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4 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Yi yi (A One and a Two)
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by Andrew Howe

"Still waters run deep"
4 stars

Some films stake their claim for greatness at the time of the initial viewing, others grow in the recollection. Yi yi (A One and a Two) falls squarely within the latter category: its slow-paced narrative and extended running time require a certain commitment from the viewer, so it is only upon reflection that you fully appreciate its many charms.

The film concerns itself with nothing more than a turbulent period in the life of an extended Taiwanese family. The nominal lead is a middle-aged man known simply as "N.J." (Nien-Jen Wu), the head of the household who rekindles an old flame amidst the pressures of his failing software business and disintegrating family. Orbiting around him are Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang), his 8 year-old son who periodically exhibits a wisdom beyond his years; his daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee) who is taking her first tentative steps into the realms of sexual relationships; and a host of other minor players, ranging from his scatterbrained brother-in-law to his spiritually bankrupt wife.

The film defies the traditional wisdom that guides most hymns to everyday life (Short Cuts, Magnolia) by throwing precious little action, surprise twists or hard-edged confrontations into the mix. For the majority of its running time it flows as gently as a mountain stream, but there's a hidden depth to its meditations upon loss, regret and renewal. Yang-Yang's assertion that we only ever see half the truth is an epitaph for every relationship since the dawn of time, for we are now and forever trapped within the boundaries of our own limited points of view, and the script takes this underlying theme and runs with it to the bitter end.

The film is underpinned by Nien-Jen Wu's magnificent performance: N.J. is a portrait of stoic resignation, watching his life pass him by but unable to arrest its seemingly-predetermined course. His inner turmoil is communicated, not by what he says, but by what he doesn't say, and his subtle expressions and body language speak volumes. When he meets an old girlfriend after a thirty-year absence he stands in silence, unable to give voice to his feelings, and when he finally speaks his heart later in the film he invests every sentence with his recently-awakened yearning. It's a heartbreaking series of scenes, and forms the core of the film's assault upon the viewer's emotions.

None of the other subplots are as affecting, but the well-drawn characters draw the viewer deeper into writer/director Edward Yang's world. Hsin-Yi Tseng's performance as a broken-hearted cast-off will shred the nerves of anyone who has proven unable to make the best of a bad situation (it's unfortunate that her role amounts to a mere handful of scenes); Issey Ogata makes the most of his brief screen time as a likeable Japanese software expert who specialises in measured, insightful conversations; Ting-Ting's belief that she is responsible for her grandmother's illness is suitably heart-wrenching; and Yang-Yang provides light relief through his troubled school-life and outlandishly advanced capacity for philosophy (he's little more than the scriptwriter's mouthpiece, but Chang's likeable performance enables us to forgive Yang this conceit). The narrative jumps around like raindrops on a hotplate, building its multi-layered storyline with such expertise that, by the time the closing credits roll, you feel as if you've spent a lifetime in the company of old friends.

The film is beautifully photographed, full of rich, vibrant colours and strangely affecting sequences - an extended shot from a moving vehicle of apartment complexes by night is hypnotic, and leaves you feeling mildly disheartened as you ponder the fate of the big-city residents trapped within their claustrophobic prisons. Yang occasionally continues to shoot certain scenes past their use-by date, but it's a minor black mark against what is, for all intents and purposes, a virtuoso performance.

All of this being said, I would not like to give anyone the impression that this film is an immediately accessible chronicle of everyday life in the vein of a P.T. Anderson epic. The bulk of the running time consists of conversations (which you'll be reading, unless you're versed in Mandarin), and the absence of attention-grabbing theatrics ensures you'll feel every second of its three-hour duration. At times it's a test of patience akin to reading an acknowledged classic of years gone by, but like those widely-regarded works the joy is in the aftermath, when the hard work is over and you can pause to reflect upon the artfully-constructed narrative and memorable characters.

Yi yi is not for everyone, but if you don't give it a chance you'll miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the finest foreign films to gain an international release in many a long year. It speaks from the heart, and if its message is not entirely hopeful it's simply because, as Yang-Yang says, it can only offer half of the truth. The rest it leaves to us, and I would suggest that there's light to be found, if only we know where to look.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=4946&reviewer=193
originally posted: 06/21/01 00:39:32
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User Comments

8/04/11 Shaz Expertly directed ode to modern suburban life. 5 stars
5/31/10 User Name Easily the best film of the decade, Edward Yang creates a sublte and riviting masterpiece. 5 stars
12/25/09 Eazy-E Wow, you really don't know much about film do you? Easily one of the best of the decade. 5 stars
6/12/07 fools♫gold I feel old, too. 5 stars
1/20/07 PFP My dear M. Muskewitz, you are an imbecile. 5 stars
5/28/03 Wei Wei excellent 5 stars
11/13/02 CJ VERY AWESOME FILM EVER! 5 stars
6/28/01 mattski dazzling film, any one with a brain should give it the effort that it deserves 5 stars
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Directed by
  Edward Yang

Written by
  Edward Yang

  Nien-Jen Wu
  Elaine Jin
  Issey Ogata
  Kelly Lee
  Jonathan Chang
  Hsi-Sheng Chen

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