Monday, November 15, 2010

"Yi Yi: A One and a Two": A Film Review by film critic Darian Gier

I've always liked movies. Particularly foreign films (notice my rhetoric changed in going from 'movies' to 'films'). And more particularly good foreign films, as not all of them are good and I don't like them all simply because they are foreign. So I recently watched one, called "Yi Yi" and I decided to write a review or something of the sort.

To watch a movie, or to engage in any type of fictional art, be it a play or a novel or a story around the campfire, is always our best chance to come close to escaping the banality of "real" "everyday" life. So we long for the feeling of fantastic voyages, the rush of action and adventure, even the very sense of murder itself, or a whole host of arcane experiences that we will quite likely never know ourselves. After achieving such highs, we return to reality to view it even drabber and more colorless than before, wishing life to be more like a movie, complete with a musical score (see: "The Cable Guy"). As a result, many of us miss the drama and complexity that is "real" "everyday" life, as it does not so clearly mimic the predetermined stories of fiction we are acquainted with. This theme is perhaps at the very core of "Yi Yi: A One and a Two", a Taiwanese film from 2000 directed by Edward Yang (sadly, we lost Yang in 2007). It's topic is as ordinary as ordinary can get: a typical Taiwanese family living in contemporary Taipei. The father, a middle-class businessman, lives with his wife and their two children, a young boy and and a teenage girl, in their Taipei high rise. Their extended family is also featured, including the wife's brother, his new wife, and ailing mother. Throw in a handful of sporting characters, such as peers, coworkers, neighbors, and the father's first love that he is reunited with, and you've rounded out the cast. Again, nothing out of the ordinary.

The film begins without pomp or prologue. We glance into typical life as we know it without even hardly noticing the lens of the camera: a family marriage, meetings at work and school, the various stirrings of the family apartment. But at the same time we are presented with an explicit view of the intricacies of living mundane life, noticeably without the artificial dramatic buildup of typical fiction. We onlookers are given no pretense for how to feel each of the ups and downs of the lives of the characters as they come without typical movie timing, rhythm, or the emotional setting of an apt musical score (not that there isn't music, and good music at that). And staying true to life, we are treated to multiple viewpoints, indeed a fact of life if there ever was one, in the separate story lines of the father, his teenage daughter, and primary school-aged son.

In what is perhaps the most standard plot device of the film, the arc of the story is contained within the illness of the family's grandmother, who in the film's beginning slips into a coma and becomes contained to her bed and unconsciousness. Her situation precarious at best, the family is encouraged to talk to her as if she were awake as it may aid her recovery. Each family member's subsequent confessions to the ailing grandmother and respective troubles handling the situation is not an entirely central motif, but a mere framing point for the many interconnected events that make up the nearly three hours of film.

And henceforth we are engaged with all the drama each family member experiences, each one with their own unique trials to face within their respective points in life, yet all the while connected by family and a shared roof. Here are some brief snip-its: We are taken aback by the desperation of a jealous onlooker at the wedding and the subsequent drama as the new bride holds a grudge; the awkwardness of a young love triangle is palpable and it eventually comes to a violent ending; we glimpse the world through the innocent yet careless eyes of a child and fear for him as he is young and lacks caution and fear for himself; we enjoy the an honest business relationship that blossoms into a sincere friendship only to be soured by the self-serving actions of corporate superiors; we know the nostalgia of a past love and the sadness of self-questioning reflection on what could have been; and we even see murder committed at the hands of a very atypical culprit (not that I mean to suggest there is such a thing as a typical murderer, and I don't think Yang does either). Ultimately, the grandmother's health situation resolves and the film's many story lines each come to a more or less finite conclusion, but we are left with the sense that they will continue even without our observation. These are mere tastings which Yang treats us to: the many facets of story that is the constant interweaving of the world around us. Or life, you might call it.

Perhaps all this doesn't resemble your life and perhaps it does, but that is, I believe, the point of the film: dramatic realism. Real life, as it were, makes the best story. Events in life simply happen, they simply are, real and undetermined, fitting neither into a neat plan or a well shaped story arch of building action, climax, and resolution. The film is still a film, and does have these essential building blocks of story. But in Yi Yi Yang gives us to realism at its finest in exploring everyday life, and it turns out to make the best drama of all.

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