"I talk about the same things to her day after day..."
Nothing happens on screen for three hours and yet the new Taiwanese multigenerational family "saga" Yi Yi is absolutely captivating.All right, "nothing" is a bit of an overstatement, though by our standards it's hardly an unreasonable one. Things happen, events transpire, but they are nowhere near what goes on in a mainstream American film. It's an understated (very understated) study of an Asian family in a sort of quiet turmoil.
The film opens with a wedding that is interrupted by the groom's ex-girlfriend who apologizes to his mother for not marrying her son. Mother says she doesn't feel well and asks to be taken home. When the rest of the family comes home that night, they find that mother has been rushed off to the hospital with a stroke. She goes into a coma; the doctors tell the family to talk to her often to speed up her recovery.
Meanwhile, N.J. (Nien-Jen Wu) has an affair with a former girlfriend while trying to deal with a crisis at his job; his jaded wife (Elaine Jin) joins a cult about halfway through the movie and runs off to a sort of monastary. Their daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee) blames herself for her grandmother's stroke because she might have forgotten to take out the trash, forcing grandma to do it. Little Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) picks up a camera and starts photographing the back of people's heads to show them what they cannot see.
The film's title, Yi Yi is the Chinese word for "two" but it also means "one one," illustrating the conflict at the film's core: the struggle to maintain one's individuality in a world that seeks to stifle it at every turn. Thematically, I found the film to be a little muddled (nothing clear ever comes of the long running time); it works better as an extended family portrait.
Unfortunately, Yang's film approaches the self-indulgent, dragging out parts that could have been filmed more efficiently and with more versimilitude. I appreciate the sentiment of painting a complete picture of a family in crisis and commercialism be damned, but sometimes Yi Yi feels defiantly unpopulist, as if Yang put in scenes to test our patience and separate the wheat from the chaff of serious moviegoers.
But hey -- the movie does what it sets out to do. It's touching, occasionally heartbreaking and always hypnotically serene. Instead of exciting my emotions, the sedate film lulled me into a sort of interested stupor (nice pull quote, no?). Yang's cinematography plays a big part in this: he likes to show us the characters through a window, giving us a sense of detachment as well as something happening in the foreground as well as the background. The film insists on making us feel like we are observers as opposed to part of the action -- the exact opposite of most directors' intentions -- making the events feel more significant than they perhaps actually are.
The best performance in Yi Yi comes from little Jonathan Chang, who is natural and completely non-precocious in his role as Yang-Yang. Yang-Yang also provides a lot of the film's emotional punch; his monologue concludes the film and is perhaps its most touching scene.
This isn't a movie for everyone; it's unlike anything Hollywood has ever put out and I can see how many moviegoers could consider it "boring." It avoids sentimentality at all costs and many times even forgoes discernible emotion. For me, the three hours went by fairly quickly. It was a unique experience.(Review reprinted from FilmBlather.com)