Tuesday, May 24, 2016

2016 Blind Spot Series: Yi Yi

Written and directed by Edward Yang, Yi Yi: A One and a Two is the story of a year in the life of a middle-class family in Taipei, Taiwan where an engineer copes with a lot of things including the re-emergence of an old flame while his children both deal with growing pains. The film is a tale of a family’s life through three generations where a lot happens in the span of an entire year. Starring Nianzhen Wu, Elaine Jin, Kelly Lee, Jonathan Chang, and Issey Ogata. Yi Yi: A One and a Two is a dazzling and touching film from Edward Yang.

Set in the course of a year in Taipei, the film is about the life of a family where an engineer struggles with his job while dealing with all sorts of things in his family including his comatose mother and a wife who is being treated for depression. At the same time, an old flame returns to his life while his 8-year old son and 13-year old daughter both go into growing pains. It’s a film that goes through a lot where it begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral as it play into the many trials and tribulations of this family led by its patriarch in NJ (Nianzhen Wu). NJ is a man that tries to live honestly as he can not just at home but also at work where he is aware of the financial problems of his company as he wants to do things right.

Edward Yang’s screenplay is multi-layered in not just following NJ’s life but also his teenager daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee) and eight year old son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) who both go into their own adventures. Even NJ’s brother-in-law A-Di (Xisheng Chen) who gets married in the beginning of the film would have an arc as he deals with not just marriage but also an old flame and money troubles. All of which play into this family that isn’t just coping with changes but growing pains where NJ would go through a journey of his own while his wife Min-Min (Elaine Jin) would be away for treatment. Ting-Ting’s journey relates to being a go-between for her friend and her boyfriend where she finds herself falling in love for the latter while Yang-Yang becomes a troublemaker in school where he would discover a love for photography.

Yang’s direction is definitely understated as well as maintaining something that is quite very simple. Shot largely on location in Taipei with some shots set in Tokyo and towns near the city, Yang creates a film that is like a family portrait told in the span of a year. The first sequence is this wedding for A-Di and his bride Xiao Yin (Shushen Xiao) as it is quite lavish and lively where a lot happens during the reception. Even as it would introduce a lot of the characters in the film including NJ’s old girlfriend Sherry (Suyun Ke) who is at the hotel by pure coincidence as they hadn’t seen each other in 30 years. Much of the direction doesn’t include a lot of close-ups but rather a lot of medium and wide shots since there’s a lot of people that NJ and many of the characters would encounter including this Japanese software mogul named Ota (Issey Ogata) that NJ would have a personal connection with.

The direction also has Yang create scenes that parallel the journeys of characters such as NJ in Japan with Sherry where they look at the sites and then be inter-cut with Ting-Ting on a date with Fatty (Yupang Chang). It’s a sequence in the film’s second half that showcases the similarities between father and daughter while there are also moments that display an innocence as it relates to Yang-Yang. Yang would just let things play out naturally where it also showcases a family just trying to adjust as they’re also taking care of NJ’s comatose grandmother. Much of the drama is quite restrained as well as some of its intense moments while Yang would also inject some humor into the film where it all plays into how families deal with one another. Overall, Yang creates an intoxicating yet heartfelt film about the life of a family in the span of a year.

Cinematographers Weihan Yang and Longyu Li do brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography as it has this sense of natural yet evocative look for many of the scenes set in the daytime as well as in some of the interiors while many of the scenes at night have a stylish flair in its look while maintaining something that feels real. Editor Bowen Chen does nice work with the editing as it is mostly straightforward with some stylish cuts such as the sequence that parallel NJ and Ting-Ting‘s own outings as well as a few jump-cuts. Sound designer Duzhi Du does excellent work with the sound to capture the energy of the scenes at the wedding reception along with some of the moments that occur around the city. Production designer/music composer Kaili Peng, with art director Zhengkai Wang, does fantastic work with not just the look of the home of NJ but also the look of the reception and the Japanese restaurant that NJ eats with Ota. Peng’s score is amazing as it’s just mainly a somber piano with elements of blues-based guitars as it says a lot to film’s understated tone.

The film’s incredible cast include some notable small roles from Ruyun Tang as NJ’s comatose mother whom Ting-Ting is fond of, Adrian Lin as Ting-Ting’s friend/neighbor Lili, Michael Tao as NJ’s co-worker/friend Da-Da, Shuyuan Xu as Lili’s mother who would cause some serious trouble for her family, Yupang Chang as Lili’s boyfriend Fatty who would fall for Ting-Ting but also has feelings for Lili, Shushen Xiao as A-Di’s bride Xiao Yan who has a hard time being married to A-Di as well as being pregnant, and Xinyi Zeng as A-Di’s former girlfriend Yun-Yun who would help A-Di deal with some debts despite being treated with disdain by Xiao Yan. Suyun Ke is wonderful as NJ’s former girlfriend Sherry Chang-Breitner as a woman NJ hadn’t seen in three decades where they re-establish a friendship where Ke displays an anguish and heartbreak over the fact that she still loves NJ. Xisheng Chen is superb as NJ’s brother-in-law A-Di as this young man coping with marriage as well as money problems where he is reluctant to turn to his brother-in-law for help.

Issey Ogata is fantastic as the Japanese software mogul Ota as a man who is about principles and doing what is right as he proves to be someone that NJ can work with as well as trust in the very devious world of business. Elaine Jin is excellent as NJ’s wife Min-Min as a doctor who has been taking care of NJ’s comatose mother until she has a nervous breakdown that would put her temporarily out of action for much of the film. Jonathan Cheng is brilliant as Yang-Yang as this 8-year old boy who takes an interest in photography despite being mocked by the school principal as his curiosity and energy makes the character a delight to watch. Kelly Lee is amazing as Ting-Ting as a teenage girl who copes with her grandmother’s illness as she also experiences love for the very first time as it is presented with a natural and understated performance. Finally, there’s Nianzhen Wu in a tremendous performance as NJ as a father who tries to bring the family together while dealing with the chaos of his professional life as well as the appearance of an old flame where he admits to still have feelings for her but also loves his family as it’s a performance that is restrained but also touching.

Yi Yi: A One and a Two is a magnificent film from Edward Yang. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous images, wonderful music, and compelling themes on family and growing up. It’s a film that manages to be more than just a family drama as it offers so much in the way a family’s life is told in the span of one year. In the end, Yi Yi: A One and a Two is an outstanding film from Edward Yang.

Edward Yang Films: (In Our Time-Desires/Expectations) - (That Day, on the Beach) - Taipei Story - (The Terrorizers) - A Brighter Summer Day - (A Confucian Confusion) - (Mahjong)

© thevoid99 2016


Anonymous said...

AMEN! This film is just beautiful...such a lingering film that gets better and better the more it marinates.

thevoid99 said...

I'm glad I chose this as a Blind Spot and wow, it was such a joy to watch as I really hope to do more Edward Yang in the coming years. The man is a genius and so missed.