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Admittedly, I was a little skeptical that this long and fairly slow-moving movie would be able to hold my attention throughout its 173 minute running time - how wrong I was to be skeptical! Yi Yi is a thoroughly captivating film that I enjoyed immensely, and I completely enjoyed every moment of it. The director's technique of filming a lot through windows and at wide angles gives it an almost voyeuristic feel, but this doesn't alienate the viewer, instead it gives the feeling you're watching real lives unfold, a kind of privileged 'fly on the wall' style, and the 'slice-of-life' term often used to describe Yi Yi is appropriate. The film manages to balance humor, sensitivity, and emotion. It's beautifully shot, sensitively directed, and incredibly well acted by all involved. It sounds like a cliche to say it, but it is one of those movies that has everything: cute kids, family dysfunction, reminisces of decisions made in the past, regret, love, hope, and beauty. It's an uplifting piece of filmmaking but also tinged with sadness, very human, and utterly absorbing.
I'd love to do a systematic investigation of every reflective shot in this
movie. I can think of 10 stunning examples off the top of my head. In the
director's comments track on the DVD you can hear Edward get noticeably
excited when another reflective shot presents itself on screen. He points
them all out, and it's true that the shots do seem to present themselves to
the director. Although you must assume he had something to do with them, he
confesses that it was magic that he discovered when he got to the location.
Neither he nor I can explain what effect the superimposition of a night
cityscape on a dark office space has on our understanding of the emotional
world of the character sandwiched between the layers of light.
It seems there is magic at work all around. But it is not magic at all, as we learn from Mr. Ota's card trick -- merely attention. Maybe it's the reflection's ability to split out attention out into many streams of thought and quickly focus it back down that gives his scenes their vertiginous exhilaration. How else to explain the rush one feels from looking at a completely static shot where you can barely make out the actors?
He set out to make a film about family but I think he discovered he also wanted to make a film about life in Taipei. The reflections are the device that lets him make two movies at once. I think that's what is most special about each reflective shot. It is the instantaneous visual realization of an epic goal, and a reminder to the audience of both themes working in the movie.
His assuredness and gentleness astounds me.
This is without a doubt the best film of 2000, a masterpiece of sublety and understatement. It is long--just under three hours--but during that three hours, the entire range of human experience is covered. It is about life--that's it. But, to make a statement about life, you have to illustrate it with lives, and this Yang does exquisitely. There is a tragic undercurrent running through this film, and while I was watching it I thought of Thoreau's observation that "most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Yet, in spite of the travails the film's characters undergo, it is ultimately a work of affirmation. This is about as good as the art of cinema can get.
Films like American Beauty give rise to a huge amount of hype, they are
hailed as being intelligent and having things to say. The reason that they
stand out so much is that in the multiplexes in which they are shown, the
cause of their difference to the family comedies and juvenile violence, is
by actually having something called 'Character Development'.
This would appear to be a foreign issue to the majority of film makes. But luckily for some cinema goers, it is not a foreign area for people like Edward Yang. 'Yi Yi' is an exquisite observation of a family in which all the ages are represented at varying stages of life. From the father struggling to retain his sense of thinking that work is still important, his wife struggling with the illness of her mother. And his children learning in their own ways about what life has to offer, both of which like everyone else in the film are superbly acted.
Life rolls through every one of these characters and the annoying stereotypes that to a certain extent ruined American Beauty, for me anyway, are not here. Every character is superbly drawn and fantastically beautiful. For some people no doubt this film would be hell. Three hours of dialogue and a story which purports to show nothing more than life being lived. It is a great example of the art of writing however, that the characters remain with us long after the film has finished.
Although the entire cast was terrific one performance, for me, rose above the norm. It was Issey Ogata in the role of the cutting edge games designer Ota. His speech of our fear of newness when surely every day is unique really did take my breath away. It is a superbly shot film but the editing is excellent. So many times there were cross-fertilisation of ideas and story strands. When we could see the same relationship being played out in three very different stages amongst the members of the same family.
People may complain that maybe not a lot happens, that people don't really go anywhere and nothing is resolved. To me, however, this is a slice of life. Of all of our lives as we try to make sense not only of those around us but of ourselves. The closest recent film that i have seen to this is 'Magnolia' and while i would certainly recommend that whole-heartedly, there have been very few films that i have felt so accurately portrayed people as being people as 'Yi Yi'.
This is a film that reminds me of how good films can be. It also reminds me of how lucky I am to be able to enjoy and appreciate being moved by three hours of skill and effort. Simply breathtaking.
