Yi Yi
(A One, and a Two)

foreign films

Yi Yi
Made in: Taiwan
Language: Chinese (Mandarin), Taiwanese, English, Japanese
Director: Edward Yang (no relation to me)
Starring: Nien-Jen Wu, Elaine Jin, Kelly Lee, Jonathan Chang, Issei Ogata, Su-Yun Ko, Hsi-Sheng Chen, Adriene Lin, Pang Chang Yu, Ru-Yun Tang
Year: 2000

Synopsis: The Jiang family, living in bustling Taipei, Taiwan, is headed off the rails. NJ (Nien-Jen Wu), the patriarch, is the general manager of a big company but feels like he's hit a dead-end in his career. The company is tanking, and his closest business associates keep making bad decision against his advice.

NJ's wife, Min-Min (Elaine Jin) has a minor breakdown after her mother (Ru-Yun Tang) suffers a stroke and falls into a coma. Min-Min then decides she needs some alone-time at a Buddhist temple up in the mountains.

Teen daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee) is experiencing the complexities of love for the first time. And meek, misunderstood 8 year-old son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) is constantly being bullied at school by a bunch of girls.

Min-Min's younger brother, Ah-Di (Hsi-Sheng Chen), has just been married but is struggling to resolve money issues. And also causing problems for him is an old girlfriend who won't go away quietly.

While NJ travels to Japan to negotiate with an insightful software mogul named Ota (Issei Ogata), he crosses paths with Sherry (Su-Yun Ko), a former flame that he dumped 30 years ago.

Yi YI focuses on all the major characters as they search for meaning in their lives, and wonder if things could have been better if only they'd made different decisions in the past...

Remarks: Director Edward Yang makes a genuine effort to create a poignant, meaningful film. And on many levels, he succeeds. At almost three hours long, Yi Yi sufficiently explores and rounds out all the characters and their respective issues. Every once in a while, someone makes an interesting observation about the meaning of life. And I admit that the topic of lost love is pretty compelling at times.

That being said, I'm afraid that the highly acclaimed Yi Yi isn't all that original. I'm not suggesting that it's a rip-off of another film in particular, but the theme of an angst-ridden middle/upper-class family has already been thoroughly explored. Or to be less polite, done to death (no matter how realistic).

The "dysfunctional family" device, when applied to dramatic films, has become as predictable as the basic "Good vs Evil" formula set forth by movies like Star Wars. Instead of being shocking, the "screwed up family," now comes across as a cliché these days (which sort of concerns me). Whether its set in North America, Europe, or Taiwan, you'll have a "seen-it-before" sort of reaction.

Although the actors are decent, the biggest weakness in Yi Yi are the characters themselves. NJ is so morose and passionless that it's hard to believe that anyone could have fallen in love with him. What exactly did Sherry see in him? What exactly did his wife ever see in him? It's never quite explained, and there's no hint that he was ever a more dynamic individual in his youth. By the way Nien-Jen Wu plays him, you'd think he'd been that boring all his life.

And it isn't just NJ.

Every male character in the movie (with the exception of comedian Issei Ogata) either behaves like a needy wuss or an irritating, egotistical loser. There are no attractive qualities about them at all, and in the real world, these are the kinds of men that most women (and people, in general) tend to avoid. Yet in this story, the female characters are pining after them like teenagers to heart throbs.

If the characters had been a little more sympathetic, then the whole show would have been a little more interesting.

Who would like this movie: Yi Yi is for you if you like watching really long foreign films, and debating whether or not they're truly meaningful or pretentious. The movie makes perfect sense from a storytelling standpoint, and there's nothing here that'll be over anyone's head so long as you have the subtitles switched on. But two hours and fifty-seven minutes is an awful long time to dwell on a subject that we're already so familiar with. Overall it's a good movie, but not really a "must-see."

(2 and 1/2 stars out of 4)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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