Saturday, 13 March 2010

And A One...

Sheesz, I really went cray cray with my epic films recently... following on from Giant, I tackled the next day Edward Yang's 2000 acclaimed Taiwanese film Yi Yi: A One And A Two. Clocking in just shy of three hours, I'd never heard of it until it kept popping up on lists late last year, acclaimed as one of the best films of the decade. A little research showed me it won Best Director at Cannes in 2000, and then must have had a very staggered release over the next couple of years, taking out festival and critics prizes around the world right through until 2003. It even picked up the Best Film prize at the NSFC in 2001 - not Best Foreign Film, Best [overall] Film. Not too shabby.

Yi Yi is the story of a Taiwanese family living in Taipei, three generations of them. NJ is high up at a Taiwanese video game company, working on putting together a deal with a famous Japanese company to revive their fortunes. His mother (credited as 'NJ's mother' - creative, no?) has a stroke quite early on, and is left bedridden, a bit of a cathartic release for many of the other characters, and a reason for them all to reassess. For NJ's daughter Ting-Ting is embarking on her first explorations of love, complicated by the presence of her next door neighbour, who was initially in a relationship with the boy and whose jealousy inspires the breakdown of Ting-Ting's blossoming romance. NJ's son and Ting-Ting's brother Yang-Yang, quite young, is getting into mischief at school, becoming quite a rabble-rouser, discovering the joys of childhood but possibly setting himself up for life as a miscreant.

Various other characters participate in this (yes, I'm using it again) epic tale of family: brothers, lovers (both old and new), children, friends, enemies and acquaintances. Some offer sage advice, some send people packing in the wrong direction, but in the end it all comes down to this one central nuclear family.

It all sounds a little naff when put down like that, doesn't it? It's not, though. I must confess, the idea of a three hour Taiwanese film left me a little cold. My experience with many films of that ilk haven't been entirely positive - I remember coming out of Still Life back in 2007 feeling like my entire life had just been sapped from me. I went into Yi Yi fearing that a similar fate would befall me. But no! It is a truly amazing and beautiful film. It's simple synopsis belies a hidden level of depth and story hiding around every narrative corner, and the masterful construction by Yang means that there is never a moment where the film stands still. He cleverly overlaps character movements to make story shifts seamless and perfectly plausible, and then keeps their stories running alongside each other without you ever wanting more or less from any one of them. It is truly sublime to watch such sure and even-handed direction, matched by quiet, subtle performances with just the right amount of drama.

Well worth checking out. Many other years I'm sure it could have taken home the Palme d'Or as well, but seeing as it was up against the likes of Ken Loach, Michael Haneke, Wong Kar Wei, Amos Gitai, Olivier Assayas, the Coen Brothers, James Ivory and the eventual winner Lars Von Trier (for Dancer In The Dark), I think Yang should be very happy with the bling he took home from the festival. 5 stars.

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