This movie is a beautiful piece of art. Every shot of the movie is like
a painting in its own right. Hats off to cinematographer Wei-han Yang
for getting so many splendid images on film. From his serene reflective
shots against a city nocturnal background, to innovative bird eye-view
shots, to neat mirror shots, to the perspective of the bedridden
grandmother in a coma, to cars passing by in front of the actors, to
gorgeous corporate buildings... everything on camera was meticulously
Director Edward Yang uses this visual candy diligently and incorporates it nicely into his narrative. His script is very poetic and allows for a lot of reflective pause... which is, you've guessed it, supported by silent stunning images. The characters feel very real and their problems and concerns move us. The little boy is simply adorable and his perspective on life is quite refreshing. The dialogue is rich and intelligent and if you listen carefully you'll understand why this movie is so long... But the length does not drag the movie. Rather it allows us to think and to appreciate. There is enough material in this movie (both words and images) to have anyone musing for days if he so desires.
The ending of the movie is very well done and you don't really know if you feel like laughing or crying at that point, but you certainly know that you have just witnessed an amazing movie, a movie without proper description. Because like Yang chose to do, I should just be silent and let you enjoy.
Edward Yang's Yi Yi is a film made in Taipei, the biggest city in
Taiwan, and he demonstrates the sadness of the people who work hard but
can not find out the meaning of life. He successfully uses many
reflection-frames to suggest to people that life is not just working
hard and making money.
The first reflection-frame happens when grandma is suddenly sent to the hospital. Yang has the camera focus on the hospital windows during the dialogue between NJ and his brother-in-law, A-Di, so we can see their reflection on the windows. Reflection-frames in each film do not always have the same meanings and they depend on different situations. Therefore, I suggest that Yang tried to show that people can see their reflection by windows or mirror anytime, but they are too busy to look and see how they have changed.Also, they are afraid to face the truth in the reflection because the truth is not what they want.
A-Di's reflection on the windows shows us his dishonesty. He always has trouble with money, and his promise that he will give back NJ's money soon is not true. On the other hand, NJ actually does not care much about money. Moreover, in this reflection, there is one window frame set between them, and their reflection is separated by that window frame. The separation suggests that NJ is different than A-Di, and the value of money is not as an important to NJ as A-Di. Also, A-Di's reflection in the framed window takes up more space than NJ's reflection. Yang may suggest that the majority of people in the big city are like A-Di who has the ambition to make a great deal of money. People in the city are unhappy and unsatisfied with the property they have, so they spend more time to make more money. However, NJ taking up a small space in the framed reflection represents the minority of people who struggle to find work that is interesting to them. Mostly, people whose work interest them can not make enough money for their family.
Besides, Yang can be connected with NJ's reflection, which takes up a small and narrow space in the frame. He chooses the work which he is interested, but his films hardly make money even through he makes great films. Referencing to Yang's background, he graduated from an electric engineering department in good school. He can work in a highly technical company and have a good paying job, like NJ. However, he predicts that he will be unhappy as NJ is. Therefore, he chooses to make films as his job and enjoy it whether or not his film can make money as commercial film.
The reflection-frame in the hospital is an ironic: NJ is worrying about the situation of his mother-in-law, but A-Di is worrying about his financial trouble. Because A-Di was born and raised by the person who is in the emergency room, he should show more worry than NJ, but A-Di doesn't. This situation reminds me of Noriko in Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953). Noriko shows more care to her dead husband's parents than other members in the family. Ozu is a Japanese and made "Tokyo Story" half a century ago; however, Yang is a Taiwanese and made Yi Yi almost fifty years after "Tokyo Story". Even through they use different film techniques, both Ozu and Yang arouse viewers to balance the importance between money and family.
Yang Yang the boy character in the film takes pictures to help those
him see what they cannot, and Yang the director takes pictures to help us
see what we usually do not - that every moment of life is beautiful, deep,
Yang masterfully uses the everyday things of life on a least two levels - the literal and the figurative - beginning with the title of the film, which means literally "one one" (in Chinese) or "individual", but is presented as a Chinese "one" on the screen, followed slowly by another Chinese "one" appearing on the screen below it, which then becomes "two". (In Chinese, one is a single line, and two is two singles lines, one above the other.)
We are individuals, together. Our lives involve us, and others. Our lives involve relationships, get their meanings from relationships.
Relationships like that of little boy Yang Yang's encounters with girls, violent at first as they poke him from behind (in the back of his head, where he cannot see), and he pops balloons in their faces, scaring them. And then as the electricity builds between them, between Yang Yang and the girl in his school, just as in the nature film in the science lesson presented in the audio-visual classroom, passion as an electrical spark comes to his life.
There is Yang Yang's sister Ting Ting in the school of life too, with her ever-present potted plant that cannot seem to bloom. In class, she is told that overfeeding can cause it not to bloom - and Ting Ting herself tries too hard to bloom, longing for "music in her life" as she listens to the concert duet played by a man and a woman while she glances at her date, the boy called "Fatty" - he is slim but does he dine too much at life's banquet? (That question is answered later, as violent storms - storms of love, of life - pass overhead, not expected again "until Thursday".) Ting Ting wears white, and could be at her wedding, but she is not.
