accosts N.J. for not showing up for some assignation who knows how many years ago. This eruption of anger tears through a lengthily sustained show of marital contentment and light.
     This brief description of the film’s opening identifies the soap operatic nature of the material throughout—and a low point is reached later on when Grandma’s death is given a hokey-mystical treatment that’s lifted from Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu monogatari (1953), where it works. What distinguishes Yang’s film is not its dense plot but the treatment Yang accords it, which is nothing like what one finds in soap opera: exquisite detail, sharp observation of human behavior, perhaps especially regarding 8-year-old Yang-Yang, and enough distance to ward off much sentimentality. There is some sobbing about, though, not to mention N.J.’s struggles with a failing business. Still, the film looks respectable.
     My brother may be glad to hear that H & H bagels are available in Taipei.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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