Sunday, March 13, 2011

[In His Time: The Films of Edward Yang] The Wind (追风 / Zui Feng) / Yi Yi aka A One and a Two (一一 / Yi Yi)

My Kinda Guy

Edward Yang's wife Peng Kaili was in attendance today to introduce The Wind and Yi Yi, the former the animated feature film project that Edward was working on before he passed away, and the latter the film that won him the Best Director accolades at the Cannes Film Festival. I'll probably have the discussion session transcribed soon enough, so check back real soon.

Meanwhile, The Wind was what looked like a promotional reel consisting of some completed clips of the film, since what more a better way to present a concept than to have snippets of it developed, to introduce the premise and the background of a genius pugilist kid in a martial arts world, and bringing on many character designs, and of course inputs by a star none other than Jackie Chan himself. It's nowhere near completion, but you can feel for that tinge of loss should this project not be continued and get left off midway, though the fear of somebody having to continue off tangent from Edward Yang's vision is something quite unforgivable.

The animation may seem dated given that this has been stuck in development limbo with Edward's passing, but I suppose that's the style imposed on the look and feel as if leaping off from a traditional Chinese painting, and going by Edward Yang's track record for telling a good story, I'm pretty sure The Wind has what it takes to grab everyone's attention should it one day make it to fruition and having itself based faithfully on the director's intent. One can only hope, and dutifully wait for that day to arrive.


I have found another film to put into my all time greatest list, and that is Edward Yang's Yi Yi. After watching all his earlier works, this one marks that epitome of perfection, of a craftsman's finest after honing his skill through time, that most outside of Taiwan will probably remember the great director by, if not for it being easily available on DVD compared to the rest of the early ones. While those are no pushovers themselves, Yi Yi is perhaps something that can be said as complete, covering like most of Edward Yang's films, a spectrum of human emotions, here centered on an upper middle class family and unravelling its close to three hour runtime through three broad narrative threads intertwining together perfectly, with sensitivity, humanity, and poignancy even.

Bookended by a wedding and a funeral, Yi Yi follows a family where each member struggles with their own personal demons, with their respective story arc taking place to address just that, and providing that slice of life from their respective perspectives. There's the father NJ (Wu Nien-Jen) who battles two fronts involving work, where his fellow company directors are seeking a new line of business through a partnership with a famed Japanese game maker but with conflicting business ethics and ideology with himself, and that of his personal life, with his family put on a thin line as he spends considerable time away in Tokyo with his first love Sherry (Ko Su-Yun), reminiscing the good old days with that hint of a temptation whether he's about to throw everything away, for one old flame.

Then there's the budding first brush of love and a love triangle between his daughter Ting Tin (Kelly Lee), and their neighbour Li Li (Adriene Lin) and her boyfriend Fatty (Yu Pang Chang), where complication arise from being best of friends with Li Li, and yet filled with the dilemmas stemming from the indecision of others, offering a good contrast between two teenage girls who deal with their emotions in vastly different manners, leading to a tragic outcome. Then there's the scene stealer with Jonathan Chang's Yang Yang, the youngest son in the family who's having a horrid time in school, being the thorn in the eye of a female prefect hell bent on making his life miserable. His story arc is perhaps one that brings us back to our own childhood, with nary a care in the world, and living life in quite cavalier terms with various shenanigans, some comical of course, and like most children, live in their own world through the picking up of a hobby, and yet having lessons to impart to adults.

There are minor subplots galore in this film, with support characters providing that rich tapestry for Yi Yi, which is also subtitled A One and a Two, strokes in the Chinese language that identical strokes horizontally turns the character One into a Two, sequentially one after another, like a musical beat promising a grand oeuvre to come from Edward Yang the conductor. There's the comatose grandmother whose recuperation of sorts at home brings about some stress to Ting Ting because of her guilt conscious, and that of NJ's wife Min Min (Elaine Jen), who disappears mid way into the film from a depressive breakdown. And Yang Yang's uncle Ah Di (Chen Hsi Sheng) who has to juggle placating his wife Xiao Yan (Xiao Shu Shen) toward the presence of his ex Yun Yun (Zeng Xin Yi) whom he gravitates to given the ups and downs in his financial status.

In some ways Yi Yi is a film that puts the spotlight on the various aspects of romance, about the first love who had proven elusive, of past romances and the examination of What Ifs. There's a scene which was expertly and brilliantly edited and intertwined between NJ's arc and his daughter's relationship, hinting at a possible repeat of events that happened one generation earlier, that really hammered home the eventual outcome from a parallel under very uncanny circumstances. This theme may not be new in Edward's repertoire of films, but the way it was handled here just made it very much heartfelt, inevitably allowing us to pass judgement on the characters involved, though in no ways objectively done.

It's three hours long, but it's the three hours you will not want to end as you get pulled into the family issues, and find yourself engaged on the emotional level and feel that sense of belonging with the central family, brought to life through wonderful performances all round, from the little Jonathan Chang to the veteran Wu Nien-Jen. Edward Yang's voice cannot be more pronounced through each of the characters put into the film, revisiting themes and issues discussed in earlier films, or in this one, I really liked how he crafted Ota (Issei Ogata) the Japanese game maker, with dialogue that really made plenty of sense, dispensing keen observations and life lessons to impart from the filmmaker.

For a film about life and its struggles in general, Yi Yi comes up tops, and I felt it had inspired other similar films that attempted to examine urban family life across a full spectrum of emotions, such as that in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata very recently. Yi Yi is without a doubt one of Edward Yang's greatest and one of my personal favourites to date, and is a film that has to be experienced at least once by any film buff, and be prepared to be emotionally blown away by a filmic masterpiece. A must watch!


YTSL said...

Hi Stefan --

Like you, I feel regret post viewing what there is of "The Wind" because it really looked like it could have been a very interesting movie indeed.

Re "Yi Yi": it was the first Edward Yang film I viewed (back in 2000) and absolutely revelatory, as you can imagine. My two favorite scenes in it:-
1) Ota unexpectedly playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" in a (karoake) bar; and
2) Yang Yang explaining why he likes taking photos of the backs of people's heads.

More than BTW, have you read that Yang Yang was Edward *Yang*'s alter ego? In any event, they both did show us parts of people that they themselves don't usually get to see. :)

Stefan S said...


I have yet to transcribe the Q&A session with Peng Kaili after the screening, so hopefully (if I remember correctly) there will be attempts at trying to complete The Wind!

There are many many scenes I liked in the film, and I liked the explanation too. I enjoyed most of the scenes of discussion between Ota and NJ.

I wanna watch Yi Yi again, hopefully I can get my hands on the Criterion DVD... think there's an Edward Yang commentary in it!

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