Yi Yi [DVD]
Director : Edward Yang
Screenplay : Edward Yang
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Nien-Jen Wu (N.J.), Elaine Jin (Min-Min), Issei Ogata (Ota), Kelly Lee (Ting-Ting), Jonathan Chang (Yang-Yang), Hsi-Sheng Chen (Ah-Di), Su-Yun Ko (Sherry), Shu-shen Hsiao (Hsiao Yen), Adriene Lin (Li-Li), Pang Chang Yu (Fatty), Ru-Yun Tang (N.J.’s Mother)
Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (A One and a Two ...) feels both sprawling and intimate, deeply complex and refreshingly simple. It tells a series of interconnected stories involving several generations of a Taiwanese family over the course of one year, beginning with a wedding and ending with a funeral. Such bookends might seem pat and obvious in a “circle of life” kind of way (starting the movie with new life together and ending it with death), but the simplicity of the narrative construction is part of Yang’s masterful approach to his complicated subject.
Yang sees things as they are, but he also sees that which is so often overlooked--the little throwaway moments, the hidden glances, the missed opportunities. Over the course of Yi Yi’s nearly three-hour running time, he allows his characters’ stories to unfold slowly, filled as they are with events both momentous and commonplace. It has become a cliché to describe a film as depicting “life as it really is” or “lived experience,” but that is precisely what Yi Yi does so well. “Life is a mixture of sad and happy things,” one character says (referring, not incidentally, to a movie he has just watched), and Yi Yi is brimming with both.
Many of the narrative threads that form the film’s vivid and absorbing tapestry are about missed opportunities, although as one character puts it, even if he had made a radically different decision three decades earlier, his life might have very well turned out about the same. There is no central character; the closest we get is N.J. (Nien-Jen Wu, who is primarily a screenwriter by trade), a middle-age husband and father of two who finds himself drawn into rekindling a relationship with Sherry (Su-Yun Ko), a woman he might have married in his youth, but unexpectedly deserted without explanation. At the same time, his 13-year-old daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee) is exploring the first flames of young love with the spurned boyfriend of her much more outgoing neighbor. Throughout the film, Yang underscores the interconnectedness of such seemingly disparate events both visually and aurally, at one point placing dialogue from N.J. and Sherry over images of Ting-Ting and her boyfriend. It creates an immediate sense of history repeating itself, but without a sense of repetitive circularity. Each age has its own voice.
As much as it is about its characters, Yi Yi is also very much about life in the city, a topic that Yang has dealt with repeatedly in his films. The story is set in Taipei, the largest city in Taiwan, and cinematographer Wei-han Yang’s exquisite compositions integrate the characters with their environment in a way that is both subtle and bold. Note, for example, how the high-rise condo the family lives in is situated directly next to a bustling highway; thus, anytime the characters are out on the balcony, they are framed against an endless flow of cars--other lives moving along just like theirs. Important moments take place in banal consumerist settings like the New York Bagel shop, a movie theater, or beneath a highway overpass. Yang tends to frame his scenes in long and medium shots, sometimes through windows and glass doors whose reflections of other activities and other lives create a stunning visualization of life’s interconnectedness.
According to Yang, the title of the film in Chinese literally means “One-One” or “Individually.” Yet, the characters are never completely alone. They are always surrounded by the lives of others, even if they don’t recognize them. Not surprisingly, then, there is a constant sense of loss through Yi Yi, as characters come to terms with their lives and the decisions they have or haven’t made.
Early in the film, N.J.’s mother-in-law, the revered matriarch of the family, has a stroke and goes into a coma. The doctor suggests that family members take turns talking to her to keep her brain functioning and active. One day N.J. comes home to find his wife Min-Min (Elaine Jin) crying because she has nothing left to talk to her comatose mother about. “I tell her the same things every day,” she sobs. “How can I have so little?” N.J., of course, doesn’t have an answer because he doesn’t know. The characters in Yi Yi are in a constant state of discovery; there is no revelation or grand scheme to be revealed other than the necessity of living and moving on.
|Yi Yi Criterion Collection DVD|
|Audio||Mandarin Dolby Digital 3.0 Surround|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||July 11, 2006|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Criterion’s new high-definition transfer of Yi Yi was taken from a 35mm interpositive, and it is a vast improvement over the previously available Region 1 disc from Winstar (Fox/Lorber) in terms of clarity, sharpness, and detail. The image still looks just a bit softer than you would expect from a film that is only six years old, but it in no way detracts from the image. Astute viewers will notice, however, that the image is quite dark--significantly darker than the Winstar disc (which may contribute to its slightly soft appearance). I have never seen Yi Yi projected on film, but I have read elsewhere that it had a dark palette during theatrical distribution, so I can only assume that that is how it is intended to look. The soundtrack, which is presented in clear three-channel Dolby Digital surround, was transferred at 24-bit from the original 2-traack LT/RT magnetic master.|
|The audio commentary by writer/director Edward Yang and noted Asian-film scholar Tony Rayns was previously available on a Region 2 DVD release of the film. It was definitely worth reproducing here, as it is an outstanding commentary that sheds light on every facet of the film. Rayns mostly moderates by asking questions of Yang (who speaks perfect English) and offering his own interpretations and evaluations and allowing Yang to respond. Rayns also appears in a 15-minute featurette titled “Everyday Realities,” in which he helpfully discusses the history of Taiwanese cinema and Yang’s place in it. The only other supplement included on the disc is the U.S. theatrical trailer.|
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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