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Movie Reviews

A One and a Two / Yi Yi (2001)  

Director: Edward Yang
Country: Taiwan

Cast: Jonathan Chang (Yang-Yang), Yupang Chang (Fatty), Chen Xisheng (A-Di), Elaine Jin (Min-Min), Ke Suyun (Sherry Chang-Breitner), Kelly Lee (Ting-Ting), Adrian Lin (Lili), Issei Ogata (Mr. Ota), Tang Ruyun (Grandma), Michael Tao (Da-Da), Wu Nienjen (NJ Jian), Xiao Shushen (Xiao
Yan), Xu Shuyuan (Lili's Mother) and Zeng Xinyi (Yun-Yun).

"Yi Yi" literally means, "One One". The Chinese character for "yi", or "one", is a simple horizontal dash. If another "yi" is placed below the first, this transforms the character's meaning to represent "two". Through a simple action, a multiplicity of meaning arises, much like this simple film, which manages to convey a multitude of meanings and emotions, without resorting to heavy-handed manipulation or action.

"Yi Yi" does not actually contain a plot so much as it is an observation of life. It is a depiction of an ordinary Taiwanese family undergoing several crises. The father (NJ), struggles to maintain a sinking computer company while dealing with the re-appearance of his first true love after almost 30 years. The mother (Min-Min) falls into a depressive mood after her elderly mother's stroke (which leaves her in a coma) and disappears to a religious retreat. Her inept brother, a gullible and boastful man, marries his visibly pregnant wife while his ex-fiance turns up at every festive occasion to sow discord and trouble among his friends and new in-laws. The teenage daughter (Ting-Ting) struggles with first love and guilt, that she may have caused her grandmother's stroke. The youngest child, an 8 year old (Yang-Yang), is a reflective precocious boy who deals with just about everything life has got to throw at him with an unexpected depth of philosophical insight.
You may think this sounds like a pretty depressive film, but it filled with gentle humour - family disagreements comically degenerate into a shouting match and the antics of Yang-Yang delights with his honesty and artlessness. Each member of the family is richly detailed, and though they are perfectly ordinary, it is this quality that endears them to us, because we can identify with all their trials and tribulations. We know too well what we see, and we laugh because of it. The characters are never judged, but merely observed, and we cannot help but care and empathise for them, even if sometimes we may become exasperated with their silliness.

Edward Yang's direction is slow and meditative, slowly unfurling scenes one by one. There is a clever sequence where the daughter and son unwittingly act out their father's memories of love and romance. Often the camera lingers, some thing that might irritate those who would have already become impatient with the film's epic length (just short of three hours). Wu Nienjen's comic expressions of stoic resignation to events happening around him suits his role as a besieged man. Issei Ogata, as the businessman NJ was sent to recruit, fleshes out his cameo role as the unexpected mentor who gives NJ a sense of direction. First time actor Yang-Yang charms with his matter-of-factness and simplicity. In fact, the cast apparently was made up of non-actors, something which is risky at the best of times but which works to add to the film's charm.

This film is more than a soap opera. As mentioned before, its simpleness covers a thoughtfulness that often surprises. Perhaps there is nothing new to life, for as NJ tells his wife, even if he had a chance to do it all again, the result would probably have been the same, an oddly uplifting statement. We only see half the truth throughout our entire lives, suggests Yang-Yang, who may be a child representation of Edward Yang himself, and like his diminutive alter ego, seeks to reveal the truth to others through his chosen medium of film. This film is definitely not for anyone, especially not those who prefers being distracted by explosions, flashing lights, bared flesh and single-layered plotlines. I had some trepidation when going to watch this movie because I feared it was going to a buttock-destroying ordeal. The fact that the blurb called this a Taiwanese film about family conjured up memories of the overwrought melodramatic histrionic soap operas that populated television back in my childhood days which were more hysterically funny than moving. But I was very surprised and delightfully so. As Fatty states, movies expand our lives, making us live three times more of a lifetime. It is certainly true for this film, but for all the right reasons.

Eden Law

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