Their dad, NJ, does manage to find the music of his life once again when he encounters Sherry, the flame of his youth. They take a train back into time they remember as simple and romantic, but the memories of the past veil the complexities that existed then, and now, for the two of them.
NJ's wife Ming Ming wishes to escape. Her work colleague Nancy asks her, "You're still here?" to which she replies "Where can I go?"
Indeed, where can we go? No, we must stay and wake up each day, and try to remember that each day is a first time, that we never live the same day twice, as enchanting Mr. Ota, NJ's potential business partner, reminds him, and us.
This insightful, beautifully written and directed film contemplates on many things concerning the modern individual. The focus is a family in Taipei, the feelings, struggles, conflicts of family members at different life stages. The architecture is used as a part of the story, the surroundings the characters are in, always seem to tell us something about that particular situation. The effects of modernity and capitalism on the individual and traditional values are aptly analyzed and basic human emotions like love, loneliness, commitment and frustration are contemplated with a hard to match observation and tenderness. The little boy seems to verbalize the director's approach to film making: "We only understand half of everything because we can only see what's in front of us." and Yang's camera aptly shows us "the other side" of every situation. As a character says "with films, we experience many more lives than we actually can in one lifetime" and this film is a whole life experience in 3 hours.
The action takes place in Taipei like it could take place in any other modern town of this world because the dramas that occur in our urban bourgeois society are the same everywhere. In fact we see here a very westernized society in terms of values and living standards both material and moral. The movie develops itself in a succession of apparently incoherent sequences which nevertheless are bound by a conducting wire that has much to do with life in itself concerning a chain of different generations, from the dying grandmother to the small boy who is not the less important character here. This succession reminds us of Godard's movies though this one and the sequences themselves are full of meaning. Even the silences they contain are very eloquent sometimes. The scenery is usually very neat, clear and quiet in terms of furniture, urban views and people and camera movements which doesn't make the story less dramatic at all. Particularly interesting and very well shown is the counterpoint between the love meetings of teenagers and the meeting of the fourtyish couple of the former lovers who meet for the first time again 30 years after their courtship had been broken in dramatic circumstances. Problems concerning the meaning of life and the real nature of love are shown mainly through the very incisive dialogues making us thinking once more that love is a much more complicated thing than romanticism depicts. It has features and ups and downs that remain unexplained sometimes. This movie is one of the most significant ones I have seen in which concerns human nature and its conflict with the values of modern bourgeois society on the one hand and also universal values of all times on the other. We watch here problems of children and teenagers but also of adults either marital, professional or spiritual. And all this told in a smooth and quiet way portraying normal people leading normal lives. This movie presents itself indeed like a kaleidoscope of real nowadays life.
"Yi yi" is a lovely film, pulsing with warmth and humanity. It tells
the story of a Taiwanese family coping with the everyday fears and
anxieties of which life is made. In the end, the movie suggests, there
are no trivial moments in our lives, even if they seem so at the time
-- any one person's life is an accumulation of both the trivial and the
significant. What makes it worth getting out of bed every day is the
fact that we will never live a day exactly like the one before it.
The structure of "Yi yi" mirrors its theme -- the film is a gradual accumulation of quiet moments that build toward something deeply moving. We watch the father of the household reconnect with an old flame, only to see his disappointment when the realities of his past don't match his idealized memories of them. We watch the mother battle depression and the overwhelming sense that she lives day to day doing nothing with herself or her life. She seeks meaning by leaving her family to spend time at a religious commune, but she learns that the answers she's looking for aren't to be found there. We watch the adolescent daughter timidly flirt with sex and dating, a young girl only beginning to unearth the complexities of what it means to become an adult. But my favorite character is the 8-year-old son, who takes pictures with his camera because he wants to show other people what they're not able to see for themselves. He's a little boy who is old enough to understand that there are things he can tell people that they don't already know, but he's too young yet to know how to communicate those things. One has to wonder if this character is the young alter-ego of the film's writer and director, Edward Yang.
"Yi yi" isn't flashy. It doesn't intertwine all of these characters' story lines with clever narrative sleight of hand; it doesn't pile coincidences on top of coincidences like these multi-narrative ensemble films frequently do. It's not histrionic, and it doesn't build to some overheated climax. It's not interested in doing any of those things. It unfolds the way life unfolds, and it makes us deeply care about these people, and even makes us love them in a way, flaws and all. It reminded me very much of an Ozu film, with its static camera that chooses to sit back and observe rather than tell us how to feel.
"Yi yi" feels like a modest work of art while you're watching it, but it lingers in the head and its power builds the longer you have to muse over it. It's the kind of movie I have a feeling we'll look back on in twenty years and recognize as a masterpiece.
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