|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
NJ Jian, his wife Min-min and their two kids are a typical middle-class family, sharing
their Taipei apartment with Min-min's elderly mother. NJ, a partner in a computer hardware
firm that made big profits last year but will go bankrupt soon if it doesn't change direction,
warms to the idea of teaming up with Ota, an innovative designer of games software in
Japan, and enjoys spending time with the charming and urbane Japanese man. Things start
to go wrong for the Jians on the day that Min-min's brother A-Di gets married. NJ's
mother-in-law suffers a stroke, NJ reconnects with his first love and his children both begin
to feel the stirrings of first love. That more or less is the outline of Edward Yang' epic, but
intimate portrait of contemporary life in Taiwan YI YI (A ONE AND A TWO).
Early in his career, Yang (who along with Hou Hsiao Hsien is considered one of
Taiwan's best filmmakers) established his signature: intricate narrative structures that unfold
in long, uninterrupted takes and that are peppered with characters who are trying to come
to grips with all the cultural and social changes around them. The director beautifully
captures the disconnected feelings of his characters to their surroundings, often through
odd images. For example, a traffic underpass becomes the meeting ground for illicit lovers
and there are several instances where reflections in windows are used to highlight a
character's distressed mental state. The audience literally sees two views as the character
struggles with the disjointedness of contemporary life.
Yang begins the film with a wedding and ends it with a funeral, and in between, there
are many everyday occurrences. There is really no single plot, but instead Yang weaves
together a series of interconnected stories, sometimes in surprising and satisfying ways. The
couple being married at the film's start, fight, have a child, and separate (in part because of
the presence of his former girlfriend) before an accident forces them to gradually make their
way back together. In counterpoint, a long-married couple gradually come apart as the
stresses of his work and her mother's illness create a wedge between them. This husband
also reconnects with a former lover and is faced with the possibility of righting a long-ago
wrong. Parallel with these are stories involving a teenage girl in the throes of her first love and a
young boy trying to fit in at school and discovering girls. The joys of the film are found in both
its simplicity and in the way the director refuses to take an easy out. The carefully observed
details of daily life - the stresses and the strains - are played out but in this filmmaker's capable
hands they are compelling. Business ventures don't unfold exactly as expected, love affairs
go awry - sometimes over what is left unsaid as much as over what is said.
Visually the film is stunning. Yang does not feel the need for flashy MTV-style techniques,
instead preferring to allow moments to play out at their own speed. There are few quick edits
yet the story is propelled by its characters. Yang has scripted a large canvass and it's to his
credit that each remains a distinctive individual. The actors (many of whom were amateurs)
all deliver sharp performances, especially Jonathan Chang as an inquisitive eight year-old
who takes pictures of people from behind so they can see a part of themselves they otherwise
YI YI earned Yang a deserved citation as best director at Cannes and it was featured
at the 38th Annual New York Film Festival before its theatrical release. Truthfully, it is difficult
to put in words just how Yang has turned careful observations of everyday life into great
drama. One needs to see for oneself.
Rating: A -
MPAA Rating: NONE
Running time: 173 mins.